There was plenty of drama in both Moto2 and Moto3 at the German Grand Prix, with the respective leaders in each class cementing their championship leads.
Gardner: better rider, more stable person
The more this year goes on, the more Remy Gardner appears like a champion in waiting. The 23-year old was the class of the Moto2 field once again in Germany, translating his relentless free practice speed to the race, where he rushed past teammate and pole sitter Raul Fernandez and immediately put the Spaniard under pressure.
No one else got a sniff. The pair were 0.8s ahead of third by the close of lap one, 2.9s at the end of lap three, and Gardner’s lead was extended to 4.9s on lap five when Fernandez crashed out – margins that are not normal for a track as short as the Sachsenring, especially in a class as tight as Moto2.
It capped a brilliant three-week period for the 23-year old, in which he became the first Australian in history to win three consecutive races in grand prix’s intermediate category, and confirmed a deal to climb to MotoGP with Hervé Poncharal’s Tech 3 KTM squad.
“Before the race my brother messaged me and said, ‘Go and win it!’ I’m making history, so I guess that’s cool,” Gardner said after extending his championship advantage to 36 points. “I expected a hard battle today with Raul but I knew he’d struggle with the front. I was fast at the start so I passed him but I was being smooth. A few laps later I saw +4.5s. Then it was just about not losing concentration.”
It’s been a remarkable upturn for Gardner, who openly admitted to doubting whether his future lay in the paddock in years gone by. He counts his first of two seasons in Tech 3’s Moto2 squad in 2017 among his toughest experiences. And quizzed on this period, Poncharal believes one of the secrets to his recent success is a more settled, tranquil life at home in Sitges outside Barcelona.
“I liked him from day one and I wanted to behave like father 2,” Poncharal said of his first working experiences with Remy. “But I could see he was a bit lost sometimes. Not only about riding, in his life too. I remember the evening of the race day in Assen, the team was dismantling the hospitality and Remy was there. It was starting to drizzle. We were chatting and it was a bit of a sad moment. He told me he was lost, that he didn’t know if he had a future in racing. But quite a lot of sportsmen have been questioning themselves. Not everybody has the career of Marc Márquez or Pedro Acosta where everything they do is without problem.
“I think Remy has matured a lot. He’s a much better rider, but also a much more stable person. He has settled down very well living in Spain. He’s got a nice girlfriend, who is helping a lot. All together, it looks like a good stability. Remy used to be strong in qualifying but sometimes cracked under pressure when well placed on the grid. You can see finally this year he’s got what it takes to be fast in qualifying, to be strong in the race.”
Gardner remembers his early years in the paddock well, when he was a long way from home and didn’t feel settled in Europe. “There was a point when we were thinking about going back home,” he admitted. “It’s such a different lifestyle. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t know anybody. And I was only 14 years old at that point. I had all my friends in Australia. I had all my things there and I’d go surfing. All of a sudden, I didn’t have those things any more. It was really tough. Then in the school that I went to I didn’t really have any friends – they were just weird tennis players.
“But then I started to get to know people and I had a few mates. When I was about 16 or 17 everything was good. I was just being a normal teenager, riding my skateboard with my mates, down the streets and getting into all kinds of mischief in the town. From about 18 or 19 everything was a bit smoother. I started to learn the language a bit better. Honestly, I’d say the last three years I’d say I started to settle in and feel like it was home. I have a Spanish girlfriend now as well, which helps with the language.”
That’s one of the factors that has contributed to the Australian’s recent success. The others must find a way to halt his momentum. And quick. Otherwise, he’ll be graduating to the premier class with a world championship to his name.
Unrest at Petronas
As if Franco Morbidelli’s struggles on antiquated equipment and Valentino Rossi’s attempts to find a way back from the brink weren’t tough enough, the Petronas structure has had a few problems in the junior classes to contend with. Namely the struggles of Moto2 rider Jake Dixon, while John McPhee was undergoing his toughest start to a Moto3 season in 5 years.
It’s believed the atmosphere in Dixon’s box had become slightly strained during tough weekends in France, where he finished 18th, Italy (14th) and Barcelona (18th). His ideas on how to improve the bike setting didn’t always line up with crew chief Damion Bailey.
All of which led to the team making a change for Germany. Bailey left while Mark Woodage, crew chief of McPhee was moved up to Dixon’s corner. Daniel Bonmati, McPhee’s data technician, was promoted to take Woodage’s place in the Moto3 box. “Due to the difficult start of the season from Jake and John, the team decided to make some changes inside the team to try to change dynamic and get better results,” read a statement issued to the team to Israeli MotoGP commentator Tammy Gorali. “The team trust in the professionalism and high level of the current staff so both riders have a new crew chief.”
McPhee made his feelings known in an interview with BT Sport on Thursday, in which he criticised not only the team’s decision, but its lack of planning going forward. “I’m disappointed in the management and the team for what they’ve done,” said the normally softly spoken Scot. “I feel like it’s the second time in ten months that I’ve been let down, the first one being that they didn’t honour my Moto2 contract last year. This time being let down in the fact that seven rounds into a 19-round championship they’ve taken my crew chief off me to put him into Moto2. I’ve been left with the short end of the stick once again. It’s really disappointing.
“That’s the question I’d like to know and that I’ve asked. But it looks like they’re taking it day-by-day. Unfortunately, I’m the one getting the short end of the stick and they don’t really have a plan in place. As of now the plan is for me and Danny to work together. Seven rounds into a 19-round championship, it will be difficult moving forward. Petronas is a fantastic team but I just feel with there being so many riders and people to please, I seem to be the one that’s got the short straw on a couple of occasions now. It’s hard to take but I’ll focus on my riding.”
McPhee showed great speed all weekend, but had to take avoiding action to a collision at turn one, which caused him to lose touch with the lead group. There were shoots of recovery for Dixon, too. Despite running off track after contact with Augusto Fernandez, he was running in the top ten. The Englishman also set the third fastest lap of the Moto2 race.
Acosta: “There is something special”
In a class as wild, random and unpredictable as Moto3, Pedro Acosta is proving to be the one constant in 2021. The rookie was in stunning form once again as he coolly kept his head in a last lap dust up with Dennis Foggia, Kaito Toba and Jeremy Alcoba. After this latest triumph – his fourth in eight races – the 17-year old spoke of the need to put his mark on a race after three difficult results (the most difficult being eighth place).
A 50 percent win rate in mightily impressive, especially for a rider so young. And with this win stretching his advantage in the championship over Sergio Garcia to 55 points, Acosta now knows that he will head into the summer break with a comfortable advantage.
Not bad going for one so inexperienced. But for team boss Aki Ajo, the realisation that he had a unique talent on his hands was clear from the start. “We see that in riding and character there is something special,” said the Finn on the eve of the German Grand Prix. “You can see he has really strong entry in the corners that makes him a really good race rider. Also this helps him with speed a lot, because he has really good confidence in entry, in both front and rear. He can turn and stop the bike really quickly. This is something special in his riding style. We can see that riding styles are changing time-by-time and Pedro again brings something new to what even some MotoGP riders are looking for, and see clearly that there is something new and special.
“On the other hand I see the character. OK, I didn’t know him well last year but we saw there is some ‘old-school’ style that I like. Sometimes you see some young riders, their backgrounds are a bit blind. I don’t say they are superstars but (they) are sometimes focussing on the things that are not important, and they don’t understand how to keep the life as simple as possible. For me that is really important. You can focus on the right things and work for the things that are important, and not spend time or energy on the things that are unimportant. You could see already that he was the kind of rider that we like. it’s also for our structure.”
It would be logical to think the severe dressing down each Moto3 rider received after the previous round would have led to a more sedate contest. But the first race of the day at the Sachsenring was nothing of the sort. Three riders were handed long-lap penalties, one a ride through, and three of the leading group were forced to drop positions on the final lap, including third across the line Jeremy Alcoba.
Riders were called for a meeting immediately after the race in Barcelona to discuss certain behaviour – notably weaving on the front straight, then refusing to lead and waving riders by – and were told how it will no longer be accepted from here.
“Catalunya was a crazy race, what we saw was not what we like and could lead to some safety problems,” said IRTA President Hervé Poncharal. “On the last lap everybody was slowing down, some laps were 4 seconds slower than the original lap time. In the meeting, Carmelo Ezpeleta (Dorna CEO) gave the point of view of the championship, without giving any specific rule to observe, but: don’t slow down. A race is push from start to the end. Don’t zigzag too much down the straight where it’s dangerous and try to behave like as sportsman who is hungry for success, don’t behave like a dirty rider. So, it will be up to the team mangers to teach and explain to our riders how they should race, and Race Direction will impose harsh penalties in case of bad behaviour.”
With that in mind, the FIM Stewards came down hard in certain instances. Darryn Binder was disqualified from Q2 and given a ride through penalty in the race for a collision with Joel Kelso in Q1. Moto2’s Dixon and Moto3’s Ryusei Yamanaka were also handed long-lap penalties for the Dutch TT after being judged to have caused crashes in their respective races in Germany.
But, judging by the Moto3 race there, such penalties haven’t been enough of a deterrent.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, supporting us on Patreon, by making a donation, or contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.