Another dramatic day of Moto2 and Moto3 action at the Algarve GP saw one world champ crowned, while another man took a monumental step toward his.
Acosta champ despite growing pains
There was something approaching skepticism with regards to Pedro Acosta in the autumn of this year. The Tiburon de Mazarron’s incredible start to life in the Moto3 world championship had raised expectations to such an extent that a recent run of results in which he scored 7th, 8th and 3rd places in just his 14th, 15th and 16th GPs could be considered something of a crisis.
But this showing demonstrated he had lost none of that spark as he swept to his sixth win of the season to become the second youngest GP world champion in history at 17 years of 166 days old, just one day older than record holder Loris Capirossi, when he swept to the 1990 125cc title in Australia. When it really mattered, Acosta showed the mentality and the brass of a champion.
Yes, there was a dip in form mid-season. But Spain’s sixth Moto3 champion in ten years revealed on Sunday that his ever-increasing height was causing him some discomfort on the bike. “I remember races like Silverstone and Aragon when I finished the race with a pain in the back,” he said. “After the summer it was difficult to keep fighting like we were. We started to take points and risked less. Then we changed some things from Misano to here and we started to be competitive again.” Little wonder he pushed KTM hard to promote him to Moto2 in 2022.
His secret to staying upbeat even in those difficult moments? Enjoy the ride. This was something Team Manager Ajo recognised from the early moments of his working relationship with Acosta. “We need to keep everything fun,” revealed the Finn on Sunday. “We know that in the sport in many levels things are even too serious. If you are not enjoying it anymore then you can’t do your best or you can’t focus in the best way. With Pedro at the beginning of the year, and now again it’s working really well. His main goal was to enjoy and then trust in himself.”
Gardner’s championship ride
Two aspects of Remy Gardner’s ride on Sunday stood out: the first was his calmness in those early laps when team-mate Raul Fernandez raced clear. There was reason to be gripped by anxiety, especially when Marco Bezzecchi pushed a way through to second. In that moment, the Australian’s title advantage was clipped to nine points, far from an insurmountable amount.
Yet Gardner had done his homework over free practice and figured he would have an advantage come the final laps. Still, seeing the #25 speed clear to establish an early 1.2s lead wasn’t ideal. “It was tough. Raul was really fast at the beginning with the soft. He got away so I just had to stay calm and bide my time. I stayed constant and it paid off.
The second was how he put pain to one side. A high-speed collision with Marcos Ramirez through the final fast right on Friday sent Gardner flying at close to 100mph. He bruised his left ribs in a heavy impact with the ground. “The last five laps (the pain) started coming in a little bit, more fatigued in the left corners,” said the 23-year old. “We had to push on the handlebars a bit more. but there was too much at stake to let that get into my head. I just pushed that aside, rode my heart out, put my balls where they needed to be and finished where I needed to be. (But) I’m definitely going to be looking for some painkillers in a little bit!”
A 13th place at Valencia will seal the title. And Fernandez has to win to have any shot at a late smash and grab job. Even with final race nerves, that should be achievable.
Raul’s gamble backfires
For a second race running, this was a case of what could have been for Raul Fernandez. Dunlop brought the same tyre allocation to the Algarve that riders used in Emilia-Romagna. But that was one step softer than the last contest here in April. On Friday, Dunlop noted how the softer of the two rear tyres was cold tearing in the afternoon when the temperature dropped mid-afternoon. It would be a risk to run race distance, they said.
Yet Fernandez persisted with the soft on Saturday morning. And his pace was so good on a rear tyre with 24 laps that others started to wonder whether it could be an option. Would the gamble be worth it? After all, when the field used the softer option at Misano 2, the race time was 15 seconds faster than that of the September outing, when everyone had used the harder option. Many names joined Fernandez in taking the gamble, notably Marco Bezzecchi and Augusto Fernandez, two sure-fire podium contenders.
But by mid-race it was clear this wasn’t the right choice. And as Gardner eased clear of his team-mate in the final laps to win by 3 seconds, the Spaniard was in no doubt as to what cost him. “It was strange,” Fernandez said after the race. “I used it and I was really competitive with the two rear tyres. I knew [Remy] would use the hard one. But yesterday and this morning I did the race distance with the soft. I don’t know what happened in the race but with ten laps to go I didn’t have any tyre left. If I used the hard it would have been better. But we can’t change.”
In the end, Gardner’s sticking to his guns paid off. “I knew he was going for the soft. Honestly, we talked about going with it and we tried it. Personally, we couldn’t use it. but he did 25 laps on it and he was fast. It was a bit worrying. But we stuck to our guns, stuck to what we thought. We probably should have done that in Misano (when he changed tyres on the grid). But you learn from those mistakes and we went and did a great race. It paid off.”
Aside from the Moto2 title battle, there was a resolute ride from Sam Lowes to finish third for his fifth podium of the year. Like Gardner, the 31-year old had to bide his time with the harder rear tyre. But not even the race winner was as fast as Lowes in the closing laps.
One aspect of Lowes’ performances that have stood out recently are his starts. For much of last year, the Englishman has struggled to get off the line. Yet, like the second Misano outing, he made up four places early on, which was crucial after qualifying eighth.
On improving his starts, Lowes said, “A few things: a bit of practice. From the middle part of last year and this year I’ve used the different rear brake lever (on the handlebars) so my clutch is quite high. We’ve been working with that, just to find a good biting point. I stopped using the launch control. I’ve been doing it manually and finding a better feeling. It’s like anything, if you make a few bad starts you’ve got a bit more focus on the next one. Then when you get a bit of confidence, you get some good ones and things start to flow. Like in everything in this sport it’s always small details. It looks like we’re now in a better way. I qualified down in eighth today, I needed it and got a nice one.”
Cut Binder some slack
Darryn Binder faced a barrage of criticism after the last lap incident in which he took down Moto3 title challenger Dennis Foggia in the opening event of the day. The South African, was disparaged by riders and media alike for the crash out of fourth place, which also claimed Sergio Garcia. MotoGP race winner Francesco Bagnaia was among the most critical and felt there should be a kind of super license in place, which means riders can only graduate to MotoGP if they have achieved certain high results. “We have seen a lot of crashes like this from him.”
But as clumsy a move as it was, at such a crucial stage in the championship, Binder deserves a little slack here. It’s hard to recall a similar incident from him either this season or last. Aware that he was a little too rough around the edges in his early years in Moto3, the South African calmed down and cut out the kind of moves that earned him the nickname ‘Divebomb’. Another thing to bear in mind: KTM’s Moto3 racer has been the stronger machine this year both Binder and John McPhee have repeatedly struggled from a lack of top speed, meaning late-braking antics are necessary to stay with the leaders.
I tend to agree with Jack Miller, who pointed to the pressure currently on the South African. “Darryn is a bit wild or whatever, but I can say from first-hand experience the pressure of going from Moto3 to MotoGP directly and how much it puts on you and to be honest, he’s just scratching the surface of what’s to come when it comes to taking on that challenge. So, everybody can do it. This is racing. Accidents like that can happen,” said the Australian.
KTM moving heaven and earth for Raul
At the second Misano bow, rumours persisted that Moto2 hotshot Raul Fernandez was less than amused when KTM failed to find brother Adrian a full-time seat for the 2022 Moto3 gird. This, added to his continued flirting with Yamaha even after signing a contact to step up to MotoGP with KTM, may well have caused a feeling of unease in the KTM camp.
After Misano, Pit Beirer told website Speedweek, “We also want to see Adrián in Moto3 with one of our teams in 2022. But at the moment we no longer have a team that we can influence directly.” Originally, the younger Fernandez was slated to ride in the BOE Owlride for the first six races, as their new rider, David Muñoz, doesn’t turn 16 until the 15th of May, and therefore wouldn’t be eligible to compete on the world stage.
Yet clearly keen to keep Raul onside, the bosses shuffled their Moto3 pack around. It was announced on Sunday Dani Holgado, originally signed to Tech 3 KTM’s Moto3 squad for next year, will now be riding for Aki Ajo’s team in 2022, while Adrian will take over his vacancy in Hervé Poncharal’s team, alongside Deniz Öncü.
And why not keep Team Fernandez happy? From what he’s shown this year, he’s a long-term investment that is certainly worth keeping onside.
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