After three days of testing for the Moto2 and Moto3 classes at Portimão, the 2022 preseason is officially over. It was pretty much over by about 4pm on Monday, with just 10 riders out in the Moto3 class, and even fewer in the Moto2 class. I went for a quick walk around the service road at 5:30pm, and was too late to see the last bike circulate.
That is in itself a sign of how successful this test was for the lightweight and intermediate classes. Three days of outstanding weather, with the wind the biggest issue on the first day, and no disruption for the rest of the test. The teams got pretty much all of the testing done that they needed to.
Unlike a MotoGP test, the amount of technical material to test is limited. In Moto3, engine development is still frozen for another couple of years, although both Honda and KTM had new exhausts obviously aimed at improving engine character. In Moto2, Triumph had brought a new gearbox, which is more race-focused, with a longer first gear and shorter fifth and sixth, making it more of a close-ratio box.
With chassis development permitted again in Moto2 after the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, Kalex, who now have 24 of the 28 bikes on the grid (the other two are the Boscoscuro – formerly Speed Up – and MV Agusta) have been able to bring new aero, a new frame, and a new swingarm. The changes to the aero and frames are relatively minor, according to Kalex boss Alex Baumgaertel, with the swingarm a slightly bigger change. The frame and swingarm are aimed at creating more grip and drive from the rear, which appears to have been successful.
Having 24 bikes on the grid doesn't mean Kalex face no opposition. Fermin Aldeguer posted very strong times all weekend, the Boscoscuro chassis clearly working well at Portimão. It was also a strong showing by rookie Aldeguer, after just a couple of replacement rides in Moto2 last year.
The other change is to the Dunlop rear tire in Moto2. The spec tire supplier for Moto2 and Moto3 have a new compound for the rear, aimed between the soft and the hard (the 1 and the 2, as Dunlop designate them). The new rear has a little less grip than the soft, but it has much better endurance and offers a more consistent feel. After tests in Jerez last November and earlier this month, and then here at Portimão, the tire was deemed a success All of the riders were enthusiastic, and it is likely to see a lot of action through the year.
Rider more than bike
Even though there was plenty to test, several people pointed out that Portimão is not a great track for testing. It is a roller coaster of a circuit, physically demanding and placing a lot of load on the bike, but like Phillip Island, it demands far more of the rider than it does of the bike. There are a lot of places where courage and confidence in the front is what matters, rather than the subtleties of edge grip, drive grip, braking stability.
It is a good test of riders, though. And the fact that Pedro Acosta ended the official Moto2 test as fastest, is a sign that the Spaniard is something special. He is carrying the momentum and confidence gained from winning the Moto3 championship as a rookie into his rookie season in Moto2, and standing trackside and watching at various points of the section between Turns 5 and Turn 13, Acosta showed the commitment and confidence of a champion. He threw the Ajo Moto2 Kalex around like he had been riding it forever, rather than after a few days of testing.
It should be no surprise that Acosta is comfortable on a Moto2 bike. The Spaniard spends a lot of time lapping the Cartagena circuit on a Yamaha R1, so throwing a big, powerful bike around is nothing new for him. Investing that time on a big bike is paying off, as his times show.
Everybody I spoke to at Portimão was impressed by Acosta. He felt comfortable on the bike and with the tires, and it showed. "He clearly won't spend long on a Moto2 bike," one insider said. Another said they expected to see him on a MotoGP bike very soon.
It is hard to escape the impression that Acosta will be in MotoGP as soon as next year, whether he wins the 2022 Moto2 title or not. Even the fact that winning the Moto2 title is regarded as a realistic prospect is a sign of the regard in which the Spaniard is held. Factories are already sniffing around Acosta, though KTM will be loath to let him go.
Persistent rumors surround the fate of Raul Fernandez, that he is unhappy at KTM preventing Yamaha from buying him out of his contract, and that he is biding his time to leave the Austrian factory and head to Yamaha. There are some who say that KTM will not be sorry to see him go, despite Fernandez' obviously immense talent. The conflict last summer, which saw KTM CEO Stefan Pierer step in and announce Fernandez' promotion to the Tech3 KTM team during FP4 in Austria, is still producing fallout, and the relationship is far from happy.
Losing Fernandez would be a blow for KTM, but a blow which the arrival of Pedro Acosta on a KTM MotoGP bike would greatly soften. And it is remarkable to think that this is even circulating as a rumor before Acosta has even turned a wheel on a race weekend in Moto2.
Aki Ajo may have lost Raul Fernandez and Remy Gardner to MotoGP, the pairing he has brought in to replace them is looking as strong as their predecessors. Acosta ended the test fastest, and Augusto Fernandez, making the switch from the Marc VDS team, had a very strong test and made a fast transition between teams.
The Ajo Moto2 riders start the season as favorites, along with Aron Canet, who has settled in quickly to the Flexbox HP40 Pons Moto2 team, and was fast and consistent all through the test. Fermin Aldeguer was also impressive, while Albert Arenas appears to have found his feet at GasGas Aspar, as has new teammate Jake Dixon.
Sam Lowes, who starts as a title favorite because of his record in the Moto2 class, had a difficult test. The Marc VDS rider is suffering with tendinitis in his left wrist, a problem his brother Alex has too. That was particularly difficult at a track as physical as Portimão, and especially coming after a recent test at Jerez. The best solution for tendinitis is rest, but with a 21-race season coming up, rest is not something readily available. Lowes is continuing to seek treatment to help alleviate the problem.
All around the world
Speaking of a 21-race season, there have been persistent rumors and speculation that actually pulling off all 21 rounds would be impossible, due to various pandemic-related restrictions. But talking to people in a position to know, they are all convinced that the full 21-race season will happen. There had been doubts over Argentina and Japan, but entry conditions for Argentina are sufficient that the Termas de Rio Hondo round looks set to go ahead, and those involved in planning similarly expect no issues going to Japan in October.
That doesn't mean that people are enthusiastic, however. Everyone who isn't a rider is not looking forward to the strain of travel and being away from home for 21 races. The younger riders are keen, reasoning that more races are always better. But some of the older MotoGP hands were less than delighted by the prospect of 21 races.
In Moto3, Dennis Foggia was immediately quick, despite missing the first day and a half of the test with a gastrointestinal condition. Foggia appears to be picking up where he left off. Andrea Migno of the Snipers team ended second quickest, and was consistently quick, as was Tatsuki Suzuki.
For KTM and its assorted brands, Izan Guevara was impressive on the Aspar GasGas, while rookie David Muñoz was impressive, carrying the speed he showed in Red Bull Rookies and the FIM CEV into the grand prix paddock.
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