Moto2: Zarco does the double after an emotional 2016 season

Out of the three world championship classes within the MotoGP paddock, it was the Moto2 class that proved to be the closest as it came round down to the end of the season before the championship was decided.

Zarco looked to defend his 2015 Moto2 championship title

Heading into 2016, defending Moto2 champion Johann Zarco was hoping to repeat his success by claiming the championship for the second successive year. The only thing was, this had never been achieved, no-one had ever been able to manage it, and as every competitor knows, it is much harder to retain a championship title than it is to gain one in the first place; mainly because of the mental strain the champion is left under.

But the Frenchman pulled it off. He did the double, the unthinkable, but not the impossible when he claimed his second Moto2 championship in a row. It was a tough year, a lot happened and the competition was tough throughout the season. But they emerged as such a close-knit community; when they needed to step aside from the competition they did and provided the much needed support proving that inside that paddock is one huge biking family.

No major changes to regulations ahead of the season opener in Qatar

They started off in Qatar at the Losail International Circuit. The 600cc class took to the grid for a day and a half of Free Practice, the first real opportunity to line up along their competition for the year. There were no changes to the tyres, they remained with Dunlop. All teams run with the Honda engine, but the chassis differs. Suter were not represented in 2016 for long, the class was made up of Kalex , Tech 3, Speed Up and Suter chassis’, however the one Suter would not compete for long after losing their rider with a broken ankle.

Under the floodlights, it was Jonas Folger who claimed the first pole position of the season at the opening round. Folger was new to the Dynavolt Intact GP Racing Team as they decided to expand from one rider to two. He had been impressive throughout all the Free Practice sessions.

Joining him on the front row that first time was British rider Sam Lowes. He with the Federal Oil Gresini Racing Moto2 team were desperate for to win a Moto2 title before he progressed up to the MotoGP; as Lowes knew that his contract deal meant he would ride for the Gresini team on the Aprilia in 2017. The front row was completed by Alex Rins on the Paginas Amarillas HP 40 Kalex; another rider who was favoured for the 2016 Moto2 title.

Messy start to the season for the Moto2 class

Now the season opener in Qatar turned out to be a race with plenty of controversy. Keen for the season to get underway, many riders made a jump start before the lights went out. The controversy came when different riders were penalised at different stages of the race; this resulted in the penalties varying between ride-through and time added on at the end. The fact that the penalties came at different times made people wonder were they at an advantage or disadvantage depending on whether it was given during a critical part of the race.

Folger used his pole position to his advantage until he crashed out of the race on the penultimate lap. It meant that Garage Plus Interwetten rider Thomas Luthi, who was sat in second, gained the lead. He came uinder pressure from Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS rider Franco Morbidelli who battled it out with him right up until the end. Riders completed penalties, and Lowes was the one who recovered the best from it however officials revealed that Morbidelli was under investigation at the end of the race for the jump-start and he later had 20 seconds added on; had he received a ride through penalty he would have lost a lot more time.

Luthi wins in Qatar

Luthi won in Qatar, and Luis Salom ended up second with the SAG Team ahead of Simone Corsi (Speed Up), as Morbidelli’s time-penalty meant he dropped from the placings. There was a lot of confusion at the end of the race and no doubt some appeals were made to Race Direction. The equipment was blamed for the delays in the penalties throughout the race, but no penalty was retracted later on in the season.

In between the first and second round, a Grand Prix Commission meeting took place and as a result the aerodynamic wings that riders and teams had experimented with, were immediately banned from the Moto2 class. It was thought that some teams would not have the money to invest in testing with the modifications and so it was decided to keep it as as level a playing field as possible.

Mixed weather conditions in Argentina

The Moto2 class made their way to Argentina for the second round of the season, a round that was to be hindered by bad weather The conditions went from blistering hot on day one when Zarco proved to be quickest, to torrential rain on race day meaning that all the data gathered had almost completely gone to waste. Lowes was on pole, the track had started to dry out and it was a matter of who could make the most of the situation in hand.

Folger initially led, but again made a mistake and lost his lead to Lowes who was being followed by Zarco. Midway through the race, Zarco took the lead after making his way past Folger and he went on to win the race. He celebrated in style as he climbed aboard a tyre wall and somersaulted backwards off it… he was clearly head over heels with his win.

Rins breaks the record in COTA

Records were smashed when the Moto2 class eventually made their way to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The weather conditions in Argentina left many riders and teams stranded, and when they eventually got to America, they were exhausted especially as some had to find other forms of transport. Rins was immediately on form, and he smashed the circuit record that had previously been beaten by Zarco; Rins went on to claim pole. Rins’ domination continued at COTA as he won the third round of the season; which also meant there were three different winners so far.

Time for Nakagami to get into the record books in Jerez

Records continued to be broken in the Moto2 class when they got to Jerez, this time it was Takaaki Nakagami aboard the IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia that would be the one to do it. In the final moments of Qualifying however, it was Lowes who secured pole position. He had saved tyres specifically for his last minute surge that again reduced the lap time breaking the record set by Nakagami.

Right in time for the Queen of England turning 90, and not long after St George’s Day, Lowes collected a win for the Brits in Jerez. He was the fourth different winner in four rounds, and the 25 points he collected meant it was enough for Lowes to remain on top of the championship by just one point.

Folger announces new contract agreement

Before they travelled to Le Mans for the fifth round of the season, Folger announced that he too would be making the step up to the MotoGP class for the 2017 season. Bradley Smith, who raced in 2016 for the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team had previously revealed that he would be moving to the Red Bull KTM Racing team that would be introduced to the elite class in 2017. Pol Espargaro would soon reveal that he was to join them, and in time for the French team’s home round they announced their first new signing.

Rins steals win and championship lead in Le Mans

Zarco was desperate to do well in France on home turf and immediately felt at home as he was quickest on day one. But he could not carry that through on to day two as along came Luthi who not only secured pole position; he too got his name into the record books with his quickest time. It was Rins who emerged victorious in France with a comfortable win however; a win that took him back to the top of the championship.

Red flag in Mugello

Zarco led the way in Mugello where they met for the first Italian round of the season. Despite making a great start on the first day however, it was Lowes who claimed pole ahead of the race. But chaos broke loose during the race meaning it had to be restarted. Tech 3 Racing rider Xavi Vierge crashed out at turn 11, the impact between the bike and the inflatable tyre wall however caused it to burst and the race had to be stopped while it was replaced.

It led to the class experienced the new race restart procedure. It went so wrong that they had to do it a second time. The general consensus was that the riders would run with the soft compound tyre for the remainder of the race, but not many riders had practiced on it and so it was new territory for a few. Zarco managed to take the lead five laps from the end and went on to win the race.

The death of Luis Salom shook the Moto2 paddock

No-one knew what was about to hit the paddock the following round. During Free Practice in Barcelona ahead of the Catalunya GP, SAG Team rider Luis Salom was involved in an incident, unfortunately it was an incident that would cost the Spaniard his life. Salom, who was well known and liked around the paddock, had gone off line after just returning to the track from the pits. He missed his braking point heading into turn 12 and hit the wall; it was a freak accident at an area of the track where riders do not tend to come off.

Salom was tended to track side as his fellow competitors looked on, the worry set in as he remained trackside and the air ambulance was prepared. He was lifted into the back of an ambulance and transported to the helicopter where he underwent surgery. Despite everyones’ best efforts, Salom unfortunately passed away at age 24; a dark cloud fell on the circuit in Jerez.

Because of the incident the remainder of the practice session was abandoned. After receiving the blessing of Salom’s family, it was agreed that the meeting should continue in his honour. Whilst his bike remained parked in his pit garage with his pit board beside it in tribute to Salom, the riders took to the track, all sporting their own individual tributes to their friend.

Changes made to the layout of the track following Salom’s death

A Safety Commission meeting took place after the incident, and it was decided that the layout of the track would be changed to bypass the corner where Salom lost his life, and instead an extra corner was added that would hopefully slow the riders down, and give them an extra run-off area should they need it. A revised schedule was also put in place as a result.

Zarco’s experience shone through at an emotional round

Experience paid off for Zarco who was able to claim pole ahead of the race. Zarco also went on to win the race comfortable with a four second lead. Celebrations, if any, were very limited. Riders returned to parc ferme immediately, some chose to wave flags sporting Salom’s logo on it. The podium finishers, Zarco, Rins and Nakagami, were choking on their tears as they struggled to discuss the race afterwards. They took to the podium donning black t-shirts and refrained from the usual champagne celebration; each of them offered their trophy in tribute to Salom.

Rins latest to reveal new contract

Before they headed to Assen, it was announced that Rins had become the latest rider to reveal his future career path. He was signed by MotoGP team Team Suzuki Ecstar in place of Maverick Vinales who was replacing Jorge Lorenzo at Movistar Yamaha as he had chosen to move to Ducati. Rins had secured the highly sought after factory ride that many riders were holding out for.

Nakagami claims first Moto2 win on historical day in Assen

Luthi was on pole for the Motul TT Assen; round eight of the season. It was a wet race that resulted in Nakagami winning his first ever Moto2. He made his way into the history books on a day that saw Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) win his first ever MotoGP, and Francesco Bagnaia won his first ever Moto3, and the first for Mahindra. Nakagami’s success continued onto the next round at the Sachsenring where he claimed pole position. But it was Zarco who headed into the summer break with the win in Germany.

Zarco dominates as the Red Bull Ring returns to the calendar

The break definitely did the world of good for Zarco who returned to the Red Bull Ring, a circuit that was reintroduced to the calendar after a 19 year break. Luthi initially topped the timesheets but Zarco claimed pole and won at the Red Bull ring in Austria, but it wasn’t made easy for him. After battling it out with several riders on track, with 12 laps remaining he began to make his move from fourth position. Within three laps he was able to match his quick pace throughout the weekend and after a battle with Morbidelli, he went on to win the race with a three second lead.

Luthi ruled out with concussion

A crash filled session was not enough to stop Zarco from again claiming pole position this time in the Czech Republic. The session had to be stopped temporarily so that Luthi could be tended to. He was taken to hospital as he had experienced concussion from the impact. Earlier on in the day, his bike however, had picked up such momentum going through the gravel at the modified turn 11; it lifted up and scaled the barrier that stood between the gravel trap and the perimeter road. It was a high-side later on that caused his trip to the hospital, and him to miss the 11th round; it meant he lost points that would prove vital later on in the season. Folger won his first race of the season in Austria, becoming the sixth different winner so far in 2016.

Luthi returns to winning ways in Silverstone

On to Silverstone for the British GP and a certain British rider was determined to do well in front of his home fans. Lowes was looking incredibly strong and initially led at the start of the race, but it all became too much and he crashed out laps later. Luthi had returned from injury however and slowly and steadily made his way up through the pack before getting to the front where he remained from the race. It had been 10 rounds since he had last won, but he was very much back to his winning ways.

Balsassarri on top on home turf

Aware of the affect it would have on his championship, as Luthi’s consistency meant that Zarco was unable to extend the gap, the 2015 champion tried to fight back claiming pole position in Misano. But there is something about being at home that brings out the winning side to a rider, and Lorenzo Baldassarri became winner number seven of the season. With five laps remaining Baldassarri, who had worked his way through the pack was on the tail of Rins who was recovering from a broken collarbone that he had to have surgery on.

Sporting a special livery, the Italian was able to overtake Rins who initially fought back. Had it not been for the fact that Rins made a mistake when trying to overtake him, the battle would have been on until the end, but Baldassarri was able to win comfortably.

Lowes untouchable in Aragon

Just one more European round remained before the three flyaways. The Moto2 class made their way to Aragon where Lowes worked hard to try and salvage some championship points. Nakagami was again quickest on day one, but Lowes secured pole. He was something else at Aragon, his unique style led to him winning with a comfortable three second lead of Alex Marquez who claimed his best Moto2 result of the season and his career so far.

Aegerter sacked by CarXpert Interwetten

Before the riders headed out of Europe, it was announced that Dominique Aegerter had signed a new contract with Leopard Racing for 2017. The team that were still within their first year in the Moto2, and had made a fantastic start with Danny Kent and Miguel Oliveira, had announced that they would be collaborating with Suter in 2017. But the following day, Aegerter was sacked from CarXpert Interwetten for signing the new deal. It occurred with immediate effect and youngster Iker Lecuona was brought in to replace him in the final four rounds.

Everything was packed up and shipped off to the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan for the first of the three flyaway rounds. Phillip Island and Sepang followed on and it looked like it was going to be Luthi who would dominate all three. Zarco claimed pole in Motegi after smashing his own record, but the perfect ride from Luthi meant he won. Luthi claimed pole at a wet Phillip Island following limited time on track for the Moto2 class who missed out bcause of the rain.

Luthi continues domination of flyaway rounds

Luthi stole the win in Phillip Island too. Morbidelli was strong and looked incredibly promising, especially whilst away from Europe. After an immense battle on track, it looked like he had his first Moto2 win in the bag in Australia, but Luthi had a better drive heading out of the final corner and crossed the line just 0.010 seconds ahead of the Italian.

Double success for Zarco in Sepang

Knowing that the championship was becoming at risk Zarco switched things around for Sepang and not only did he claim pole position, he finished as the winner. His Malaysian Moto2 win was also enough for him to win the 2016 Moto2 championship. It had rained heavily ahead of the Moto2 taking to the track, and he headed in to the penultimate round with a 22 point lead meaning just four more points would be enough to secure the title.

The track dried out and Zarco’s pace increased. He continued on pushing and eventually was able to extend a lead. He did it, he won in Sepang, won the 2016 Moto2 championship, and became the first 600cc rider to win back-to-back championships with his sixth win of the season. Overcome with emotion, he pulled up at the side of the track where many of the riders pulled up alongside him to congratulate him on his achievement.

It was a prime example of how close-knit a community, a biking family that they were. Rivalries were put aside, and the riders hugged. It was clear that they were still hurting, they all still grieved the loss of their fallen rider Salom, and they knew that it was a well-deserved result after a tough and emotional season.

Zarco head over heels

Zarco began with his celebrations. He put on a t-shirt and changed to a gold helmet. He was then joined by another Zarco, 205 Zarco, and the duo hopped up onto the tyre wall, and both completed a backwards somersault in synchronisation. He had done the double, and now we were seeing double.

The Frenchman’s domination continued up until the end of his second championship winning season in the Moto2 class. He ended an extremely emotional season on a high, he secured pole at the season finale in Valencia and went on to win. It was the perfect end to his Moto2 career.

Changes to the paddock ahead of the 2017 Moto2 season

Next season the Moto2 class will be without four of the class of 2016 as they will be progressing up to the MotoGP class. Zarco, the double champion, was welcomed to the MotoGP class just two days after the end of the season as he joined his new teammate Folger at his new team Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, and the rest of the MotoGP class, for two days of testing.

One rider who most likely left the 2016 season more disappointed than most, was Morbidelli. The Italian rider worked damn hard to try and claim his first Moto2 win; something he wanted to achieve when p against the current pack as he knew it. He screams potential and remains in the Moto2 paddock next season where he will again go up against Luthi.

It has been a tough year for the 600cc class of riders. They have overcome so much in one year, which has been full of amazing highs, and devastating lows. Now is their time to rest and recuperate before preparations for the 2017 season get underway.

We will always remember Luis Salom; such a great personality and amazing young talent in the paddock. We lost a great competitor who was highly regarded amongst everyone who knew him; our thoughts remain with him and his family and his legend will live on into the 2017 season.