Moto2: Morbidelli wins racing masterclass in Austria
Moto2: Morbidelli wins racing masterclass in Austria

Less than a week after the 10th round of the season in Brno, the Moto2 class were returning to action this time at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria for round 11, one that was to prove difficult and was thrown into jeopardy due to their wet practice session.

Kent steps in after signing new contract deal

Returning to the class as a replacement rider for Marcel Schrotter who has fractured his scaphoid, British rider, Danny Kent was stepping in with the Dynavolt Intact GP team. The British rider also announced that he has signed a contract with Speed Up Racing that will begin next season, but then things changed for the worse!

The Red Bull Ring is home for both Red Bull Racing and KTM Factory Racing and so it was an important round for several especially the new Moto2 team that have debuted this season, Red Bull KTM Ajo. Riders Miguel Oliveira, and Moto2 rookie and 2016 Moto3 champion, Brad Binder were hoping to impress from the moment things got underway.

Rain hits the first Free Practice session

Within seven minutes of the first practice session getting underway for the 600cc class in Austria, rain hit which was confirmed by white and red flags waved trackside. This caused a retreat from the riders to the pit garages where they switched their bikes to the wet setup. The riders in that class only have the one bike available and so the teams would need to act fast to change setup so the riders could get as much time on track as possible.

Unfortunately for rookie, Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team), he did not make it back to the pits in time before he crashed. The rear end slid and took him off line as he approached turn three. He then ran off track and the rear end had another huge slide which caused him to high-side. Fortunately he appeared unhurt.

Carnage as several riders crash due to the smooth, wet track

Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) was one of the first riders to return to the wet track. He was soon joined by rookie, Jorge Navarro (Federal Oil Gresini Moto3) and several others. The rain had fallen hard, and the popular track is smooth in parts but what followed brought a great doubt of whether the race go ahead should it rain on race-day.

Within minutes of returning to track, replacement rider for Danny Kent at Kiefer Racing, Tarran Mackenzie, who was brought in after the others decided to part ways, fell at turn one of the track. The front locked as he approached the return and he was slammed down falling to the left of his bike and he slid into the run-off area.

Moments later, rookie Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) fell and slid through the run-off area in the wet. But he had to act fast and leg it from the area as Marquez fell and in doing so brought an unexpected Kent down with him.

Marquez takes out and injures Kent

The third rider to go down within moments, the session should possibly have been stopped and Marquez looked like there was nothing he could do to prevent the crash or the connection. Immediately Marquez ran to Kent’s aid as the Brit was unable to get up as he was clearly hurt. The two were at risk of further fallers hitting them, and eventually they returned to a safe area.

Then, Navarro was next to fall, sliding out at the same turn. Thomas Luthi (CarXpert Interwetten) had a near miss running wide, and then his teammate, Iker Lecuona (CarXpert Interwetten) also suffered the same fate as the others at turn one of the track.

Turn three catches several out

On the approach to turn three, Xavier Simeon (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2) came off at turn three; he fell early on the approach to the corner. Championship leader, Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) then got caught out at turn four as did Locatelli once again, the two ending up in the gravel. Replacement rider, Joe Roberts (AGR Team) also went down at turn three.

The rain began to fall again, heavy and yet the session was still not stopped or delayed. In a way the riders are not forced to go out in those conditions but they were keen to should they be the circumstances they would meet on race day.

Oliveira tops the opening session

At his machine’s home track, it was Oliveira who finished the opening session on top. It was his time that he set on towards the start of the session in the dry, that saw him quickest and the rain prevented further improvement.

Track dried out for Free Practice 2

The track had dried later on in the day by the time it was their turn to complete Free Practice 2. The competition was on as Marquez, Luthi, Marquez, Isaac Vinales (Be-A-VIP SAG Team), Oliveira and Morbidelli all visited the timesheets at some time or another.

Quartararo gets stung

Rookie, Fabio Quartararo (Pons HP40) was having issues. First he almost ran on or crashed at turn one of the track, then he was lifted out of his seat and then he appeared to be getting stung as he rode around the track; something had gotten into his leathers and he was trying to let it out to stop the attack.

Replacement rider, Augusto Fernandez (Speed Up Racing) fell at turn four of the track, and then again Navarro crashed again, this time at turn three. The Spaniard tried his best to keep hold of the bike and to keep it running.

Quartararo continued to have issues as he again struggled to turn, and Mackenzie came close to a second crash also. Unfortunately for Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team), who was battling it out for the top spot with Oliveira towards the end of the session, he slid out at turn one of the track.

Morbidelli tops the timesheets on the opening day

Luthi got in a late lap, but a later one from Morbidelli meant that he finished the second session, and the first day on top of the timesheets with a time of 1:30.211. His time was not far off the record times set by Johann Zarco in 206 when the circuit re-joined the calendar that were within 1:29 minutes.

Sunny day two in Spielberg

For the final Free Practice session for the Moto2 class before Qualifying, the track was dry as it was sunny in Spielberg so the riders could continue where they left off the day previous. This time it was Marquez and Luthi who looked promising, although Luthi appeared to be fighting a great deal with his Kalex, especially into turn one, but he kept it on the track somehow.

Oliveira crashes out as Luthi goes quickest

Unfortunately for Oliveira, he crashed at turn four. The front folded on his KTM and the bike flipped through the gravel. Marquez also had to bail as he passed through turn nine; his foot came off the peg when he almost lost it and he too ran on to the gravel. Simeon was also spotted doing some grass-tracking as he had also gone way offline.

Heading into Qualifying, although he was having to work for it, Luthi was quickest with his time of 1:29.738 which was creeping closer to the Circuit Lap Record of 1:29.497 and the Best Lap which claimed pole for Zarco with a time of 1:29.255. Rookie, Bagnaia, and Pasini were the only other riders able to lap under 1:30 minutes.

Intense Qualifying leads to mistakes from some

Things grew intense during Qualifying understandably as the riders pushed to try and earn better grid for the race the following day. It was not without incident however as the riders pushed hard from the start when the track was emptier.

The work was cut out for the Tech 3 Racing team as within moments of each other, Remy Gardner and Xavi Vierge came off at turn one of the track. Gardner came off and slid along the straight part of the track his bike sliding down and hitting the wall. Vierge fell in the track moments later and although his bike went to the side, the Spaniard had to quickly get to his feet and get out of danger but then fell to the gravel hurt once track-side.

Navarro makes an amazing save… or was it a crash?

Morbidelli had a near-miss after provisionally holding pole before he was knocked off it by Bagnaia and then Pasini. Oliveira also ran on at the same corner and Navarro saved another crash at turn three.

It was extraordinary to watch as the rear went and he saved it, but then it went again as he accelerated out of the turn, and he saved it on his knee before managing to lift himself and the bike with his leg and he ran across the road still going on the bike. The bike was still running, technically he hadn’t crashed but he returned to the pits where once he saw the footage replayed on the monitors, even he was surprised that he made the save and how he did it.

Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) crashed at turn nine of the track and as they have already learned, one of the worst times to crash is during Qualifying. Many of the riders came close, especially at turns three and four, but fortunately there were no further incidents.

Pasini claimed pole at the Red Bull Ring

Pasini claimed pole at the Red Bull Ring, the Italian set a fastest time of 1:29.394 beating the circuit record lap time. Morbidelli’s final attempts saw him get within just 0.001 seconds of his time, but it was not enough and he had to start from second on the grid although he could be reassured by the matched pace. The Italian dup were joined by Marquez who completed the front row.

Rookie Bagnaia led row two in fourth ahead of Luthi and rookie, Quartararo. Vinales was seventh ahead of Oliveira and Vierge, and Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP), Navarro, and Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) completed row four.

Warm-up delayed due to track conditions

On race-day the morning warm-up session was delayed due to track conditions. News was also shared that Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) would be penalised and have his lap times cancelled due to a technical infringement as he had the incorrect tyre pressures during the earlier session.

Kent was withdrawn from the event due to injuries sustained during Free Practice 1; such a shame when he would have wanted to celebrate his new contract deal with a good result, and it’s always good to keep a foot in so he doesn’t ‘lose it’.

During the warm-up there were two crashes. Rookie, Binder came off at turn nine his bike hit the airbag after he came off at the fast turn. Axel Pons (AGR Team) also came off; he fell at turn four of the track.

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Morbidelli leads when the race gets underway

With everything in place for the 25 lap race, the riders lined upon the grid. It was championship leader, Morbidelli, who was fastest during the warm-up, who got the best start from second on the grid and he led into turn one of the race. There was carnage on the first lap though as two separate incidents saw nine riders involved.

Carnage at turn one of the race

Firstly, Vierge fell as he took an inside line into turn one, he hit Quartararo and took him out, the rookie was thrown up and out of his seat. As hey slid out, riders did what they could to avoid but Luca Marini (Forward Racing) ended up running right into Quartararo’s sliding bike and was also brought down. Quartararo was down and needing assistance.

Behind them, a similar incident occurred at the same turn just metres away but instead it involved Lecuona, Simeon, Tetsuta Nagashima (Teluru SAG Team), Cortese, Stefano Manzi (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Racing Team).

Quartararo, Cortese, and teammates Baldassarri and Marini failed to finish the first lap. Only Lecuona and Nagashima were able to continue on and finish the race, as the others all ended up retiring at different stages.

The race was not halted despite incident

The race continued despite the carnage and Morbidelli continued to lead ahead of Luthi (who made his way up there after several corners), Marquez and pole position man, Pasini. They settled into a rhythm over the opening laps and Luthi concentrated on closing the gap that Morbidelli had created when he pushed away at the front of the pack. Binder was keen to do well for Red Bull KTM Ajo and set the fastest la so far on lap three.

Luthi takes the lead but made the first of many mistakes

By the fourth lap, Luthi had forced his way to the front when he passed Morbidelli at the hairpin, turn three (that comes at the end of the straight). Luthi went wide however, and as they powered down the next straight, it was like a drag race as the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS teammates sandwiched the German rider. Luthi won, but the further around the lap Morbidelli passed him again.

This allowed Pasini to catch up and he soon joined in on the battle for the lead, passing Luthi and creating a group of four that had a one second lead over fifth place rookie, Bagnaia.

KTM’s battling out for number one spot on home turf

Behind them, the two KTM’s were battling out for sixth as they wanted to both do well at the Red Bull Ring. They constantly switched places at the start, at several locations around the track, but eventually it was Oliveira who emerged successful and he was able to soon focus his attention on catching the leaders.

The battle continues at the front

On the sixth lap, Luthi passed Pasini to reclaim third. The passing meant that Bagnaia was able to tag on to the back of the group, and as the KTM riders chased, Luthi set a new faster lap time. Taking advantage of the slipstream down a straight, Marquez looked to make a move on his teammate, Morbidelli, but Luthi had the same idea and he passed but then ran wide at turn three. This in turn forced Marquez wide and Morbidelli was able to break open a gap.

Setting the newest fastest lap, Oliveira was closing in on Bagnaia and ahead of him, Pasini was sliding the rear of his Kalex everywhere. Luthi was looking to make another attack on Marquez, but ahead Morbidelli was becoming a concern as he set the fastest lap.

Luthi and Pasini almost make contact

On the ninth lap, Luthi looked to make his move at turn four, but he missed the apex which resulted in Luthi and Pasini almost coming into contact. Luthi recovered quickly though and was soon up to second at turn eight, only to find that Marquez retaliated at turn nine. Meanwhile, Oliveira had caught and passed Bagnaia to take fifth, he was definitely on the move.

On the 10th lap, Luthi passed Marquez again at turn three, but Marquez accelerated hard out of the turn meaning he had a better drive which compensated for the manoeuvre on him. Pasini went wide at turn four at the tricky track.

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Morbidelli gets caught on track

The attack from Luthi caused Marquez to speed up and he soon caught his teammate, Morbidelli. Luthi wasn’t going to give up any time soon however and he very much kept in touch.

Unfortunately for Vinales, he fell off ending his race on lap 12 at turn eight of the track, a fast turn. On the following lap after getting tangled up at the start of the race, Manzi came off again, this time at turn three, and this time was forced to retire from the race.

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Luthi nearly comes into contact with Marquez

On the 13th lap, Luthi again tried to go up the inside of Marquez, but this time they nearly touched as they accelerated out of the turn. Marquez had the inside line for the next right hand turn and after a drag race down a straight he again remained second.

Pasini found himself under pressure from Oliveira. The Portuguese rider had settled into his quick pace from being so familiar at the track and on the 5th lap he passed Pasini on the start-finish straight to take fourth.

Were the tyres beginning to fail?

As they hit turn three on the following lap, the three leaders all appeared to run wide at turn three of the track. Were their tyres starting to go off? If so, who would be able to last for the duration of the race?

Luthi wasn’t deterred, and again he made a move on Marquez at turn three once again. The usually smooth and calculated Luthi appeared frustrated, and as well as wrestling his bike was spent in trying to discover any way past so he could compensate points in the championship. But again, he missed the apex and went wide and Marquez got the better drive out of the turn and he remained second.

Luthi tries a change of tactics

On the following lap then, Luthi decided to change his tactics and this time looked to act on turn one of the following lap as they were running out of laps fast. He couldn’t do anything affective and so resorted to his turn three attack. He briefly took the lead this time around but Morbidelli appeared aware of the attack and accelerated to the front immediately. Marquez ran wide or he would have benefited from Luthi’s mistake.

As they were battling for the win, Oliveira was running at a quicker pace lapping around 0.8 seconds faster. Pasini now found himself under pressure from Bagnaia who still had a great late race pace but as part of a penalty Bagnaia had to give a place back on track meaning he had to let Pasini by; but he immediately overtook him as soon as the opportunity again arose.

Oliveira decided to take a look up the inside of Marquez as they passed down the start-finish straight on lap 21. Marquez took an inside line at the following third turn and forced Luthi wide again and took back second as a result. Morbidelli was again able to build up a gap to almost one second.

Disaster strikes for Oliveira

Disaster then struck for Oliveira and a disappointing end to his weekend at the Red Bull Ring in front of all his team and sponsors when he had a big off at turn eight of the track. He lost the rear as he accelerated out of the turn and was thrown off on the inside, then was hit by the bike as they tumbled into the gravel. It looked painful and he required assistance from the trackside marshals and medics as he was left on his knees face down. It was race over for him with five laps to go but fortunately he was able to walk to the ambulance himself.

Things calm after extraordinary racing at the front from the leaders

Just a handful of laps remained but the race wasn’t over as Morbidelli and then Marquez, were able to set new fastest lap times. They were pushing hard and again on lap 23 at turn three, Luthi went wide as he again tried to make a pass at the hotspot.

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Morbidelli wins in Austria

It was race over here as gaps opened up that could not be overcome as there was no time left. Morbidelli won in Austria, crossing the line 1.312 seconds ahead of his teammate, Marquez in second. They had collected another one-two for Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS. Luthi completed the podium, crossing the line behind the duo having to settle for finishing the race in third despite all his extraordinary efforts throughout.

Bagnaia finished as the top rookie in fourth just three seconds off race winner, Morbidelli just ahead of Pasini in fifth. There was then a five second gap between he and Nakagami in sixth who had caught and passed Binder who crossed the line in seventh.

Navarro was eighth ahead of Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing), and Syahrin who completed the top 10. Despite being involved in the crash at turn one of the race, Nagashima managed to finish in the points in 12th behind Corsi in 11th. Brother Axel Pons and Edgar Pons (Pons HP40) followed and Gardner, collected the last championship point available in 15th.

Morbidelli extends his championship lead

Morbidelli’s win in Austria means he again has extended his championship lead to 207 points. He is now 26 points ahead of Luthi in second on 181 points, and Marquez remains third on 153 points. Because of his DNF in Austria Oliveira remains on 133 points in fourth ahead of Bagnaia now on 100 in fifth. Pasini is 16 behind on 84 points, with a five point lead ahead of Nakagami. Corsi, Aegerter and Marini complete the top 10.