Elf Marc VDS Racing Team’s Sam Lowes notched up win number two of 2021 to become the first British rider to win the opening two races of an intermediate class campaign since Mike Hailwood did so in 1966, as the number 22 and Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) treated us to a terrific scrap for victory at the Tissot Grand Prix of Doha. Rookie sensation Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) picked up his maiden Moto2™ podium with a brilliant P3 at Losail.
Launching very well from the middle of the front row was Gardner who immediately got the better of Lowes, but in the second phase of the start the Australian got swamped by Lowes, Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) and teammate Raul Fernandez. The latter was wide at Turn 1 as Bezzecchi grabbed the holeshot from Lowes, with Gardner slotting into P3 ahead of his rookie teammate. This leading quartet immediately pulled clear of the chasing pack, fronted by Aron Canet (Solunion Aspar Team).
Bezzecchi, Lowes, Raul Fernandez and Gardner were in a league of their own. All of them set mid-1:59s with Canet setting a 2:00.040, the latter then lost out to Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) as the American sat 1.7 seconds adrift heading onto Lap 4. On said lap, the lead changed. Lowes tucked in behind Bezzecchi on the straight and made a Turn 1 move stick, and Lowes was soon half a second clear. Gardner, seeing Lowes getting into his groove, was close to hitting teammate Raul Fernandez and Bezzecchi at Turn 10, but the pass was made.
Coming onto Lap 6, Bezzecchi went from P2 to P4 in a matter of seconds. Both Red Bull KTM Ajo bikes drafted the Italian and set their sights on Lowes, who wasn’t pulling clear. In the battle for P5, Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) was challenging Roberts and on Lap 7 the American was down. Rider ok, with Ogura losing a couple of places just behind after seeing Roberts fly down the road.
Meanwhile, at the front, Gardner was hounding leader Lowes who wasn’t looking as comfortable as last weekend. Raul Fernandez was right there with Bezzecchi waiting in the wings too, a fascinating encounter was beginning to unfold. And with 10 laps gone, 10 to go, the top four were nearly six seconds clear of fifth place Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), who in turn was leading a ferocious battle for the top 10 and point-scoring positions.
On Lap 13, Lowes landed the fastest lap of the race and was asking questions of Gardner, with Raul Fernandez still sticking with the two elder Moto2™ statesmen. Bezzecchi was now losing touch, the Italian 1.5 seconds back from Raul Fernandez, the latter sticking in his fastest lap of the race on Lap 14. Six to go, it looked like it was Lowes vs Red Bull KTM Ajo for victory under the lights.
The fastest lap of the race, a 1:59.131, was then set by Gardner as the race entered the final five laps. 0.7s split the trip, 0.2s between Lowes and Gardner. The Qatar race winner looked to have the edge in the opening half of the lap, the Qatar GP runner-up looked quicker in the second half. Still no change though with three laps to go, a trio of 1:59.1s for Gardner still wasn’t enough to get the better of Lowes but this was going down to the wire. Raul Fernandez was clinging on, but the Spaniard was 0.7s away from his teammate’s tailpipes as the leaders swept over the line.
Lowes responded to Gardner’s pressure. A 1:59.026 was the fastest lap of the race and the gap was up to half a second, more than it had been for some time now. Again though, Gardner was giving it his all and Sector’s 3 and 4 saw the gap return to two tenths – a 1:58.991 for Gardner!
The Ashes on two wheels. Lowes vs Gardner, England vs Australia. Nobody was giving an inch as the duo looked on rails, with nothing to choose between them. Heading into the latter half of the last lap, Gardner was right up behind Lowes and coming out of Turn 14, they were closer than ever. Would Gardner lunge at Turn 15? No! It came down to the last corner and the run to the line. Lowes broke late into Turn 16, Gardner tried to get on the gas early but was out the seat, ruining his drive onto the straight. Lowes got the power down and took the chequered flag 0.190s ahead of Gardner to make it two from two in 2021, Gardner takes P2 again in Doha in a thrilling fight between the two. Both riders set their best laps on the last lap, Gardner's the fastest of the race, a sign of just how brilliant the two were riding.
Raul Fernandez lost touch in the end but it was nevertheless a phenomenal ride from the rookie to claim his maiden Moto2™ podium, awesome job from the Spaniard. Bezzecchi eventually had a lonely ride home to P4, a podium evades one of the pre-season favourites, but P4 for the second race in a row isn’t a terrible start to the season. Another rookie who is enjoying life as a Moto2™ rider is Ogura and the Japanese rider recovered from his off-track excursion to claim P5 – a fine effort.
Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) crossed the line in P6 to vastly improve from his P14 last Sunday, a confidence-boosting ride for the Spaniard. Yet another rookie in the form of Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) picked up a second consecutive point-scoring ride, P7 is his best result and a wonderful way to begin the year. Stefan Manzi (Flexbox HP40) was just 0.029s behind his VR46 Academy teammate in P8, a good ride from the Italian, with Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) picking up a P9 from P19 on the grid – good job from the Spaniard who beats 10th place Di Giannantonio by six tenths.
Rookie Tony Arbolino (Liqui Moly Intact GP) was 11th for his first Moto2™ points, the Italian led Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team), Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Italtrans Racing Team) and reigning Moto3™ World Champion Albert Arenas (Solunion Aspar Team) over the line, those riders completed the points.
Cameron Beaubier (American Racing), Tom Lüthi (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) and Canet crashed out on their own, with Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) crashed out together at the final corner.
A maximum 50 points for Lowes at Losail, the perfect start to 2021 for the Briton but Gardner is just 10 points behind him in the standings after two P2s. The duo were the outstanding riders in Rounds 1 and 2 as the paddock look forward to a weekend off, before heading to Portimao – scene of Gardner’s first Grand Prix victory in 2020.
1. Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team)
2. Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) + 0.190
3. Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) + 3.371
4. Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) + 6.789
5. Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) + 16.640
6. Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) + 16.887
7. Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) + 17.254
8. Stefano Manzi (Flexbox HP40) + 17.283
9. Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) + 17.515
10. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) + 18.167