It’s now two wins in the last three Moto2™ races for rookie Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) after another flawless display at the SHARK Grand Prix de France. The Spaniard made no mistake on Sunday afternoon and led home teammate Remy Gardner by 1.4s, Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) completed the podium as title contender Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) suffers an early DNF.
With no rain falling since Moto2™ Warm Up, the circuit had a clear dry line after the Moto3™ race. This meant everyone was starting on Dunlop slick tyres for the intermediate class encounter in France, and it was Bezzecchi who pounced into the lead from the start as Raul Fernandez managed to cement P2, the field safely negotiating Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 1. There was contact between Gardner and Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) though, but disaster was avoided. Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team) was making early progress but the Spaniard was down hard at Turn 9 on the opening lap, a vicious highside ended his hopes of a second podium of 2021.
Lap 2 saw Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) crash out of the top three, a disaster for the Spaniard, with Raul Fernandez bridging the early gap that Bezzecchi had pulled on the field. World Championship leader Gardner and nearest challenger Lowes were P9 and P8 respectively, with the top three – Bezzecchi, Raul Fernandez and Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) – enjoying a second lead over the gaggle of riders from P4 to P11.
Lap 4 then witnessed three riders all go off the road at Turn 8 – including Lowes. Up the inside of Vierge, Lowes tucked the front as both went down, with Lorenzo Baldassarri (MV Agusta Forward Racing) running wide just ahead of the duo. Unable to get going again, Lowes’ French GP was over. Then, running P2, Roberts was down at Turn 9 after running in too hot on the brakes. Raul Fernandez picked up the baton and led the race in a dramatic opening handful of laps in the Moto2™ race.
Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) was occupying P3 with Gardner now up to 4th, but he had hard-charging rookie Tony Arbolino (Liqui Moly Intact GP) climbing all over the back of him. Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP40) crashed out from P6 at Turn 11, with a little helping hand from Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), as two seconds covered the top five heading onto Lap 9 – the Italian was handed a long-lap penalty.
Raul Fernandez was edging his lead up to a second over Bezzecchi, the latter slowly falling into the grasps of Bendsneyder, Gardner and Arbolino. After Diggia’s long-lap, the leading quintet were six seconds ahead of sixth place Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP), the German entangled in a fight with rookies Cameron Beaubier (American Racing), Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) and his teammate Somkiat Chantra.
The race then settled with Raul Fernandez keeping his advantage around the one second mark, with Bezzecchi pulling nearly a second clear of the trio behind him. On Lap 14, the race leader set a 1:36.993 to stretch his lead to 1.2s over Bezzecchi. However, a lap later it was back down to below a second as Fernandez’s teammate Gardner poached third off Bendsneyder at Turn 11 – the Aussie was 2.2s behind the race leader. A lap later, Arbolino then slipped past Bendsneyder as the latter had a good look over his shoulder. He didn’t see anyone though, Beaubier was 14 seconds further back in P6.
Now in clean air, the Gardner charge was on. A fastest lap of the race was set by the Ajo rider but it was only narrowly quicker than Bezzecchi ahead of him, the gap separating the top three was 1.7s with seven to go. Bezzecchi then made a mistake at Turn 8, running wide onto the green, allowing Gardner to stroll through into P2. With the bit between his teeth, Gardner reeled in teammate Fernandez by four tenths on Lap 20 of 25, setting up a very intriguing final five laps between two title contenders.
Undeterred though, Raul Fernandez was holding his nerve. As he clocked another lap and headed onto Lap 23, the Spaniard set his fastest lap of the race and his lead was now 1.8s. And with one lap remaining in France, Fernandez’s gap to Gardner was 1.9s, with the latter 2.9s ahead of Bezzecchi in third place. No mistakes were made from the rookie sensation on the final lap, and Fernandez crossed the line to win his second race of 2021. Aki Ajo has unearthed a new star, with Gardner making it a Red Bull KTM Ajo 1-2 as a single point splits Gardner and Raul Fernandez in the overall standings. For Gardner, that’s now four podiums in five to begin the campaign.
Bezzecchi pockets his second podium in a row with a solid P3 ride, Arbolino lands his best Moto2™ result with a fantastic P4 at Le Mans. Bendsneyder faded late on but the Dutch rider earns his best result of the season in P5, the same can be said for sixth place Schrötter. Ogura cements another top 10 in P7 as three rookies finish inside the top 10, Di Giannantonio had to take two long-lap penalties after messing up his first attempt, but P8 is a good salvage job.
Veteran Simone Corsi (MV Agusta Forward Racing) produced his best ride of the season to finish P9, Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up) completes the top 10. Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Italtrans Racing Team), Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Nicolo Bulega (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), Marcos Ramirez (American Racing) and reigning Moto3™ World Champion Albert Arenas (Inde Aspar Team) are the remaining point scorers.
Beaubier crashed out of sixth place at Turn 3 in the latter stages, Tom Lüthi (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) was another rider to crash out of the points.
Another day that belongs to Red Bull KTM Ajo, as Gardner and Raul Fernandez now sit P1 and P2 in the World Championship. Lowes loses crucial ground as Bezzecchi keeps tabs on his title rivals, with the latter’s home race at Mugello now next up.
1. Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo)
2. Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) + 1.490
3. Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team) + 4.599
4. Tony Arbolino (Liqui Moly Intact GP) + 7.503
5. Bo Bendsnyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) +11.887
6. Marcel Schrotter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) + 27.829
7. Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) + 27.975
8. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) + 28.112
9. Simone Corsi (MV Augusta Forward Racing) + 28.204
10. Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up) + 28.432