If testing taught us anything ahead of the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar, it’s that Moto2™ is almost too close to call. Day 2 saw six riders within 0.089, and on Day 3 the top three were split by just half a tenth – giving a whole host of names the right to call themselves contenders. So let's take a look at a few, but by no means all.
The fastest man in Qatar so far in 2021 is Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team), however. The 2020 title challenger looks ready to pick up where he left off and you could likely call him the favourite, but it won’t be easy. By far the most experienced of the quickest riders in testing, Lowes is in good shape for an assault on the crown, and in a better position than this time last year when he missed the Qatar GP due to injury – and then he still took the fight all the way down to the wire…
Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46), meanwhile, lurks just hundredths further back. The Italian also fought for the crown for much of the latter half of last season and became a Moto2™ race winner before a few mistakes derailed his final challenge. But mistakes can be a useful thing to a rider on a mission, because they teach lessons – and Bezzecchi has certainly proven himself a fast learner and a fast rider.
The same could be said of Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo). The Australian has shown flashes of blazing pace and talent but sometimes peppered with mistakes or simple bad luck – including some serious injury struggles. Going into 2021, however, he’s with one of the most successful teams in the paddock in any class and turned some good 2020 momentum into even more in pre-season testing. One of the quickest and most consistent in Doha so far, is this the moment it all starts to come together for Gardner? One thing’s for sure: the Aussie will push as hard as possible trying to make sure it does.
So who else looks threatening? Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team) was a big presence on the timesheets on Friday and Saturday in testing and seems like he’s made another step forward to build on an impressive rookie season. Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) had some serious speed too, and his teammate Jake Dixon – despite having been told his injury woes could even threaten his career – was another who seemed to have unlocked something even more as we begin 2021. Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) also seemed to have made a step forward. Now on a Kalex and with more experience under his belt, the Dutchman impressed in the test and could be one to watch. And what about Joe Roberts? The American moves to Italtrans Racing Team for 2021 and, after a stunner in Qatar last year, will want to start his new chapter in similar form.
It wouldn’t be a new year without some fresh faces either. Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) flew the rookie flag the highest in the test as he immediately looked like a seasoned campaigner. Easily in the top ten and fastest rookie throughout, just that bit more – that he’ll be focused on finding in practice – could see him really start to challenge the more established names ahead of him too. Reigning Moto3™ World Champion Albert Arenas (Inde Aspar Team) moved up into the top ten on Day 3 too, and his old lightweight class sparring partners weren’t so far behind as Tony Arbolino (Liqui Moly Intact GP) and Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) also look to be settling in well. American Cameron Beaubier (American Racing) made solid progress too as he adjusts not from Moto3™ but MotoAmerica... and his rate of knots moving up the timesheets day by day was testament to progress. Who will strike first in the battle of the rookies, and will they take any veteran scalps along the way?
We’ll find out soon enough as the first battle – and the first Championship leader – is decided in the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar. Moto2™ saddle up at 18:20 local time (GMT +3), with the first 25 points – and bragging rights – up for grabs.