Montmelo magic sees Marini fend off Lowes for vital victory

The World Championship leader was put under all sorts of pressure by the Briton but he eventually came out on top to extend his title lead

SKY Racing Team VR46's Luca Marini produced some Montmelo magic to see off the hard-charging Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) in the closing stages of the Monster Energy Catalan Grand Prix and take what could turn out to be a vital victory in his quest to be crowned World Champion; the podium completed by Fabio Di Giannantonio (HDR Heidrun Speed Up).

Marini would take the holeshot from pole position, with Di Giannantonio diving past his teammate Jorge Navarro (HDR Heidrun Speed Up) to take second into the opening corner. Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team), meanwhile, was already inside the top five and trying to help his own Championship cause after starting from tenth on the grid.

At the end of Lap 1, Lowes threw in a forceful but fair move on Bastianini to take fifth, with the Italian slipping further back four corners later when Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing) found a way through too. At the front, meanwhile, the leading trio were already showing that they had the pace to break away with a gap starting to form from Navarro to Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) who found himself in fourth.

Lowes was again aggressive, into Turn 4 this time, a lap later as he lunged past Bezzecchi but he couldn’t get the bike stopped, ran wide and allowed the afro-haired Italian back through. However, with the leading trio continuing to stretch their advantage, the Briton would then get the job done moments later to take fourth place away from the Italian. The fastest lap of the race went the way of the former MotoGP™ rider as he started to find his rhythm and began to close in on the three men ahead of him. It didn’t take long for the six-wheeler at the front to become an eight-wheeler, as Lowes caught and then passed Navarro in one foul swoop for third.

On course for another top six finish and really starting to find his feet in the intermediate class, slightly further back Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) was cruelly forced out of the race when his Moto2™ machine came under technical problems. At the front, compatriot Lowes got totally out of shape and control on the brakes into Turn 10 and somehow didn’t take either himself or Di Giannantonio out in a scary moment. The pair consequently went wide and it was a chance for Marini to bolt at the front, he had just over a second as they came across the line to complete the eighth lap.

It would be a day to forget for the Petronas Sprinta Racing squad when Xavi Vierge crashed out at Turn 9 – a double disaster for the Malaysian outfit in the space of five minutes. Lowes, meanwhile, was unperturbed by his earlier close call with Di Giannantonio as he eventually disposed of the 21-year-old, before then setting another fastest lap of the race allowing the Marc VDS man edge to within a second of the World Championship leader.

American Roberts was also finding some strong pace too as the Californian found a way past Navarro for fourth; the Spaniard beginning to drop back after a promising start to his home Grand Prix. Roberts was at this stage 1.2 seconds adrift of Di Giannantonio in third, with the Italian 1.4 seconds off of the rear wheel of Lowes in second.

Ten laps were now remaining of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and Lowes was all over the rear wheel of Marini and was stalking the Italian in menacing fashion. He cut his lead to nothing in the space of a handful of laps and now appeared to be watching the SKY Racing Team VR46 man, seemingly putting a race-winning strategy together. Further back, Navarro found a second wind and was back with Roberts in the fight for fourth place. The Speed Up man made his move into Turn 10 with eight laps left but ran wide and allowed Roberts back through. Their fight didn't end there, though, as they continued to fight it out over 13 points right to the end.

Seven laps left and there was a change of the lead for the first time as Lowes finally went past Marini. A perfect slipstream down the start-finish straight and an equally inch-perfect move into the opening corner saw the 30-year-old hit the front. But Marini wouldn’t allow Lowes to escape. As the laps ticked by and the end drew nearer, the Italian continued to apply the pressure on the number 22. Only three laps remained and again Marini was the faster of the pair, still clambering all over the back of Lowes with Marini’s eyes no doubt lighting up when the Marc VDS man suffered a huge twitch on the rear out of Turn 5.

Just two laps to go and the pressure on Lowes was incredible. The World Championship leader was swarming all over the back of him before deciding to pounce on the penultimate lap. A carbon copy of the move that saw him lose the lead, allowed him to regain it once more at Turn 1. Lowes continued to push, desperately trying to stay in touch before making the mistake that would cost him victory. He was too hot into Turn 6, running wide, losing seventh tenths and, consequently, handing the victory to Marini.

A third victory of the 2020 season for Marini would prove to be his most pivotal yet, as his World Championship lead stretched out to twenty points ahead of a weekend of recuperation. Lowes was bitterly disappointed in Parc Ferme afterwards as his four-year wait for an intermediate class win continues, but another podium finish shows the progress he's making this year. There was progress shown too by Di Giannantonio, as the young Italian clinched his first podium of the season after what has been a difficut start to his sophomore season.

His smile will no doubt be matched in the HDR Heidrun Speed Up box by teammate Navarro after the Spaniard got the better of Roberts on the final lap to take fourth. Bastianini had to settle for sixth place, as his Championship hopes took a slight dent. The same could be said for Bezzecchi who came across the line in seventh, bringing to an end a run of three straight podium finishes. Inde Aspar Team Moto2's Aron Canet had the pace for a top six finish and was up there challenging for one before a late mistake saw him drop back to eighth, with Marcos Ramirez (Tennor American Racing) and Marcel Schrötter rounding out the top ten.

Top 10:
 1. Luca Marini (SKY Racing Team VR46)
 2. Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) + 0.981
 3. Fabio Di Giannantonio (HDR Heidrun Speed Up) + 4.399
 4. Jorge Navarro (HDR Heidrun Speed Up) + 5.608
 5. Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing) + 5.797
 6. Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) + 6.080
 7. Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) + 8.552
 8. Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team Moto2) + 9.928
 9. Marcos Ramirez (Tennor American Racing) + 14.874
 10. Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) + 15.058

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