Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) has earned his first top step on the podium in four years to reignite his title tilt after a devastating crash from compatriot Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) handed the Briton victory at the Moto2™ SHARK Helmets Grand Prix of France.
The British pair dominated the race from the early stages in unusual conditions in Le Mans as they separated themselves from the rest of the field, while Remy Gardner (Onexox TKKR SAG Team) and Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) also claimed podium finishes.
Before the race even began, the weather conditions were causing plenty of headaches across the grid as a wet race was declared, with tyre selection posing a dilemma. A dry line was seen throughout the track after heavy rainfall earlier in the afternoon while looming grey clouds also cast further doubt into the minds of the riders and their teams.
Eventually, the entire grid decided to use the slick selection despite the Wet Race declaration, but that wasn’t the end of the pre-race drama as poleman Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing) seeing his bike removed from the grid with just minutes to go to lights out.
It delayed him going out on the Warm Up lap which cost him his P1 as he had to deal with a pit lane start.
With the race finally underway, it was Gardner who took the holeshot coming out of Turn 1, with Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) behind him in second and Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) completing a shortlived Top 3. Lowes dropped back to P5 initially before mounting his assault on the lead with consecutive inside lines on Bezzecchi and Martin moving him into second.
At the front, Vierge and Gardner were dueling it out for the lead which allowed the Brit to move into the front of the pack by the end of Lap 2.
Championship rivals Luca Marini (SKY Racing Team VR46) and Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) failed to take advantage of good grid positions and they both dropped out of the Top 10. With the Italians further back the field it meant that Lowes had a great opportunity to pull himself back into contention for the Moto2™ title.
However, he had to maintain his focus as Dixon shot up through the field from P8 to keep his compatriot company at the front, as they began to open up a considerable gap to the rest of the field.
Turn 10 claimed to victims inside the first five laps, as Jorge Martin’s recent rotten luck continued as he went out in a nasty looking crash, while Vierge was the next to go on the following lap after highsiding at the same corner.
With five down, Lowes and Dixon opened up a 3.3 gap to 3rd, and it was looking like we were going to have a first British one-two on the podium in the intermediate class since 1975.
At this point, Lowes was leading but handed the initiative to Dixon on Lap 6 after his front brake locked going into Turn 8, causing a puff of smoke to arise and putting nearly three seconds between them.
Andi Izdihar’s (Indemitsu Honda Team Asaia) race ended early as he crashed out, while further back the field Joe Roberts was carving through the pack to make up for the lost ground. After 8 laps, he was among the points positions, while Marini struggled to find speed and was all the way back in 18th, as he could only watch on as Bastianini moved himself up the field to 12th and into a position to narrow the gap to the top of the Championship standings.
A three-way battle for third captured the attention for much of the action, Bezzecchi holding off the advances of Gardner and Augusto Fernandez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) at the halfway point.
Back at the front Lowes was closing the gap to the lead while his teammate Fernadez began his assault on the podium places, first by picking off Gardner and then stalking down Bezzecchi, however, the Italian withstood the pressure to keep P3.
Dixon responded to Lowes’ pressure with 1.37.752 as the front two kept setting fast laps to extend the gap between them and the rest of the field with almost 6 seconds between P2 and P3.
Joe Roberts’ charged into the Top 10 at the expense of Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) soon after setting the race’s best lap before pushing into 8th after an excellent inside line on Marcel Schrotter (Liqui Moly Intact MotoGP) at Turn 8, and then making up 6 seconds on Fabio DiGiannantonio (Termozeta Speed Up) for 7th. It was really a case of what could have been for the American. As this action unfolded, Nicolo Bulega (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) was forced into an early retirement.
In the battle for the podium, Gardner reeled himself back into contention and pounced on a mistake by Fernandez to get back into P4.
Jorge Navarro (Termozeta Speed Up) crashed at Turn 3 to compound a difficult day and weekend for the Spaniard as he was handed a double long lap penalty prior to the race.
The track momentarily had a settled look about it but it was just the calm before the storm as disaster struck for Dixon. He crashed out at Turn 14 with only five laps remaining to hand victory on a platter to Lowes.
It was a devastatingly cruel moment on the young Brit, as it denied him a first win at this level and left him inconsolable in the pit box.
It meant Lowes could cruise to victory as he had almost six seconds to spare over the rest of the field with 4 laps to go. However, it wasn’t the end of the action as the battle for podium went down to the final corner. Having staved off the challenges for the majority of the race, Bezzecchi eventually opened the door for Gardner on the final corner and the Aussie duly obliged by taking the inside line and claim 2nd.
The day’s racing has sparked the Championship race back into life, as Lowes and Bezzecchi’s podium finishes means they’re both within 22 points of the lead. Bastianini remains second, as he closes the gap to 15 points despite being knocked back into 11th after being penalized with a three-second penalty for a late tyre change prior to the race.
And while Luca Marini finished outside the points he showed remarkable mental and physical strength to complete today’s race following a shocking crash on Friday afternoon.
A four-year famine is over for Lowes, and after a fourth consecutive podium finish his consistency is back. He will surely be licking his lips at taking on the next two races in Aragon, the site of his last victory in 2016.
1. Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS)
2. Remy Gardner (Onexox TKKR SAG Team) + 3.822
3. Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) + 4.184
4. Augusto Fernandez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) + 5.884
5. Tom Lüthi (Liqui Moly Intact GP) + 21.668
6. Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing) + 29.197
7. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Termozeta Speed Up) + 32.249
8. Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) + 34.376
9. Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) + 35.392
10. Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) + 35.521