For the first time since the Spanish GP, Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) failed to finish on a Moto2™ podium as Marco Bezzecchi took victory at the Michelin® Grand Prix of Styria. The SKY Racing Team VR46 rider earned his first win of the season, having 1.171 seconds to spare over Aron Canet (Aspar Team Moto2) in second and Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) in third.
Bezzecchi v Gardner showdown
A dry race was declared just before lights out, and the conditions allowed Bezzecchi to take the holeshot out of the first corner despite Gardner’s strong start off the line, with fellow Red Bull KTM Ajo and MotoGP™ bound rider Raul Fernandez in third, just ahead of Canet. The opening laps claimed a couple of victims, with Simone Corsi (MV Augusta Forward Racing) and Joe Roberts (Italatrans Racing) both crashing out early, as did Barry Baltus (NTS RW Racing GP).
The pre-race weekend form pointed to this being a straight shootout between Bezzecchi and Gardner, and so it proved during the opening exchanges, with the Aussie keeping pace with the VR46 rider, waiting for his opportunity to move ahead. Just behind them, Canet forced Raul Fernandez out of the top three, with Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) and Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) then setting their sights on the rookie.
At the front, a mistake from race leader Bezzecchi six laps in allowed both Gardner and Canet through. The Spaniard temporarily moved into the lead before Championship leader Gardner forced his way through later on the lap. It looked a case of here we go again as the Australian began to open up a comfortable lead, but the man who has been close to faultless this season was to make a huge error which would cost him his podium.
Outside the top three at this stage were Ogura and Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team), both of whom were beginning to eye up a podium. Bezzecchi, acutely aware of what was coming behind him, moved ahead of Canet and set his sights on reeling in Gardner.
The race’s crucial moment came with six laps remaining after Gardner conceded the lead to Bezzecchi, the Australian while in pursuit of the bushy-haired Italian, went in far too hot at Turn 4 and ran into the gravel, meaning that Ogura and Canet could move through on the Championship leader, ending his victory hopes.
Following Gardner’s mistake, Ogura couldn’t believe his luck as he found himself not only in the mix for a first-ever Moto2™ podium, but also in the fight for victory. However, having received a track limits warning earlier in the race, the Japanese rider ran into the green once more, handing him a long lap penalty. With 4 laps to go, Ogura took the penalty, dropping him from second to fourth, with Canet and Augusto Fernandez benefitting to move second and third respectively. To make matters worse for the Japanese rider, he failed to complete his long lap penalty correctly and was handed a further three-second penalty after the race, finishing fifth overall.
There was to be no drama in the final laps, as the top three remained the same and an Italian stood on the top step of the podium for the 46th time in Moto2™’s history.
The rest of the top 10
Further back in the pack, Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) dealt a further blow to Raul Fernandez’ title hopes as overtook his fellow rookie at Turn 9 on the final lap to secure his best finish of the season. There were also positive results for Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Marcel Schötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP), who all finished comfortably inside the points.
With neither Gardner nor Raul Fernandez on the podium for the first time since the Spanish GP, did today's Styrian GP signal a change of the tide in Moto2™? With 10 rounds remaining, it sets up a tantalizing close to the season. And we're all for it.
1. Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46)
2. Aron Canet (Aspar Moto2 Team) + 1.171
3. Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) + 3.260
4. Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) + 3.856
5. Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) + 6.922
6. Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) + 9.390
7. Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) + 9.590
8. Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) + 12.217
9. Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) + 12.747
10. Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) + 12.874