The Brit pitches it to perfection to start the year on top, with Gardner on the chase and Diggia digging deep for third.
Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) became the first British rider to win an opening round Grand Prix since the great Barry Sheene in 1979 after producing a faultless ride at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar. The polesitter kept a hard-charging Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) at bay as the Australian takes P2 from Round 1, with Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) coming out on top in a last lap duel with Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) to hand Gresini Racing an emotional podium.
A lightning start from Row 2 saw Bezzecchi grab the holeshot, with both Lowes and Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) slow from P1 and P2 as third place Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) slotted into P2. Lowes soon got past a wide Fernandez at Turn 1 to recover to P3, and the Brit then made light work of Bendsneyder at Turn 6. Fellow Brit Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) was also on the move, up into P5 from P10 on the grid.
Lap 2 saw Raul Fernandez also pass Bendsneyder for third place as the leading eight riders locked horns. Lowes then showed a wheel to Bezzecchi at Turn 6, and by Turn 1 on Lap 3, the British rider was through and leading. Seventh place Gardner set the fastest lap of the race though, with the Australian fighting hard to move through and give chase. Raul Fernandez was also swarming all over the back of Bezzecchi, and making a Turn 1 move stick on Lap 4.
Fernandez’s teammate Gardner, though, was the man on the move. The Australian slipped by Dixon for P4 but a small error then saw Gardner lose the time he’d made up, he was back down to P5. Sixth place Di Giannantonio was then wide at the final corner, and the Italian slipped to P8 as Lowes set the fastest lap of the race.
Fernandez was soon back to within a couple of tenths of the race leader though, Lowes making a mistake somewhere to allow the rookie to close him in. Meanwhile, a regrouped Gardner was now back ahead of Dixon and set the fastest lap of the race again, with Bezzecchi soon enjoying the number 87 for close company. With 13 to go, Gardner struck at Turn 4 and made a move stick on Bezzecchi.
With 12 to go, Fernandez was losing touch on Lowes and Gardner sensed it. The latter was through on his teammate and now had 1.2 seconds to bridge if he wanted to win his second Moto2™ race in succession, but Lowes had something in hand and set the fastest lap of the Grand Prix – a 1:59.529 – to keep his margin comfortable if not yet dominant.
A few laps passed by with stalemate, and the gap remained at just under one and a half seconds between the leading duo. Raul Fernandez continued to keep his teammate honest too, with Bezzecchi sitting 1.2 seconds behind the young Spaniard as Di Giannantonio, Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) and Dixon squabbled right behind the podium fight.
Gardner, on Lap 13, set the fastest lap of the race, but Lowes set his personal best too and on the next lap, the race leader was three tenths quicker. Pin pulled, the gap was up to 1.6 seconds and it would only increase in increments from there.
With three laps to go, it was two seconds and the top two seemed settled, but the battle for the podium was in full swing. Bezzecchi tucked in behind Raul Fernandez down the home straight and took third place away from the star rookie, with Di Giannantonio then on the scene and making it a six-wheel scrap for the podium. The Italian followed compatriot Bezzecchi through and locked his radar onto third…
Up the road, Lowes had a comfortable 2.2 second lead over Gardner and cruised to his first win of the year in style, with the Australian forced to settle for the 20 points but happy enough to do so this time. The final place on the podium was between the two Italians and Di Giannantonio sliced up the inside of Bezzecchi at Turn 11, a classy move pulled off, and Diggia held it on the drag to the line by 0.013s to hand himself and Gresini an emotional rostrum. The first for Gresini Racing in Moto2™ since Lowes in 2016 at the Aragon GP, and a fitting way to remember the late, great Fausto Gresini.
Bezzecchi lost out on a rostrum by the slimmest of margins but a P4 is a solid start to the year. Fernandez couldn’t hold onto a podium place in his first Moto2™ race but it was nevertheless a phenomenal ride from the Spaniard, who took fifth and beat Roberts by 0.6 seconds as the American put in a solid ride to pull out a couple of seconds on Dixon by the flag in sixth. The Brit forced to settle for seventh, ahead of Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) as the German eventually got the better of Bendsneyder. The German, Dutchman was followed home by Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up) as the two completed the top ten.
11th place went to Cameron Beaubier (American Racing) as the American produced a fantastic debut Moto2™ race in a heated battle for the remaining point-scoring positions. Fellow rookie Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) also impressed as he lost out by just 0.142s to Beaubier and took P12, with both getting the better of the more experienced Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team), Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) and Tom Lüthi (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) – the latter trio completing the points.
Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP40), Lorenzo Baldassarri (MV Agusta Forward Racing) and Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) crashed out, riders ok.
Lowes did the business after a Warm Up mishap and the British rider starts the year with a near-perfect performance. Gardner and the chasing pack will be hoping to make up ground when the riders attack Losail International Circuit again next weekend, so who will come out on top in Doha in seven days time?
1 Sam Lowes – Elf Marc VDS Racing Team – Kalex – 40:03.123
2 Remy Gardner – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – +2.260
3 Fabio Di Giannantonio – Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 – Kalex – +5.228
Sam Lowes: “I’ve worked for this race the last few months doing the runs in practice and then I got in that position and stuck to what I’ve been doing, so this was nice. The crash in morning Warm Up didn’t really go to plan and this wind is strong, my style is a bit different to the other guys. I don’t really lean off so much so I’ve got a lot of surface area in corner entry and I was trying to stay low and get out the wind but it was a difficult race to not make a mistake. My pace was strong, I’m proud of myself and the team to start the year like this, it was a tough last ten laps but I’m really happy and we get to do it all again next week.”
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