This is the ninth and final year that Moto2 will use mildly tuned Honda CBR600RR engines. Next year, Moto2 switches to Triumph triples and a new world of sound and mystery.
2018 Moto2 And Moto3 Season Preview—Little Bike Warfare
The Moto2 engine change for 2019 comes at an interesting time for a class often previously described as a talent graveyard. Close and varied racing last year gave a lie to that; and while Franco Morbidelli was eventually yet another runaway winner, the variety and fierceness of the top-10 battles was a welcome change.
The top two, Morbidelli and Tom Luthi, have both moved on, teammates now in MotoGP for Marc VDS Honda. The fight to take over looks promising.
Alex Marquez, with the Marc VDS Kalex, has claimed one more chance to match his older brother, having already won the Moto3 title.
He’s one of 19 riders on the recently dominant German chassis. Perhaps the most notable is Pecco Bagnaia, in a second year in the class for himself and his patron Valentino Rossi’s team. Bagnaia had an impressive class debut as the top rookie, narrowly failing so far to win a race, and has a MotoGP contract in his back pocket with Pramac Ducati for 2019.
Other Kalex notables include Bagnaia’s SKY teammate, Rossi’s half-brother, Luca Marini; last year’s race-winning veteran Mattia Pasini, ex-Moto3 rookie Romano Fenati, and mid-class returnee (though Moto2 first-timer) Hector Barbera.
Plus, Marquez’s new teammate: Joan Mir, fresh from a runaway Moto3 title.
But Kalex’s supremacy came under serious threat last year from class newcomers KTM, with lead rider Miguel Oliveira winning the last three races, and teammate Brad Binder (the runaway 2016 Moto3 champion) came back from injury for three podiums at the same races.
Both are back with the pre-eminent Red Bull team; while the steel-tube-chassis KTM’s prowess attracted two more two-rider teams, with Kiefer Racing fielding Dominique Aegerter, and the renamed CGBM team Sam Lowes (back from MotoGP) and Spanish hotshot Iker Lecuona.
There’s two each on different chassis—Marcel Schrotter and Xavi Vierge on Suter; another ex-Moto3 champ Danny Kent and Fabio Quartararo on Speed Up; two new Japanese NTS chassis for class rookies Steven Odendaal and American Joe Roberts, and the French Tech3 with Remy Gardner and ex-Moto3 rookie Bo Bendsneyder.
Valencia tests were hit with bad weather and led by veteran Mattia Pasini, after a surprise renaissance last year.
The next round of group tests at Jerez was better attended and gave expected results. Marquez led Bagnaia from Binder, with Lorenzo Baldassarri next ahead of new Kalex rider Xavi Vierge and Oliveira on the second KTM.
The final tests, last week, were at Jerez, where only the middle of three days was dry, for a batch of very fast times, the top four inside the track’s best time, and 20 within the first second.
MotoGP refugee Sam Lowes was on top from Iker Lecuona and Binder, all on KTMs, with fellow KTM- rider Oliveira a close eight. Bagnaia was best of the rest in fourth, from new Kalex rider Xavier Vierge and Marquez. American newcomer Joe Roberts was 17th on the new Japanese NTS chassis.
The Moto2 Top Three
The ex-Moto3 champion’s progress has been overshadowed by older brother Marc, and it took him until last year, his third in Moto2, to claim his first win. But he’s a class act, and his Marc VDS team has won the title before.
Portugal’s best ever, Oliveira took the KTM to victory in the last three rounds of 2017, totting up eight podium finishes in the bike’s first year in the class. His Ajo-run Red Bull team is highly competitive, and so is the rider.
A Rossi protégé and last year’s top rookie, Bagnaia made a blazing Moto2 start last year, and next year he’s bound for the Pramac MotoGP team. So, this is his last chance at the title, and to repay the support of the SKY VR6 team owner.
The Dark Horse
Utterly dominant in Moto3 in 2016, the South African’s move to Moto2 was blighted by a hard-to-heal pre-season test injury. By year’s end, he followed KTM teammate Oliveira to three podiums in a row.
Moto3—the little warrior class
With proper racing bikes representing rival factories, Moto3 is reliably excellent and frequently the best race of the day. For 2018, with the departure of Mahindra, there will be one less manufacturer. On last year’s poor record for the Indian firm (now focusing on e-racing), it will not make much difference.
In fact, 2017 was dominated by Honda. KTM won only a single race, while the Japanese bikes often took a top-three rostrum lockout. Honda riders took the top seven championship positions.
This was largely because KTM had diverted its resources, with new entries in both Moto2 and MotoGP. They are expected to fight back in 2018.
Last year’s top two title contenders—runaway winner Joan Mir and veteran pursuer Romano Fenati—have moved up, leaving the way open for the next bright spark. He is likely to come from the ranks of last year’s elite.
Most of the top Honda riders are on the same teams as last year: Aron Canet, Jorge Martin (both race winners), Enea Bastianini and Fabio Di Giannantonio. The only change out of the title top seven is that Scotsman John McPhee has switched to KTM.
The Austrian bike’s top runners have been slightly shuffled, Rossi’s pre-eminent SKY VR46 team has retained the fast but erratic Nicolo Bulega, joined by bright new hope Dennis Foggia, so impressive as a wildcard last year. The team’s only 2017 race winner Andrea Migno has moved to the Aspar team, to join existing team member Albert Arenas—the Spanish squad was last year the official Mahindra squad.
Another interesting ex-Mahindra rider now on a KTM is Marco Bezzecchi; RBA’s Racing KTM’s Gabriel Rodrigo is back after making a good impression, while 2017 teammate Juanfran Guevara announced his retirement from racing at the tender age of just 22; look out also for the experienced Philipp Oettl and Brad’s younger-brother Darryn Binder, this year promoted as sole rider for the well-regarded Red Bull team.
The surprise leader at Jerez tests was Tony Arbolino, a rookie last year, from two fellow Honda riders Bastianini and Martin. Foggia was next, the top KTM.
At the next round, also at Jerez, Hondas were again on top, with Bastianini, Canet, and Di Giannantonio shading Bezzechi’s KTM.
The class is reliably close, reliably fascinating, but sometimes less reliably unpredictable. Will 2018 produce another dominant figure to match Danny Kent (2015), Brad Binder (2016) and Joan Mir (2017)? Or will it replicate the year-long brawl between Alex Marquez and Jack Miller of 2014?
The Moto3 Top Three
The Spaniard took nine pole positions last year, but it wasn’t until the last race he managed to turn one into a first win. One year wiser, he should do better in 2018. If only there weren’t all those other fast Honda riders …
Fabio Di Giannantonio
Another who failed to turn his speed into victory, Di Giannantonio came close enough often enough to suggest his third year in the class will be better still. He was fifth last year, in the thick of the Honda mob.
He wasn’t the top KTM rider last year overall, but Migno was the only one to win a race, with a brilliant tactical ride in Italy. He’s changed teams, but as another of Rossi’s graduates, he has the seal of approval.
The Dark Horse
The teenager took Migno’s place in the Rossi team, after an impressive 2017. In three starts he claimed two top-10s and was even challenging for victory in the final race. Yet another hot prospect from the Italian renaissance.