Amongst the chaos, Joe Roberts took his debut win in the class, followed by Celestino Vietti and Jorge Navarro.
It seems that the poor weather across the weekend leading up to Sunday was only a sign of more to come, as Race Day brought one of the worst races in recent history for the intermediate class.
With Canet on Pole, and title leader Vietti back in 13th, fans were ready to witness a spectacle on Sunday afternoon; however, no one could have predicted the finale of the Grande Premio Tissot de Portugal.
As the lights went out, it was clear that Canet was set on keeping his promise of title redemption. However, it was American Racing’s Cameron Beaubier who claimed the hole shot into Turn 1. The pair had strong pace throughout the opening lap, along with Tony Arbolino, the ELF Marc VDS Racing youngster insistent on partaking in the fight at the front. However, heading into lap 2 saw the leading duo begin to pull away, as a four-man fight for P3 became apparent as Arbolino found himself entangled with Somkiat Chantra, Ai Ogura and Augusto Fernandez.
However, Lap 2 also bore witness to the beginning of the rain, as specks became visible on the camera lenses. As rain flags went up, the intermediate class originally appeared unbothered; the leading 5 continuing to pull away, with Chantra cleanly taking his long-lap penalty and returning to the race in P8 – a penalty earned due to causing the huge collision back in Austin last time out.
As the race wore on, the front-runners continued to show just how competitive the Moto2 guys are, as Ogura took to the front of the P3 battle and immediately began to bridge the gap towards Beaubier in second place, who was also hot on the heels of Canet at this point. With 19 laps to go, there was still so much nail-biting racing to anticipate. Meanwhile, Vietti had yet to make some serious progress, only gaining 2 positions to battle back in 11th – potentially giving Canet the opportunity to rejoin the title fight.
However, with 15 laps remaining, this is where this race ends.
With 9 laps gone, and the rain continuing to fall, the world watched as Ogura’s onboard camera captured the horrific moment when Canet and Beaubier were catapulted from their machines, with Ogura following suit immediately afterwards. What began with the front-runners immediately became a domino affect, as Canet hit the air fence, another 8 riders added to the pile-up. Bikes went flying, smoke and flames smothered Turn 2, and it was simply a godsend that no one was hit by machinery.
As per regulation, a crash like this saw the race immediately red-flagged as the marshals made valiant efforts to aid riders and begin clean-up. However, it soon became apparent that the regulations would soon cause more drama.
As everyone focused on the wellbeing of the riders, the recovery of the bikes – rightfully so – race directors began looking at the means of a race restart.
A race with half the grid missing.
Those at home sat in disbelief of what had happened in the last few minutes, but those at the track scrambled to do what they could to rejoin the race; racing to recover and repair their bikes before pit lane reopened, it was a race against time for the Moto2 teams. Some teams had irreparable damage to their machines, but others worked relentlessly, and honestly heroically, to ready the bikes for a now-confirmed 7-lap race.
However, this is Moto2, and even this kind of drama is never so simple.
As per regulations, teams can only rejoin a race restart if their rider has returned to the pits within 5 minutes. With a crash like that, it became obvious that the majority of the front-runners would thus be ineligible to restart. Confirming that there would in fact be a race with only half of the grid.
Amongst those unable to restart were championship contenders Canet, Ogura, Arbolino, Chantra and Lowes. But the lucky rider who avoided catastrophe and would restart from P3 on the new grid?
Celestino Vietti, amongst the chaos, was gifted with the perfect opportunity to further extend his championship lead. Regardless of who you support, you can’t help but feel sorry for the other contenders, as this very well could be the turning point in the season that gives Vietti the title.
Under the quick-start procedure, the new grid would be formed based on the race positions on Lap 8. Jake Dixon would take Pole, Joe Roberts would start in P2, and Vietti would take P3. While the previous events were nothing but unfortunate, this new start would give the underdogs of the class a true opportunity to shine, and would be a good chance to gain some important points. With only 17 riders on the grid, it won’t exactly be difficult.
As the riders lined up on the grid, many were expecting Dixon to use the opportunity to redeem himself from his DNF from Pole back in Indonesia, and it appeared to be just that as the Brit took the holeshot, with Roberts closely in tow. However, the second race claimed its first victim in the opening lap, as Dixon lost the front into Turn 7. With the leading duo having already built a gap in the first few corners, Dixon’s crash gifted Roberts with the perfect opportunity to truly break away at the front.
Vietti’s start was less than desirable for the title leader, as both Fermin Aldeguer and Marcel Schrötter made light work of the Italian, and Jorge Navarro sat behind, ready and waiting to claim Vietti’s current P4 position.
As the race raged on, both Schrötter and Navarro were able to break away from the group to form a two-man battle for second place, while Vietti continued to try and hold onto P4, as Yamaha VR46 Master Camp Team’s Manuel Gonzalez persistently refused to let the Italian break away. Heading into the fourth lap, Roberts was riding a dream race, as the American wasn’t even visible on the screens. Anyone just tuning in would assume that it was Navarro leading the race, when in fact it was the Italtrans Racing Team rider 4 seconds ahead.
Vietti soon kicked into gear on the penultimate lap, breaking through the pack to finally claim second place from Navarro. However, at this point Roberts was simply untouchable, and so the only thing Vietti had left to do was defend his position. The top 5 riders had very admirable rides, contending Vietti and making him sweat right to the chequered flag, a feat in its own for the underdogs of the class.
As Roberts became the first American Grand Prix winner in 11 years, and Vietti extended his title charge in P2, we also got to witness Navarro’s much-awaited return to the podium. The Spaniard was last seen on the rostrum back in Silverstone last season. Marcel Schrötter’s brilliant run was awarded with 4th place, while Manual Gonzalez earns his best-ever race result in the class with P5.
While everyone in the second race had phenomenal rides, you can’t help but wonder what could have been. But for now, we celebrate the return of an American to the top spot, albeit not the one we predicted.
This weekend sees the intermediate class return to Spain for the Gran Premio Red Bull de España at Jerez. For once, let’s pray for a calmer race.
Feature Image: MotoGP.com