Moto2: Fernandez takes victory in chaotic Assen scrap

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Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) is a man in form and the Motul TT Assen saw his run of firsts finally culminate in a first ever Grand Prix as he became the 37th different winner in Moto2™, a fitting statistic for the rider who made his way to the MotoGP™ World Championship racing that very number. The Spaniard was a force to be reckoned with in a manic fight at the front throughout and came through the chaos of a clash between Championship rivals Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP40) to beat Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) to the flag by tenths.  Completing the podium after the war of attrition was Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46), with Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) just behind the Italian but the P4 enough for the Swiss veteran to become the new Championship leader.

It was Binder who took the holeshot from P2 on the grid, with Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) also able to leapfrog polesitter Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) in the early stages. Alex Marquez remained P4, with Lüthi making gains into fifth. Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) was another key player in the group as it remained a tight fight minus Binder, who had begun to make a gap at the front.

More from the Dutch TT

Remy Gardner was able to hunt the South African back down soon enough, however, and set about trying to get past. But a wobble for the Aussie dropped him back down to fourth as the front squabble suddenly really set alight. Lowes moved through to attack Binder, Binder hit back, and the lead group set about going to war: Binder, Lowes, Vierge, Fernandez, Marquez, Gardner and Lüthi. Rookies Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) arrived on the scene soon enough though – joined by Marini. 

With 14 to go the first big drama hit as Gardner crashed out, and then Martin tagged Lowes and the Brit went down, taking another player out the group. The Spanish rookie was the next man to crash in the race of attrition, just as teammate Brad Binder was back in front and trying to pull the pin. That set Alex Marquez in motion as the former Championship leader sliced through to lead the chasing pack, eager to close him down on the hunt for a fourth win in a row.

Vierge then crashed, and it was another key moment in the race as Bastianini was caught up in it and Lüthi too, but the Swiss veteran somehow stayed on. At the front, that left four men and soon enough Binder had been caught and passed by Marquez and then both Flexbox HP 40 riders. Then, more drama struck.

With two laps to go Marquez was still ahead, with Baldassarri tagged close behind. But suddenly the Italian went for a move and slid out, taking the former Championship leader with him and leaving Fernandez within touching distance of the win. Able to hold of Binder, he took his first Grand Prix win as the South African got back on the podium and converted a much-improved weekend for KTM into a top haul of points. Marini, able to pick his way through the chaos, completed the podium as he just staved off Lüthi.

Tetsuta Nagashima (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) took fifth and his best ever result, ahead of a best intermediate class result for Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team). Stefano Manzi (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward) equalled his best Moto2™ result in P7, just behind Locatelli, and took the best result for the new MV Agusta project. Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) was eighth, with Dominique Aegerter (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward) adding to the joy for his team with a top ten.

Marco Bezzecchi (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) took his best intermediate class result so far to complete the top ten, ahead of Fabio Di Giannantonio (Beta Tools Speed Up). Jake Dixon (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) took his first ever Grand Prix points in P12, as did Lukas Tulovic (Kiefer Racing) after his impressed ride to P13. Joe Roberts (American Racing Team KTM) just beat teammate Iker Lecuona as the two completed the points.

Gardner ends ten year wait for Aussie pole position

Remy Gardner’s (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) 1:36.572 in Moto2™ Q2 at the Motul TT Assen sees him join a very illustrious list of Australian Grand Prix polesitters as two late flying laps puts the Kalex rider 0.110 clear of second place Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo). The KTM rider kept his Friday form to beat Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) to second by hundredths despite needing to put in a stunner of a save at Turn 5.

It was Vierge who looked like he would be the man to beat in Q2 after the Spaniard was able to half a second clear of the pack with a storming time, but Binder hit back to continue the upturn for KTM. But then Gardner, the man who sat nearly six tenths clear of the rest in FP3, started to find his rhythm.

The Australian's first attempt was 0.016 faster than the South African, but he managed to pull a bit more margin out on his second run to secure the first Australian intermediate class pole since Casey Stoner did it in the 250cc class at Phillip Island in 2005.

Behind the top three, Championship leader Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) will start from P4 and he spearheads a second row that consists of Q1 graduate Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and rookie Fabio Di Giannantonio (Beta Tools Speed Up). It's Di Giannantonio’s second consecutive second row start after a P5 in Barcelona, and Marquez won from P6 in Catalunya...

Seventh is Jorge Navarro (Beta Tools Speed Up), just behind his rookie teammate and looking to move forward, with second in the Championship Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) down in P8 and with a little more work to do than key rival Marquez. He has rookie Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) for company completing Row 3, another newcomer who bested his teammate as second Italtrans rider Andrea Locatelli starts tenth.

Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) will want more than P11 on race day, as will Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) just behind him. Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) is a similar story after the Barcelona polesitter took P13 ahead of Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo), but it's more true of former Championship leader Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) than any as he faces a fight back from P16.

Binder back in business at Assen

Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Brad Binder ended Day 1 at the Motul TT Assen in top spot after setting a 1:37.398 at the very end of Moto2™ FP2, putting the Austrian factory back at the sharp end after a tougher run of form. He was 0.132 ahead of second fastest Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team), with FP1 pacesetter Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) completing the top three.

Lowes had once again set the pace throughout the afternoon session but Gardner, who finished fourth in FP1, topped it in the final ten minutes to sit top of the tree before Binder's final assault. Having just saved a crash at Turn 9, the South African set the timing screens alight to have the final say on Friday. Have KTM found the improvements they have been looking for?

Fourth on Day 1 is Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP), who ended the day 0.287 down, with another on-song day for Jorge Navarro (Beta Tools Speed Up) seeing him pipped to P4 by just 0.002. In turn, Navarro sits only 0.007 ahead of title rival Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) – a swap from what we saw in FP1 – as the riders all improved their times towards the end of FP2.

Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) sat second at one stage but the Italian had to settle for P7 at the end of the day, just ahead of compatriot Lorenzo Baldassarri (FlexBox HP 40). Championship leader Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), the winner of the last three races, was ninth overall, with Binder’s teammate Jorge Martin completing a top ten covered by just four tenths.

Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) was 11th, but it was a tougher day for his teammate Dimas Ekky Pratama. After a heavy crash in FP1 at Turn 9, the Indonesian has been declared unfit for the Dutch GP after sustaining cranial, thoracic and abdominal trauma. Pratama suffered a concussion and had a CAT scan which confirmed that but also ruled out any further injuries. He will remain under observation for 24 hours.

Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) was just behind Chantra and took P12, with Tetsuta Nagashima (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) in P13. Jonas Folger (Petronas Sprinta Racing), replacing the injured Khairul Idham Pawi, put in a much improved performance on Day 1 at Assen as he settles back into competition and he was 14th. 

Can Alex Marquez make it four in a row?

Le Mans is a very different track to Mugello, and Mugello is different to Catalunya. And yet, as we arrive at the TT Circuit Assen, one man has ruled them all: Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS). He’s now the new Championship leader by seven points, too, despite a 0 at Jerez through no fault of his own, and in Barcelona he showed he could do it from sixth on the grid. So is he unstoppable?

The bad news for his rivals is that each of the three-in-a-row wins – something he’d never done before – has been taken with a significant amount of time in his pocket and at Catalunya in the post-race Press Conference he said it himself: he made zero mistakes. In addition, until this season, the only back-to-back wins he’d taken had been in Moto3™ in his Championship-winning 2014 season at Catalunya and…Assen.

The good news is that everything can change in an instant. It’s an over-used trope but it’s true – as Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) proves. A lead and a shield of invincibility accrued in the first part of the season in now fourth overall and a third DNF in seven races, so he’ll be top of the list wanting to hit back. But Marquez, along with the likes of Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) – the man closest to the number 73 in the standings and a rider with a solid record at Assen – will be big hurdles in the Italian’s way. Jorge Navarro (Beta Tools Speed Up) also remains very much a man in form, and Speed Up were second in the hands of Fabio Quartararo last season.

The fight doesn’t stop with a handful of names, however. Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) has some serious speed, Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) is looking to keep his pace rolling on race day, Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) just won’t stop impressing in the fight for Rookie of the Year…can KTM fight back? The list goes on. And as the season goes on, everyone learns more in this new era of Moto2™.

There’s one home hero on the grid for the crowd to cheer for, too: Bo Bendsneyder (RW Racing GP), who’s scored a few points so far this season, and the TT Circuit Assen could be a good venue for a few more.

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Simon Patterson

By Simon Patterson

MotoGP and road racing reporter, photographer, videographer