Countdown To Qatar: 2012 Moto2 Season Review


The 2013 MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 World Championships are just days away from kicking off and in the week running up to the new season, The Checkered Flag will have a series of articles to get you in the mood for 2013, starting with a look back at Marc Marquez’s victorious Moto2 season in 2012…

With two races of the 2011 Moto2 season remaining, he was seen by many as the odds-on favourite to be crowned champion, only for it all to unravel on a Friday morning in Malaysia. A heavy crash during a rain shower left him suffering from double vision, a problem that wouldn’t clear up in time for him to stop Stefan Bradl taking the title.

Fast-forward to the start of 2012 and Marquez was the overwhelming favourite once again, even if his state of fitness remained in doubt prior to testing. Bradl was now a MotoGP rider but there were plenty of riders lining up to challenge Marquez, most of who were riding the impressive Kalex chassis. Claudio Corti was the quickest man of all in pre-season but with no Moto2 podium to his name, few expected a sustained challenge from the Italtrans rider. Pol Espargaro, like Marquez entering his second season in the intermediate class, was also impressive as were the Marc VDS teammates Mika Kallio and Scott Redding.

Perennial Moto2 contender Andrea Iannone was looking competitive again despite another change in chassis, reverting back to Speed Up after a year with Suter, while Britain’s Bradley Smith was back for another year on the same Mistral 610 machine for Tech 3. Unfortunately for Bradley as the year unfolded, the bike was rather too similar to previous years as they were left behind in the development race. Gino Rea, embarking on his debut Moto2 season with Gresini, also encountered problems with his machinery and would ditch his Moriwaki three races in.

One of traits that had already become synonymous with Marc Marquez in his short Grand Prix career was his ruthlessness and his refusal to give any quarter on-track. This would be on full display right from the get-go in Qatar as Marc put some manners on Thomas Luthi in their fight for victory. The Swiss rider had dominated practice and qualifying but with a lap to go, was squeezed onto the kerb under braking for turn one, forcing him wide and dropping him to a furious fifth, while Marquez carried on to take victory, albeit narrowly, from Iannone, Espargaro and the impressive Esteve Rabat on the second Pons Kalex.

Marquez had no trouble securing pole for round two at Jerez while Italtrans’ Japanese rookie Takaaki Nakagami turned heads by qualifying second but unsettled weather for the race complicated matters for the polesitter. Scott Redding took advantage and led early on but Marquez and Espargaro would force their way to the front, renewing their 125cc rivalry for the first time in the intermediate class. Both took turns in front as the rain intensified with Marquez making the final move before the red flags finally halted the race. Marc initially thought he’d maintained his 100% start but once the result was calculated, it turned out he’d hit the front a lap too late and Espargaro was awarded his maiden Moto2 win with Luthi overhauling Redding for the final spot on the podium.

Despite his problems with the Moriwaki, Gino Rea opened his account with fifteenth place but Bradley Smith was far from satisfied with his Jerez return, despite finishing four places higher. The Oxfordshire youngster’s fortunes wouldn’t improve dramatically until Silverstone and had to satisfy himself with finishing on the fringes of the top ten, consistent if not inspiring as Tech 3 toiled through the spring.

Estoril saw another slugfest between Espargaro and Marquez with the pair well clear of third-placed Thomas Luthi. It all came down to the final lap with Marc in the lead but Pol tried no fewer than four times to snatch victory. When the last of those attempts, four corners from the end, almost threw Espargaro off the bike, he had to accept defeat as Marquez reaffirmed his superiority whilst also displaying his wheel-to-wheel toughness. With fourth place on just his third Moto2 start, Johann Zarco was earning plenty of admirers, showing up his former 125cc rival Nicolas Terol in the process. The Frenchman’s wild side would come back to bite him two weeks later at his home Grand Prix though as he took out Gino Rea when both looked like potential winners in the pouring rain. To make matters worse, Zarco later crashed out himself.

The local favourite certainly wasn’t alone in that respect in a chaotic Grand Prix with Marquez taking a tumble, drawing his first blank of the season, with multiple-GP winner Alex de Angelis having a lucky escape himself when he crashed in front of the pack early on. Through it all came Thomas Luthi in conditions which suited his calm, cautious approach with the Swiss rider leading home Claudio Corti and Scott Redding. Pol Espargaro, a rider not renowned for his wet-weather ability, kept his nose clean to finish sixth and leave Le Mans with a one-point lead over Marquez.

Conditions were atrocious for the French GP at Le Mans (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)
Conditions were atrocious for the French GP at Le Mans (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

 

Since his second-place finish in the season opener, Andrea Iannone had fallen uncharacteristically quiet, opting for a consistent approach to point scoring but the self-proclaimed “maniac” returned to top form at Catalunya, winning a four-way fight for victory, even if the headlines weren’t being made by the Italian. While trying to take second from Luthi, Marquez lost control of his Suter and scrambled to stay upright. His efforts were successful but as he swung back across onto the racing line, contact was made with Espargaro’s Kalex and the series leader was wiped out on the spot. The Pons team were driven by a sense of injustice and their appeal initially saw a one-minute penalty handed to Marc by race direction but the FIM stewards saw things differently, letting Marquez off the hook. He didn’t lead the championship to Silverstone though with Luthi overtaking both Spaniards by virtue of his second place.

Having escaped injury, Espargaro was raring to go at the British Grand Prix no doubt motivated by the events of Catalunya, and it showed. Pol was untouchable from the first action on Friday and converted pole position into an easy victory with Marquez embroiled in a battle over second with Scott Redding, casting him in the role of pantomime villain once again. The patriotic crowd would get their wish as Scott snatched second at the penultimate corner, matching his career-best result in the class. Bradley Smith mixed it with the leaders in the opening stages as Tech 3 started to take tentative steps forward but eventually faded to seventh, although like Redding, he also took his best result of the year.

The British feel-good factor continued into the Netherlands with Smith going one better to finish sixth while Redding achieved back-to-back podiums for the very first time, coming home a fine third. The two men ahead of him were in a class of their own though but it looked for some time as if Andrea Iannone would upset Marc Marquez, a man who’d owned Assen on his last two visits. Iannone had made a cycling-style break in the opening laps, pulling three seconds clear, but Marquez rattled off a succession of fastest laps to close the gap before scything around the outside of the Speed Up at the start of the last lap. Yet again, Marc had won a race he had little right to win, the mark of a champion.

For Marquez, the bigger picture was also starting to look much rosier as both Espargaro and Luthi, the two men immediately behind him in the championship, tumbled inside the first two laps, allowing Marquez to move 31 points clear of them. Iannone also made gains despite the loss of victory, climbing to second overall but the German GP would be his turn for a non-score after a crash while chasing Marquez for the lead. Neither Espargaro nor Luthi were giving Marquez hassle as they disputed fourth place between themselves and it was left to Mika Kallio and Sachsenring specialist Alex De Angelis to push the championship leader. Both tried their utmost but Marc was just too strong, as he was proving to be over the course of the season.

Mugello would mark the start of a blistering run of form in qualifying for Pol Espargaro with the first of seven pole positions in the last nine races going the way of the Pons rider. The qualifying result in Italy didn’t come close to telling the full story though after a dramatic final practice session where Johann Zarco outbraked himself into San Donato and slammed into Pol, injuring his ankle. This made Pol’s achievement in pipping Marquez to pole all the more impressive while Zarco’s heroics in going third fastest were cancelled out by a fifteen place penalty on the grid.

Espargaro had to overcome adversity on his way to pole in Italy (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)
Espargaro had to overcome adversity on his way to pole in Italy (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

 

Espargaro’s inspired form carried over into Sunday as he formed part of a four-man leading group involving Andrea Iannone, Thomas Luthi and a rejuvenated Bradley Smith. The fight would be settled in the final three miles as Iannone dived past Espargaro at the very corner Pol’s ankle had taken a clout 24 hours earlier, handing Andrea a second home win in three years. Espargaro still scored valuable points in second with Marquez a strangely anonymous fifth behind Luthi and Smith as the Briton missed out on his first podium of the year by a tenth of a second.

Despite one of his worst performances of the season, Marquez went off into the summer break with a 34 point lead and returned firing on all cylinders at Indianapolis. Although he couldn’t snap Espargaro’s pole streak, Marc was unstoppable on Sunday and cruised to an unchallenged victory while Espargaro lost time in the early laps, forcing him to settle for second. Julian Simon’s season finally came to life with his first podium of 2012 but Bradley Smith’s revival stopped in its tracks with his first non-score of the season.

Seven days later and Marquez would have a much bigger fight on his hands at Brno as the three regular challengers to the championship favourite helping put on a gripping Grand Prix. Espargaro wound up a frustrated third after overtaking under yellow flags with the subsequent penalty halting his progress and it was left to Thomas Luthi to pressurise Marquez. As it had soon often been the case, Marc had an answer and won by a nose with Andrea Iannone half a second off the lead, but that was only good enough for fourth.

The late drama would continue over into San Marino as Spain’s finest produced a final lap to remember at Misano. Midway around the final 4.2km, Marquez muscled past Espargaro but Pol was in no mood to settle for second, diving up the inside into Tramanto corner. The Kalex rider outbraked himself, allowing the Suter of Marquez to ease back through on the exit but Pol would respond at the end of the back straight. Unfortunately for Espargaro, he would make the same mistake and the canny Marquez sneaked through once again, this time for good, to strike another psychological blow in the title battle, extending his points lead to 53 in the process.

Aragon played host to the penultimate European stop and the last before the Valencia finale and it finally saw Moto2 ever-present Simone Corsi claim his first pole position in the class after failing to get on the front row or trouble the podium all season. The Italian would be shuffled back to seventh on race day as the Spaniards came to the fore again but Scott Redding ensured they wouldn’t enjoy another 1-2 with a heroic ride. Just days after undergoing carpal tunnel surgery, the Briton upset Marquez in a thrilling fight for second in one of the rides of the year. Meanwhile, a fully-fit Espargaro took maximum points to keep his slim title hopes alive. With four races to go though, attention was now moving to when, rather than if Marquez would be crowned king of Moto2.

Victories and podiums were coming so easily to Marquez that he clearly fancied doing the business from further back as Motegi saw the first of two sensational comeback rides. Starting from the middle of the front row, Marc seemingly struggled to find a gear when the lights changed and was powerless to stop the 32 man field rocket past. What followed was nothing short of special as the Spaniard weaved his way through the pack as if they themselves were standing still, just as he had been moments earlier. By the end of lap one, he was already up to ninth and it only took another nine laps for him to overhaul the entire field, passing Esteve Rabat for the lead. Victory from there was only going to go one way although he still couldn’t shake off the resilient Espargaro who took his teammate for second. Redding picked up where he left off too with a fine fourth.

With his lead back up to 53 points, Marquez touched down in Kuala Lumpur with one hand on the championship. All he had to do was beat his season-long rival to the flag. That would be much easier said than done as the ever-unpredictable climate in KL provided a torrential rain storm minutes before the start. The title rivals started either side of Scott Redding on the front row but none would figure in the fight for victory as four unfamiliar names, one a virtual unknown, threw caution to the wind.

The unknown in question was Malaysian wildcard Hafizh Syahrin who sliced through from 27th on the grid to astonishingly take the lead mid-race. After his miserable rookie year, Gino Rea was another rider keen to grasp the golden opportunity in conditions that played to his strengths while the experience of Alex De Angelis and Anthony West put them in contention. The rain intensified three laps from the finish, ending a thrilling tussle earlier than the spectators may have hoped with Syahrin back in fourth while Rea would also have been cursing the rain having led when the red flags came out having taken the lead seconds earlier. He would be classified third with De Angelis hanging onto the race win by 0.7s from West.

Syahrin leaves Grand Prix winners in his wake during his charge through the field (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)
Syahrin leaves Grand Prix winners in his wake during his charge through the field (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

 

The championship situation had almost taken a back seat to the thrilling action up ahead but Pol Espargaro’s bid looked to be finally over as he toiled away in eleventh. All would change on lap thirteen as Marquez tumbled out of a safe seventh and the distraught nineteen year old would be forced to wait another week.

Phillip Island was the venue Marc’s 2011 bid really started to nosedive but a year on, only a repeat of that hard luck would deny him this time. In a final parting shot, Espargaro did his level best to upstage his fellow countryman by winning the race by the biggest margin in Moto2 history but Marquez only needed fourteenth to wrap up the title. Unsurprisingly, he did much better than that, taking third from Scott Redding at the last corner of the last lap to clinch the crown in style. In another stand-out performance, Anthony West finished second to prove his Malaysian result was no fluke.

With the title in the bag, Marquez would have been forgiven for taking it easy in the final round at Valencia but the new number one did the opposite, starting on Friday afternoon. In the second free practice session, Marc inexplicably swiped across Simone Corsi’s FTR, knocking the Italian to the floor and the champion was rightly ordered to start his final race in the intermediate class from the back of the grid.

What may previously have been a dead rubber was now a tantalising challenge for Marquez to repeat his magical ride from Motegi and he didn’t disappoint. Julian Simon and Nicolas Terol may not have been cheering their compatriot on having run first and second but they were merely sitting ducks when Marc came along. The world champion had started last and finished first, underlying his title credentials before finishing with an emphatic exclamation point.

Espargaro’s valiant effort must not be forgotten but the 56 point margin at the end of the year accurately reflected the dominance of Marquez. Iannone and Luthi were even further back with the Italian finishing third overall for the third year in succession while Scott Redding’s excellent year earned him fifth in the championship, 33 points ahead of teammate Mika Kallio. Esteve Rabat was seventh in front of the consistent Dominique Aegerter who didn’t finish higher than fifth all season but relentlessly racked up the points.

Bradley Smith was unable to sign off his Moto2 career with a podium and was classified ninth in the series with Gino Rea’s late podium and a twelfth-place in Valencia lifting him to 21st overall.

How The Moto2 Title Was Won

2012 Moto2 Riders’ Championship (Final Standings)

Pos Rider Constructor Wins Poles FLs Pts
1  Marc Marquez Suter 9 7 5 324
2  Pol Espargaro Kalex 4 8 5 268
3  Andrea Iannone Speed Up 2 0 0 193
4  Thomas Luthi Suter 1 1 3 190
5  Scott Redding Kalex 0 0 0 161
6  Mika Kallio Kalex 0 0 0 128
7  Esteve Rabat Kalex 0 0 0 114
8  Dominique Aegerter Suter 0 0 0 110
9  Bradley Smith Tech 3 0 0 0 109
10  Johann Zarco Motobi 0 0 0 94
11  Simone Corsi FTR 0 1 0 87
12  Alex De Angelis FTR 1 0 1 86
13  Julian Simon Suter 0 0 0 79
14  Claudio Corti Kalex 0 0 1 74
15  Takaaki Nakagami Kalex 0 0 0 56
16  Anthony West Moriwaki 0 0 0 52
17  Toni Elias Kalex 0 0 0 48
18  Nicolas Terol Suter 0 0 0 36
19  Randy Krummenacher Suter 0 0 1 31
20  Jordi Torres Suter 0 0 0 29
21  Gino Rea Suter 0 0 0 21
22  Xavier Simeon Tech 3 0 0 0 21
23  Mike Di Meglio Kalex 0 0 0 14
24  Hafizh Syahrin FTR 0 0 1 13
25  Axel Pons Kalex 0 0 0 10
26  Max Neukirchner Kalex 0 0 0 9
27  Ratthapark Wilairot Suter 0 0 0 9
28  Ricard Cardus AJR 0 0 0 8
29  Dani Rivas Kalex 0 0 0 3
30  Yuki Takahashi FTR 0 0 0 2
31  Roberto Rolfo Suter 0 0 0 1
32  Tomoyoshi Koyama Suter 1 0 0 0
33  Marcel Schrotter Bimota 0 0 0 0
34  Marco Colandrea FTR 0 0 0 0
35  Jesko Raffin Kalex 0 0 0 0
36  Alex Marinelarena Suter 0 0 0 0
37  Angel Rodriguez Bimota 0 0 0 0
38  Elena Rosell Speed Up 0 0 0 0
39  Steven Odendaal AJR 0 0 0 0
40  Eric Granado Motobi 0 0 0 0
41  Damian Cudlin Bimota 0 0 0 0
42  Alessandro Andreozzi Speed Up 0 0 0 0
43  Alexander Lundh MZ-RE Honda 0 0 0 0
44  Kevin Wahr IAMT 0 0 0 0
45  Mattia Pasini FTR 0 0 0 0
46  Roman Ramos FTR 0 0 0 0
47  Markus Reiterberger MZ-RE Honda 0 0 0 0
48  Rafid Topan Sucipto Speed Up 0 0 0 0
NC  Massimo Roccoli Bimota 0 0 0 0
NC  Nasser Hasan Al Malki Moriwaki 0 0 0 0
NC  Kohta Nozane FTR 0 0 0 0

TCF on Monday: 2013 MotoGP Rider-By-Rider Preview