When you look through the various motorcycling championships across the world, they all have a certain identity. MotoGP for example is the pinnacle of grand prix racing, Moto3 is the proving ground, where stars are made. Moto2 meanwhile can be characterised in one word, madness!
In 2011, two men had the championship battle all to themselves but that didn't stop 16 different riders getting on the podium over the course of the year. Regularly, a second would cover 20 riders or more in qualifying sessions and race victories would be decided on the final lap. On a Grand Prix weekend, Moto2 has established itself as the most exciting spectacle on the programme.
For the second year in succession, the champion has taken the leap of faith into MotoGP and in Stefan Bradl's absence, one man starts 2012 as an odds-on favourite. Arguably, Marc Marquez should've been the 2011 Moto2 champion but a practice crash in Malaysia, and the injuries that followed, prevented him from beating Bradl in the last two races. The double vision that the Spaniard was suffering from threatened to derail his 2012 title bid as he didn't test until March but when he did, he was immediately on the pace.
Marquez's biggest threat could come from the past. Toni Elias moved back up to MotoGP last year as the very first Moto2 world champion and failed miserably. Whether it was the fault of the bike, the tyres or the rider, Toni just couldn't get to grips with the machinery he had at his disposal. Refreshed and revitalised, Elias' aim will be to regain the title he won in 2010 and if Mapfre Aspar can provide him with the bike to challenge, we could be in for a titanic tussle.
Many familiar faces are back for a third crack at the title with Andrea Iannone searching for the consistency which has failed to compliment his undoubted speed in the last two years. The Italian, affectionately nicknamed “Crazy Joe”, has changed chassis for the third straight year, going from Suter to Speed Up, and will be hoping the name of the bike rings true in 2012.
Forward Racing have found a proven race-winning line-up in Alex De Angelis and Yuki Takahashi while Avintia Racing have gone for the man who seems to have done everything but win, Julian Simon. Thomas Luthi tasted victory for the first time in last year's penultimate race and will now want to make that a regular occurrence in his third year on the Interwetten Suter.
Britain's Bradley Smith and Scott Redding haven't broken the glass ceiling yet but both seem right on the verge of doing so. Smith exceeded all expectations in his rookie season last term with a hat-trick of podiums and has victory on his mind this year. Tech 3 hasn't enjoyed the smoothest of winters though with the 21 year old trying three different chassis by the time testing had concluded. Smith hasn't made any predictions but he won't want to join Tech 3's MotoGP squad in 2013 without having won a Moto2 race.
2011 could be seen as a step backwards in Redding's impressive career to date. The Quedgeley teenager was seen by many as a title contender at this stage 12 months ago but any championship challenge was snuffed out very early on. A combination of bad luck and poor performances meant he didn't score a point until round six and never stood on the podium. For this year, Marc VDS have joined forces with reigning constructors champions Kalex and the change seems to be paying dividends, with Redding much happier as gets ready for a vital year.
Bradley and Scott will be joined by a third Briton on Sunday's grid as Gino Rea makes his Grand Prix debut for Gresini. The move took many weeks before being confirmed officially but the Londoner now has his chance to impress. Rea is a former European Superstock 600 champion and was victorious at Brno in the World Supersport Championship as recently as July, proving he has the credentials to race in the company he is about to keep. Gresini have won races and a title in Moto2 as well so he has the ideal platform to show what he can do.
One of the fascinating subplots will be the fight between last year's 125cc title rivals who will both graduate to the intermediate class. Although he left it until the last race, Nicolas Terol finally shook off Johann Zarco to win the final 125 title but the two were fierce competitors throughout and were involved in last-lap battles on several occasions. Terol will race alongside Elias at Aspar while Zarco will be the sole representative for JIR, for now at least.
Moto2 is such a tough championship to predict at the best of times and testing has served to muddy the waters still further following the emergence of an unlikely frontrunner. Throughout the Jerez test and the unofficial running that came before, Italtrans Racing have figured almost constantly at the top of the timesheets. Claudio Corti, a man who has never finished on a Grand Prix podium, led the final test for the Italian team who like Marc VDS, have gone from Suter machinery to Kalex. New teammate Takaaki Nakagami also impressed although he ended up down in 11th place.
Luthi was second at Jerez ahead of two more Kalex riders, Pol Espargaro and Mika Kallio, with Marquez ominously lurking in fifth. His habit of tripping over other riders hasn't disappeared yet though as evident when he collided with Gino Rea on the final day but the rookie was happy enough with his preparation. Bradley Smith also crashed heavily in Spain but nevertheless travels to Qatar happy and healthy. Max Neukirchner, Kiefer Racing’s replacement for Bradl, doesn’t appear to have the same potential as his compatriot had this time last year though, he was 24th quickest.
Who will be smiling on Sunday night is anyone's guess while the possible identity of the champion may not be clear even then but as is always the case in Moto2, we're going to have a ball watching it unfold.
2012 Moto2 World Championship – Teams & Riders
|Kiefer Racing (Kalex)|
|Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol (Suter)|
|Speed Master (Speed Up)|
|NGM Mobile Forward Racing Team (Suter)|
|15.||Alex de Angelis||72.||Yuki Takahashi|
|Interwetten Paddock Moto2 (Suter)|
|Mapfre Aspar Team (Suter)|
|18.||Nicolas Terol||24.||Toni Elias|
|Tech 3 Racing (Tech 3)|
|19.||Xavier Simeon||38.||Bradley Smith|
|Marc VDS Racing Team (Kalex)|
|36.||Mika Kallio||45.||Scott Redding|
|Federal Oil Gresini Moto2/Thai Honda Gresini Moto2 (Moriwaki)|
|8.||Gino Rea||14.||Ratthapark Wilairot|
|Came IodaRacing Project (FTR)|
|Avintia Racing (FTR)|
|Pons HP 40 Tuenti (Pons Kalex)|
|40.||Pol Espargaro||49.||Axel Pons||80.||Esteve Rabat|
|44.||Roberto Rolfo||88.||Dominique Aegerter|
|Italtrans Racing Team (Kalex)|
|30.||Takaaki Nakagami||71.||Claudio Corti|
|JIR Moto2 (Motobi)|
|5.||Johann Zarco||57.||Eric Granado|
|GP Team Switzerland (Kalex)|
|S/Master Speed Up (Speed Up)|
|63.||Mike Di Meglio|
|Cresto Guide MZ Racing (MZ FTR)|
|QMMF Racing Team (Moriwaki)|
|82.||Elena Rosell||95.||Anthony West|
|SAG Team/Desguaces La Torre SAG (FTR)|
|10.||Marco Colandrea||47.||Angel Rodriguez|