As the last step on the ladder towards MotoGP, Moto2 is the biggest opportunity for riders to showcase their abilities and prove they are ready for the ultimate test on two wheels. One rider looking to step out from the crowd is Jonas Folger, and together with the AGR Team, the German believes he is on the right path to Grand Prix racing’s top level.
Jonas made the ascension to Moto2 in 2014 after six years in the lightweight class which yielded two victories. So often, Folger found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time with Ioda handing him a chance in the inaugural Moto3 season, only to produce one of the worst motorcycles on the grid, while his Kalex-KTM wasn’t quite competitive enough to challenge the full-factory KTMs once he had found a new home at Aspar.
“Of course, it was a hard season and a tough time with Ioda but Kalex and Aspar gave me another opportunity to show what I’m able to do and I was really lucky to get this chance”, Folger told The Checkered Flag. “We had some really good races during the two years together”.
Having finished fifth in the 2013 Moto2 campaign, Moto2 was the next logical step and for some many riders, the step to 600cc machinery has proven too difficult to make. Nicolas Terol, the final 125cc champion, tasted victory in the intermediate class but has sunk without trace since, while Sandro Cortese and reigning Moto3 champion Alex Marquez have failed to set the world alight so far.
For Folger though, the transition came at just the right time having outgrown the 250cc bikes and the German took the challenge in his stride.
“It wasn’t easy for me to move to Moto2 but it also wasn’t really hard like it was for many other riders. I struggled a bit in Moto3 because I was quite a tall guy for a small class so it was good time to change. The riding style was more fun for me with a bigger bike, bigger tyres and more power.”
Within four races, Folger was already finishing on a Moto2 podium with third place at Jerez followed quickly by a maiden pole position at Le Mans. A mid-season lull which saw him score just one point in eight races saw him drop to an eventual fourteenth in the championship but Jonas had done enough to prove that he was a talent worth persisting with, and he was retained by the Jonas had done enough to prove that he was a talent worth persisting with, and he was retained by AGR.
Folger is a firm believer that he is in the perfect place to show what can do, having escaped the pack-racing madness of Moto3, and he feels the fact that so much of the intermediate machines are closely controlled actually works in his favour, allowing talent to shine through.
“With a Moto2 bike, it’s more easy to see the potential of a rider than in any other category so it’s very interesting”, he explained. “Every year, you see another rider at the top of Moto2 because of the material, everything’s the same so it’s very good for seeing the talent and the effort of a rider.”
In 2015, that effort was rewarded instantly with victory in the season-opener at Losail, albeit a fortunate one following a mechanical failure for Johann Zarco, but there were no question marks surrounding his success in Spain. At the scene of his maiden podium 12 months earlier, Folger defeated defending champion Tito Rabat in a straight fight to claim his second win in four races, giving AGR the biggest result in its history on home soil.
Folger and AGR definitely appear to be the perfect pairing with the laid-back German relishing the relaxed environment within a team which isn’t among the richest in the paddock. The team’s calmer approach to racing is clearly rubbing off on its rider with Jonas enjoying the chance to ride with less responsibility on his shoulders.
“I enjoy riding for the Arginanos team a lot. They are a real family and good friends for me now. I’m enjoying things much more than I did in the past. They don’t put a lot of pressure on me so I’m really happy with the team and we showed already that even though the team didn’t have good results in the past, we can win races. I think there is a lot of potential in this team”.
Despite the early victories, Folger has been unable to sustain that level with the other seven races yielding a highest finish of seventh. The lack of consistency continues to frustrate onlookers who are well aware of his strengths and Jonas admits he is at a loss to explain the fluctuation in fortunes from one race to the next.
“It’s really hard to say what the problem is, why in one race we’re on top and the next race we are struggling. It’s always hard to say. Sometimes we had bad luck with the tyres, a few times we took the wrong tyre and we also had a construction failure which meant the performance was really bad from this tyre. I think everything depends on how you start the weekend and how many mistakes you make during the weekend. The most important thing is to try and make as few mistakes as possible and try to immediately find the right way for the set-up of the bike and build up the confidence with the bike and the track which is really hard“.
It is that consistency which effectively forms the final barrier between himself and MotoGP. Although his name has appeared in reports linking him to rides in the premier class over the last 12 months, Jonas has made his own mind up as to whether he is ready for MotoGP or not.
“For next year, my priority is to stay in Moto2 and to show how consistent I can be in the future and to win more races and fight for the title. We’re now seventh in the championship but we’ve had too many bad results and too much bad luck this season so far so I want to try and make the best out of 2016. Of course we can still have a good season this season but to fight for the championship is really impossible“.
By his own admission, a move to the big league in 2016 would come too soon but there is no question that Jonas Folger will be lining up on a MotoGP grid at some stage in the future and the Spanish squad he calls his family are playing their part in readying him for the challenge. AGR have found the formula to bring the best out of an undoubted natural talent. If they can find a way to do so consistently, they may well have the finished article.