MotoGP’s greatest paradox: why isn’t Moto2 racing closer?


Moto2 riders use the same engine, tyres, software, fuel, oil and gearbox, so why is the racing more spread out than MotoGP and Moto3?


Lap one of June’s Catalan Moto2 race and Remy Gardner is already disappearing out front


Dorna’s big push over the past decade has been writing technical regulations that shrink the gap between the best and worst motorcycles, thereby creating thrilling racing that gets hundreds of millions of people turning on their televisions

The premier MotoGP class features many such rules – 81mm bore limit, spec tyres, spec electronics, a relatively high minimum weight limit and so on.

Moto3 is even stricter, with the same tyres, same electronics and engines randomly allocated to riders to prevent factory teams gaining an advantage.

Strictest of all is Moto2, in which riders use the same engine (Triumph’s three-cylinder 765), same tyres (Dunlop), same software (Magneti Marelli), same fuel (Petronas), same oil (Liqui Moli) and same gearbox (no alternative ratios are allowed). Also, more than two thirds of the grid use the same chassis, from German constructor Kalex.

And yet Moto2 creates the most spread-out races across MotoGP’s three categories. Some fans call Moto2 boring, which of course it isn’t. It’s just that the other classes are so scarily close that spectators expect to see vicious multi-riders battles in every race.

So far this year the Moto3 top ten has been covered by an average of 4.6 seconds. In MotoGP the average gap from the winner to tenth place is 15.5 seconds. In Moto2 the average is 20.7 seconds.

It’s not necessarily desirable that the Moto2 pack gets much closer together, but how can it be that what’s essentially a one-make series isn’t as closely contested as MotoGP and Moto3?

Of course there’s no one reason why Moto2 races are more spread out – as always there are multiple reasons for anything like this.

Mostly it’s tyres, feel and electronics (or lack of), plus the fact that a 140-horsepower motorcycle is more difficult to ride than a 60bhp Moto3 bike and a hybrid road engine/race chassis machine is in some ways trickier than a 300bhp MotoGP bike.

Marc VDS rider Sam Lowes believes that tyres play a huge part – the trickiness of the current front tyre allows some riders to make the difference in the opening laps.

Sam Lowes

Sam Lowes at Mugello, where Kalex monopolised the top eight finishing positions

Marc VDS

“It’s the tyres and understanding the tyre specs at each track,” says Lowes, currently fourth in the 2021 Moto2 championship. “These bikes give you a lot of feedback but that last bit of speed comes from… I don’t want to say blind faith, I’d rather say confidence.

“I had that confidence in Qatar [where Lowes dominated the first two races of 2021]. I felt like I could do anything, I felt like I could do the race again and have no issues. Then you go somewhere like Barcelona and every corner I felt like I was going to crash. And when you feel like that it’s hard to attack from the first lap.

“If you analyse the middle part of the races the lap times of all the top guys are always really close. But things spread out in the first laps, depending how confident the riders are.

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“At two of the last three races my first laps were terrible, so I was 13th or 14th, then it’s hard to make headway from there. You may come forward a little bit but it’s really difficult to close a one-second gap on someone in the middle of the race. It’s a different way of riding – it’s a bit like a time trial – you’re out there just putting in the laps and if you make one little mistake it takes three laps to recover.

“Mentally it’s a tough class because the guy pulling away from you is probably on the exact same bike. Standing in front of a mirror is the hardest place to be in Moto2, because that’s where you have to start.”

Dunlop has been Moto2’s sole tyre supplier since the category’s inaugural season in 2010. Over the past three seasons the class has switched to larger tyres based on the tyres Dunlop use in the EWC (Endurance World Championship) which runs 1000cc road bikes. The larger rear slick arrived in 2019 and the larger front last year.

“The tyres are basically EWC tyres, so they have a hard carcass and they can be strange because Moto2 chassis are stiffer than road-bike chassis and the way we ride in Moto2 stresses the tyres more,” Lowes continues. “When the tyre allocation is quite stiff you can put in a new front tyre and you’re actually slower for the first few laps. Since they changed to the bigger front you don’t have so much feedback

“When the allocation is softer I find it easier. But when you’re struggling during the weekend with harder tyres you have a crash and you lose confidence, so it’s very difficult.”

This explains why some riders can be so much quicker during the first laps and build a winning gap while their rivals struggle to get up to speed.

Is it possible that Moto2 bikes are more difficult to ride than MotoGP bikes? Not really, but in some ways, yes.

Two of the main reasons MotoGP is so close is that all the riders can take the Michelin front to the limit entering corners and then rely on traction control to get them out of the corners. Moto2 bikes don’t feature traction control.


A few laps into the Mugello Moto2 race and the pack is already spreading out


“Moto2 would be closer in the first few laps with TC, because it allows you to hit that limit straight away,” adds Lowes. “When I was in MotoGP [Lowes had a torrid rookie MotoGP season in 2017, riding Aprilia’s below-par RS-GP] I really enjoyed Sachsenring because through all those long, fast lefts you just rode into the electronics.

“In Moto2, because of the heat generated in the left of the tyres through all those lefts, we have really hard rubber on the left, so it’s difficult. You can only use 11% or 12% throttle through those long lefts, so it’s complicated because you can’t push to be fast. I’m not saying Moto2 is harder than MotoGP, but it’s difficult to take the maximum performance from the tyres from lights out.”

Moto2’s Magneti Marelli ECU includes maps for TC and anti-wheelie, but these aren’t enabled, because Dorna and Triumph want the rider, not the bike, to be Moto2’s prime performance factor.

The Moto2 ECU does include five or six maps for torque demand – Lowes uses the maximum map everywhere, wet or dry – and 20 maps for engine-breaking control, with most riders using the middle five or six.

There’s another factor that makes Moto2 bikes tricky – they are mongrel machines, grand prix chassis with road-bike engines – because he main concern of Dorna and IRTA when they created Moto2 was reducing costs.

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During the final years of the 250cc class teams had to find €1m to lease factory bikes for a season. A Moto2 bike is around 90% cheaper than that. Much of that cost reduction comes from using engines from road bikes – first from Honda’s CBR600, now from Triumph’s 765 Street Triple. Road bike engines cost less and last longer, but they are heavier.

“Moto2 bikes feel really stiff and light, but it feels like you’ve chucked a load of weight in the middle and it feels like the weight is in a strange place,” Lowes adds. That makes the bike difficult to stop and different to ride in that way compared to other bikes.

“But the bikes are good to ride. Kalex do a great job and the Triumph engine has been a positive. It’s got more torque, so more people can ride in different ways. With the Honda everyone rode the same way – with corner speed – and with the same [final] gearing. But electronics are the biggest thing – Moto2 will always be different until they put more electronics in there.”

Lowes’ super-experienced crew chief Gilles Bigot – who guided Alex Crivillé to the 1999 500cc world championship – also believes the Moto2 pack gets spread out due to rider feeling, especially from the front tyre, the most important part on any racing motorcycle.

“This category is down to the rider,” says the Frenchman. “The riders who have a lot of self-confidence and feeling with the bike are usually in front. I’d say if you want to make Moto2 closer a different front tyre would help more than anything.

“The front tyre is quite stiff [so it doesn’t deflect or squish to expand the contact patch and increase rider feel], so riders get to the point where the tyre isn’t giving them the feeling they want, so they can’t push anymore because they don’t want to crash. There are four or five guys in Moto2 who can go to this limit and sometimes they go over it. It’s down to self-confidence.

“The point is that EWC bikes are heavier, so they have a greater dynamic load, so you can ride those bikes with confidence. Moto2 bikes are lighter and stiffer, so it’s more difficult to get the feel.

“It’s like when superbike riders used to jump on 500s – they’d didn’t have that natural feeling they had with a superbike, instead they couldn’t feel the 500, so they used to say it felt like the bike wanted to fly! Sam sometimes says the same – he feels like he’s ‘above’ the racetrack, so he can’t push.


Gilles Bigot and Lowes working hard to extract the maximum from bike and rider

Marc VDS

“This is why heavier riders are sometimes faster – when Jesko Raffin was in Moto2 his speed was sometimes amazing and the only way to explain that was his weight, which got him the natural feeling other riders sometimes miss.” [Raffin weighs 74 kilos, nine more than Lowes.]

“Sam is amazingly fast and strong-willed but sometimes he pushes too hard trying to go fast, so the lap time doesn’t come because he’s asking too much from the bike. Riders always want to go fast but in these cases you need to step back a bit to try to understand where the grip is and how to extract that grip and therefore extract something more from the bike.

“You cannot read this on the data because no data shows this kind of thing. It’s the same when the rider shuts the throttle too fast – you try to explain to him that if you roll the throttle earlier you change the dynamic of the bike, which is something he feels, but it’s not something we can read on the data.

“Sometimes we suggest to Sam to roll the throttle and brake a bit earlier. On a good day he’ll brake five metres earlier, go through the corner a bit faster and by the exit he’s one tenth faster. It’s always the small things. But it’s not easy for a rider to step back to go faster, because they all want to try harder.

“The nature of each track is another thing that makes the difference between the top riders and the others. Some riders take a long time to understand where the grip is, while others immediately understand: ‘OK, the grip isn’t there but that’s all we’ve got,’ so they adapt to the situation and instead of pushing too hard they brake a little less and maybe carry more corner speed, then their corner exits are better too.

“In Moto2 we cannot play with gearbox ratios, unlike Moto3 and MotoGP, which also makes a difference between the riders, who have to cope with this. Maybe in one corner they are between two gears, so the gear is longer than they want, so they don’t feel good, because they can’t feel the engine so well, but otherwise they will spin the tyre too much. Moto2 is a class in which the rider needs to adapt to the bike more than in Moto3.”


More than two thirds of the Moto2 grid uses this package: Kalex chassis and Öhlins suspension

Petronas SRT

There is no one way to ride a Moto2 bike – smooth or ragged can win the day.

“Sometimes you need to ride the bike like Jorge Lorenzo,” adds Bigot. “But then we see Remy Gardner spinning and sliding the rear and going very fast, a bit like Brad Binder in the past. And then we have Raul Fernandez who is quite smooth and is able to get the best out of the bike with good lines.

“Sam’s team-mate Augusto Fernandez was struggling quite a lot, then recently he found a set-up that allows him to go fast. Sam’s bike is pretty much a standard Kalex set-up – we just play with the balance of the bike and springs – but Augusto did something very specific to get the confidence to be able to go fast. Augusto has a lot of speed when the set-up is right, but as soon as he’s out of that window he struggles, so Moto2 is down to the rider who can adapt.

“It’s all down to rider feel. We see that in MotoGP with Maverick Viñales – the rider’s emotions are the key. If your rider is a bit stressed and he’s not able to calm down then he will struggle all weekend.”

This is why it’s both the rider and the team that make the difference in Moto2.

The rider who is able to adapt to what he’s got and ride around problems will be faster. At the same time the team that supports the rider in the best way and knows how to get the most out of the bike can make a huge difference. At the moment that means Red Bull KTM Ajo, Sky VR46 and Marc VDS.

This is the irony of Moto2 – when the technology is so close the tiny differences are amplified by talented riders and engineers, so the differences in race times are related to better personnel rather than better material.