Gabriel Rodrigo continued to shine for Gresini racing at Jerez this afternoon, by claiming the fastest Moto3 FP2 time for the second Friday in a row.
The Argentinian held off Italian pairing of Niccolò Antonelli and Romano Fenati to claim the session with Scotland’s John McPhee seeming to struggle throughout the opening day, completing the afternoon 16th overall and outside of Q2 contention.
The Jerez weekend began with highs and lows for the Moto3 class before the action even commenced with the paddock awash with praise for the reigning rookie star, Pedro Acosta, after the KTM rider’s sensational start to the 2021 season - some already talking about the 16-year-old’s inevitable, if a little early, rise to MotoGP after just three races. On the other end of the spectrum, Adrian Fernandez and Kaito Toba kicked their Spanish adventures off by collecting long lap penalties for Sunday’s race, after the pair were responsible for crashes during the Portuguese GP.
As the lightweight class rolled out, it was Jaume Masia and Niccolò Antonelli vying for position at the head of the standings, at a track well-known and well-loved by the entire filled. The cool Andalucian conditions generated 1’48 lap times in the opening 10-minutes before last year’s double pole-man, Tatsuki Suzuki, broke the barrier with a 1’47.965 on his seventh attempt.
A steady start for John McPhee saw the Scot advance from 22nd to 14th by the halfway stage - 1’48.728 his best so far - while teammate Darryn Binder circulated in eighth before moving up to fifth, six-tenths faster, with 15 minutes to go. Antonelli was back in charge just 0.033 ahead of the Sic58 rider as the clock counted down, Dennis Foggia and Romano Fenati bettering the South African for fourth and fifth as McPhee, having returned to the pits, dropped to 18th.
The closing seven minutes saw Izan Guevara join the top fighters, in second, with a 1’47.942, Gabriel Rodrigo doing likewise moments later as he claimed the lead with the first 1’46 of the morning, only to be instantly demoted by Deniz Öncü’s 1’46.568 next time around. Sergio Garcia was the next to challenge as the final flying laps began to register, finding third with McPhee in fifth, before the times shuffled again in earnest.
Rodrigo and Öncü both improved to consolidate their commanding positions with Foggia, Antonelli and Binder fighting for best of the rest. Andrea Migno, Fenati, Masia and Acosta headed Carlos Tatay in the top-10 with just a minute remaining of the morning’s session as Stefano Nepa and Jason Dupasquier joined the party in the dying seconds.
Rodrigo looked to retain his lead as the flag dropped before Antonelli won out, with a 1’46.319, as FP1 concluded. Dupasquier claimed third from Masia, Öncü and Foggia with Migno, Binder, Nepa and Fenati completing the opening top-10, McPhee 1.5s adrift in 22nd.
Despite a warmer lunch-break, the clouds ushered in another cool practice as the afternoon action began. Binder found the early limit at turn two in the opening five-minutes while Ayumu Sasaki initially took charge of the standings.
As the times warmed up it was Suzuki back at the front from Nepa and Rodrigo with Antonelli, Fenati and Masia also advancing on the early leader, before Toba joined the group, in fourth. Suzuki continued to fine-tune his rhythm as he set the first 1’46 of the afternoon while turn one got the better of Antonelli moments later.
Max Kofler was the newest name to shuffle the standings as he made his way to third, Migno following suit to claim second and demote the CIP rider in quick succession as Masia and Nepa held on to fifth and sixth. The fallen Italian, Foggia, Toba and Fenati completed the top-10 after 15-minutes on track.
The Snipers’ advance continued at the halfway stage as Filip Salac headed his team-mate in the top-three, Suzuki and Rodrigo matching the increasing pace as they circulated in first and fourth before the latter took charge with a 1’45.651 on his seventh lap. The standings throughly shuffling as the Gresini man ushered through a gaggle of chasing riders, Dupasquier, Fernandez and Foggia claiming third to fifth respectively as Sasaki slid into eighth.
Recovered from his earlier off, Antonelli was back on form in second with 15-minutes to go while McPhee continued to struggle in 22nd, his teammate also returning to action and navigating the 4.4km track from 17th.
With entry to Saturday’s Q2 session firmly on everyone’s mind, the class headed for fresh rubber as the session neared the closing 10 minutes.
Nepa’s 1’47.600 was the benchmark for top-14 honours as the final flourish fired up but with the pack seemingly split into two main groups, there was all to play for as the clock counted down.
Working together once again, the KTM duo of Acosta and Masia claimed third and fifth on their first attempt before Binder swept through to third next time around. Dupasquier was the next to strike as he claimed second, this time from Antonelli as Yamanaka and Fenati took fifth and sixth. Suzuki’s promising showing ended early as turn one claimed another victim while Fenati’s 10th lap saw the Italian take his turn in the top-two.
As the chequered flag prepared Antonelli returned to challenge, this time joining Rodrigo with a 1’45 effort, albeit 0.2 shy of the fastest time but there was little else seeming to threaten. Fenati, Dupasquier and Binder completed Friday’s five fastest riders with Yamanaka, Migno, Acosta, Öncü and Masia sitting comfortably in the top-10. The final battle for provisional promotion saw Sasaki, Salac, Jeremy Alcoba victorious with Suzuki narrowly holding on to the all-important 14th position. Nepa, McPhee, Guevara, and Garcia the first hunting for improvements come Saturday morning.