Britain’s Sam Lowes got his ItalianGP preparations firmly on track at Mugello with the fastest Moto2 time of the weekend so far, after Friday's two free practice sessions.
Repeatedly running at the top of the times, the Marc VDS rider held off competition from KTM’s Raul Fernandez, stamping his authority with a 1’51.385, set on his final lap of the afternoon’s 40-minutes of action.
Lowes took charge as the opening Moto2 practice got up to speed around the Tuscan hills, returning to the top with his third lap - a 1’53.171 - before Fernandez looked to challenge from second. The impressive rookie’s performance continued with a 1’52.946 as Xavi Vierge and Marco Bezzecchi sat behind the battling duo. The Intact riders of Marcel Schrotter and Tony Arbolino circulated together both on track and in the times, from fourth and fifth - as Lowes’ fastest lap was deleted, and the Brit was demoted to sixth.
Bezzecchi was the man on the move after 15-minutes of action, advancing the pace with a 1’52.732 as Lowes recovered to second, less then two-tenths adrift, before entering the pits.
Fernandez remained firmly in contention just 0.02s back, in third and ahead of the Intact riders until Joe Roberts split the pair with his sixth lap to steal fifth from Arbolino. The KTM rookie sweeping back through for second on his eighth lap.
Fabio Di Giannantonio made his presence known at the halfway stage to take second behind his Italian countryman as Bezzecchi once again bettered his own target. Vierge rose to fifth with Augusto Fernandez and Remy Gardner sitting on the edge of the top-10 as the field joined Lowes in the pits ahead of their next runs.
The Brit fired back to the top as the action resumed, taking control with a 1’52.295 before bettering himself next time around with a ’52 dead as he aimed to become the first rider to break the 51 mark. Fernandez continued to challenge as he narrowly outperformed Bezzecchi - by 0.003s - for second before Gardner stormed the times with eighth minutes to go. The Australian demoted Lowes with a 1’51.984, Arbolino and Vierge following through to take third and fourth as the times began to heat up in the closing stages
The top-six all pushed for P1 pace as the final five minutes fired up but the second-half of the lap proved to be their undoings and the times repeatedly faded away. Roberts suffered but saved a big moment out of turn 12 in his hunt for progression before recovering with a determined challenge, taking the standings on his 17th lap with a 1’51.746 as the chequered flag came out.
The American was safe at the top as the morning concluded, Gardner and Lowes separated by 0.02s as they finished just over two-tenths back, with Fernandez and Arbolino claiming FP1’s top-five. Augusto Fernandez sat sixth from Vierge, Bezzecchi, Schrotter and Di Giannantonio with Jake Dixon and Cameron Beaubier suffering from a lack of Mugello knowledge in 28th and 29th respectively.
Fernandez led the action with a 1’51.569 as Friday’s final practice got up to speed. The Spaniard saving a front end slide on his fourth lap to continue his impressive performance as Lowes began another strong showing in second. Jorge Navarro kicked off FP2 in third from Bezzecchi and Di Giannantonio with the morning’s victor in sixth.
Recovering from a disappointing FP1, Bo Bendsneyder made his way into the combined top-14 - in 11th - as he circulated in seventh for the afternoon. Arbolino, Gardner and the second Fernandez taking the remaining top-10 positions before the Marc VDS rider too advanced to seventh. Dixon looked to be finding his feet, in 15th, as practice continued, with the mid-session race simulations leaving the standings untouched. Roberts and Tom Luthi crashing out at turns three and eight respectively.
Lowes was the first to set a hot-lap as the closing 10-minutes counted down. His 1’51.668 effort maintaining his second position just 0.099s shy of Fernandez’ earlier benchmark before the Brit set out to improve once again, taking charge with his 13th lap of the afternoon.
Gardner was on the move five minutes later as he progressed to sixth, before his teammate fired up the pace back at the front. Arbolino advanced to fifth with his 14th lap as Somkiat Chantra found the limit at turn nine, and the Lowes/Fernandez battle for control continued.
Lowes consolidated his dominance with a 1’51.385 on his final lap of Friday to take the standings by just under two-tenths from Fernandez. Navarro, Bezzecchi and Arbolino maintained their top-five positions with Di Giannantonio, Gardner, Vierge, Roberts and Schrotter inside the top-10. Aron Canet, Augusto Fernandez, Chantra and Hector Garzo completing FP2’s top-14 and the final provisional entires to Saturday’s Q2.