Sam Lowes is heading into his third year with Elf Marc VDS confident but under pressure as he looks to challenge for the Moto2 title.
After a rollercoaster 2021 season in terms of both fitness and results, Lowes is hoping for third time lucky, if his wrist doesn’t have other ideas that is. Tendonitis struck during preseason testing with the 31-year-old having to pull out of the majority of Portimao track time.
Despite the injury complication [see more here] and the missed track time, Lowes is confident of the work put in across preseason with his Marc VDS squad.
“The first two tests were quite good really,” he confirmed. “Honestly Valencia I felt good, Jerez in the laps I did, it was a bit windy, but I felt strong and obviously we missed Portimao. I’ve only been really working with the new chassis a little, which is not massively different so I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything on that side. Already we had quite a good base setting, also from last year as it’s not so different. We haven’t done much work on the softer tyres or really no work on the softer tyres. Dunlop at the end of last year they did a couple of tests with Moto2 and also this winter they’ve brought some softer tyres and their attitude is to maybe go a little bit in the softer direction for the allocation this year. So maybe missing a little bit with that but also the people that have done [that work] have done it at Portimao, which is a lot different track to Qatar so I’ve missed a little bit but I don’t think it’s massive.
“If I can be fully healthy and fully fit I don’t think I’m going to be far off in Qatar.
“The bike, as much as it’s a new bike is very similar to last year. Very similar, like very, very similar! I know it’s a new chassis for this year but some riders are on last year chassis and in the end is very, very, very similar. I don’t want to say it’s the same because I know it’s not but the lap time will be the same.”
With his winter going the way it has, returning to the same team for the third year in a row is a bonus for Lowes.
“It’s good, it feels like the second full season,” he explains. “The first year was a strange year so I feel like I’ve done one and a half years. I think I was very lucky to be in the same team and everything going into this year having this problem, because if I’d have had to learn a new team, a new way of working and feeling with the guys, I’ve sort of missed that this winter. I’ve missed time but I still feel good with the guys. I feel like we have our way of working, the base of the bike is fixed. So this is a lucky point because if I had to do all that, to miss the time I’ve missed, I would be really on the back foot.”
Two victories to start 2021, after another injury curtailed the stellar summer run of form in 2020, should have heralded a year of celebrations for the 31-year-old, however it wasn’t to be. Two further podiums and a win at Misano - now the Lincolnshire-born rider’s second home race due to life with his Italian fiancée - left Lowes frustrated and out for more this time around.
“I felt like last year got away from us a little bit,” he admitted. “The year started good, in the middle it was not so good but at the end we finished strong so I feel like I’ve got some unfinished business. Obviously we want to try and fight for the championship, last year we didn’t really, especially the second half of the year so yeah, that’s the goal.”
2022 brings a new teammate for Sam at Marc VDS, in Tony Arbolino, as his previous garage partner Augusto Fernandez heads to KTM to partner the reigning Moto3 Champion and continuing rookie sensation - if testing is anything to go by - Pedro Acosta.
“At the minute I’ve not worked too much, we’ve not really been on track together,” he said of Arbolino. “He’s a real nice guy, real respectful to the team and works hard so I’m sure in the end he’ll be fast, he’ll arrive in good positions. I mean, this team, they expect that from us, and I’m sure he’ll be there and he’ll have a good season.
“Obviously, he’s good isn’t he!” he continued, turning his attention to Acosta. “He won last year as a rookie in Moto3, he’s fast already in Moto2 but testing is a lot of different to racing so I don’t know. To go fast in Portimao with soft tyres is one thing, but he’s going to be fast every weekend and he’ll be there. I think he won one in Qatar from pitlane last year in Moto3 so he knows his way around there! He’ll be good, he’ll probably be one of the main guys if not the main guy. He’s obviously shown he can improve fast from Moto3 to Moto2, understand the bike and he’s a world class talent that’s going to go to MotoGP. So he’ll be there, his teammate will be there - I know Augusto obviously from the last few years, so I know his level and know how he is and how he rides and his good points. That’s also a good point, to be fighting against somebody like that. Canet will be strong in Pons as well, I think he’ll be up there, Vietti in the VR46 team will be strong.
“Then you could name a lot of guys. A lot of the other guys I think will be there one weekend and not the next. I think the three, four that I mentioned will be there every week and I think the other guys could potentially win or be on the podium but then the next weekend, be further behind. That team of Acosta and Fernandez will be strong. The team did fantastic last year, they were a level above everyone else really. Acosta is obviously a great talent, Augusto is very solid and consistent so that’ll be the main thing but if I do my job right and improve the things I can improve, I’ll also be right there and one of the guys to beat and one of the main guys. The last couple of years I have been and some people have moved up so we should be in with a good chance.
“Last year I won the first two races and felt amazing and then the season didn’t go to plan. I don’t feel like I’m going to go to Qatar and win, feeling how I am because even though I’ve done a bit of testing, we still missed a bit and I don’t feel 100 per cent but that said, I do love Qatar.
“I feel like it’s a track that really suits my style. I’ve always gone fast there so I still feel quite confident I can start the season in a good way. Indonesia is new for everybody so you don’t know what to expect. Argentina, America back-to-back, will be three or four difficult races to get going, travel wise and for the body. So I think this year I’ve just got to get into the year, get in to it, solid results, solid points and obviously wins and podiums when I can. It’s such a long 21 races, I need to be more constant in the middle, not up and down. Last year, obviously winning at the start, winning near the end in Misano and third in Portimao but in the middle was not strong so I just need to be strong in them races.
“Last year the momentum started off good but then when it started to go bad, the momentum was negative momentum and things sort of went against me. Then I had to build back up confidence. A few races I finished fourth three or four times, when if I’d have been in a good way they would have been podiums, but it was more important to finish the race. Whereas when you’re on a good run of form and good run of momentum and confidence they become podiums, which then gives you even more confidence, it’s like a snowball effect but I was never that far away.
“Last year, the level of Raul [Fernandez] and Remy [Gardner] was real strong, which meant some races I was the only one really that was going with them but then I was making mistakes. So this year is just about getting going, getting points on the board and peaking a bit later in the year. This injury could have been a real, I wouldn’t say a good thing because it’s never a good thing but made me think ‘just get into the season, build up and be strong towards the end’. I know I can be fast at a lot of the tracks, I’ve been doing it a long time now. I know a lot of the circuits, I know where I can be strong at virtually all of them so I just need to peak at the right time and take the momentum and see.
“Pedro is going to be strong, Augusto’s going to be consistent and strong. Canet is obviously on a Kalex now so I’m sure he’ll be more consistent than last year because last year he was strong a lot but then some weekends was real difficult. I think Vietti was strong at the end of the year. So I think you just need to look at yourself, focus on yourself and on any given day I’m confident I can beat all them guys. Obviously Pedro’s the unknown and doing something special now but racing is always different and I’m sure it will be a fun time, fun season.”
While fresh talent promises to shake up the grid, the extended calendar - especially after the disruption and cancellations of recent years - brings its own added demands on the riders’ preparation as the year plays out.
“A little bit. I mean, I think the actual bike fitness you can do less,” Lowes explained. “You haven’t got to focus that much on going to ride on the Ohvale or planning a trip just to get some laps in because with the races and the tests, because we have a few tests as well, we’re not going to be struggling for bike fitness. So it’s just about keeping fresh. Turning up for Friday practice fresh and ready to rock and roll. For me it’s more mental than physical, mentally staying sharp and staying in a good place confidence wise. It’s all about that momentum, getting on the wave and riding it and then what you can do when you’re feeling like that is so good. You can win and be strong and you feel like you can do anything. The opposite side of that is when things are going the other way you feel like you can’t even ride the bike out of pit lane! So just keeping fresh, keeping mentally strong and peaking at the right time.”
Despite the demanding nature of 21 races, the Brit is excited about this year’s schedule and getting back to places he’s missed over the past two years.
“I hope that the calendar goes ahead as it is,” he said. “It seems in some ways to be getting a lot better, or let’s say less restrictions, so hopefully that carries on and everyone is healthy. I’m happy to get travelling and get into Qatar. Indonesia is going to be a great event. I’ve actually been a few times in Jakarta when I was with the Federal Oil Gresini Team, so I’ve experienced the love for MotoGP that they have which is really motivational. I’m looking forward to that. Austin, I love Austin. Phillip Island, if we can go there that will be good and then obviously Silverstone. Finishing fourth last year still hurts me, so I’ve got some definite unfinished business there!”
While his winter break has mostly been focused on testing and preparation for the impending Moto2 Championship battle, another event certainly claimed the family’s attention over Christmas with the arrival of his twin nieces to brother Alex and wife Corinne.
“It’s mint,” Lowes admitted. “Good being an uncle, a great feeling! Obviously a dad and an uncle now so I need to add world champion again to that and it’ll be a good year!”