Husqvarna Motorcycles is firmly in play for the 2023 Moto3 world title after Ayumu Sasaki took his FR 250 GP to a sixth podium in a row at a sunny Red Bull Ring.
MotoGP™ exchanged the flat, flowing and exposed scope of Silverstone in the UK for the wonderfully scenic mountain wind of the Red Bull Ring for the CryptoDATA Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich to bring the 2023 Grand Prix campaign to the midway point.
The ten-corner, condensed 4.3km course that pushes up and down the natural slope of the hillside setting meant that Spielberg was a different test for the LIQUI MOLY IntactGP Husqvarna team in both Moto3 and Moto2™ categories. The demands on riders and machinery asked much of their braking and acceleration capabilities to ensure maximum competitiveness. Fortunately – and another point of contrast to the British Grand Prix two weeks ago – the weather stayed warm and sunny.
Ayumu Sasaki came to Austria with five consecutive podium results in his pocket. The Japanese star installed his consistent potential and form from the outset of practice and fared well in qualification, earning 8th in Q2 but less than half a second from Pole Position. Sasaki was actually outperformed by teammate Collin Veijer on Saturday. The rookie rode to a lap of near perfection to seize his very first Pole Position and become the first Dutchman to earn the distinction in Moto3 history (the last incumbent in the class, which was formerly 125cc, was Hans Spaan in the late 1980s!).
Both Husqvarna Motorcycle riders were well poised on the grid for the 20-lap race on Sunday morning and with decent summer weather again in evidence. Sasaki flew into 6th while Veijer made use of his P1 status from the grid to run in the top three. Sasaki, the Grand Prix winner at the Red Bull Ring in 2022, eagerly joined his teammate in the breakaway quartet that disputed the podium trophies. Both FR 250 GPs led the posse at points, but through the critical final lap Sasaki went on the attack for a massive push and was only denied in the last bustle for track space. The conclusion of an amazing race needed a photo finish and the top three were split by a tenth of a second. Ayumu scored 3rd and was one tenth of a second ahead of the impressive Veijer; who sampled a personal best in his maiden GP term.
Sasaki’s podium came with a 4-point loss to Daniel Holgado, who was 2nd, at the head of the championship. The gap is now 26 but still very close. Veijer has risen into the top twelve after his maturing form and progression in Grand Prix. The squad are up to 2nd in the Teams’ competition while Husqvarna Motorcycles hold 3rd in the Manufacturers championship.
Ayumu Sasaki: “Today I did my best. In the last corner maybe I could have closed the line a little bit more but if they were on the inside and I closed the door then it would have been me to crash. I was looking inside and saw the front tyre! I messed up a bit on the exit and I also did not want to touch the green track limits. It was very difficult. We struggled a bit on Friday and Saturday here but we came back today, so I’m happy.”
Collin Veijer: “The race was very good and I felt great at the beginning because I could keep the pace. There were some close overtaking moves! Ayumu finally joined us but, overall, I am really happy with the result. We were very close to the podium but I’m sure we will get another chance. We made a big step this weekend and I hope to keep learning this year.”
After Moto3 had whet the appetite of a 93,000 Sunday attendance, the Moto2 class rolled onto the Red Bull Ring asphalt. Darryn Binder and Lukas Tulovic had both worked their way through Q1 to place 15th and 18th respectively after Q2 on Saturday. The mid-pack start meant both the South African and the German were eager to keep out of trouble and keen to assess their options for top ten results in the early stages of the 23-lap race.
Binder was hunting the points positions until a collision with Sam Lowes on the third lap that sent both out into the gravel. Tulovic foraged time and ground to capture a very decent 10th. Now crossing the halfway stage of 2023, MotoGP will contemplate the final European double-header of the season with trips to Catalunya and then San Marino. The visit to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya occurs in a fortnight.
Darryn Binder: “Unfortunately the race didn’t go to plan. I felt OK and made an ‘alright’ start but then going into the chicane I made a small mistake and tucked the front. The bike caught grip again and turned me more into the track and unluckily Sam Lowes had nowhere to go and rode over me. Sorry for ruining his race and crashing in front of him. My back is painful so we’ll need to get some further checks.”
Lukas Tulovic: “I can be more than happy with this race result. I am also very happy with the work we did from Friday to Saturday. We completely rebuilt the bike overnight. I immediately felt more comfortable on Saturday morning and was able to go faster, even on used tyres. The strategy in qualifying was perfect, which put us into Q2. This gave us a good starting position for the race. I got a good start today, but unfortunately, there was some chaos on the first lap and I lost a few places. It was a fight for survival, everyone was really on their limit. So many people crashed in front of me, so I had to keep avoiding them, which was very scary at times. It was often very close and of course that cost a lot of time. In the second half of the race, I was on my own. The team showed me what kind of pace I had to ride and I was able to keep it up until the end. I'm very happy that I finished the race and that I was able to take home some points.”
Results Moto3 CryptoDATA Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich
1. Deniz Öncü (TUR) KTM 34:04.291, 2. Daniel Holgado (ESP) KTM +0.005, 3. Ayumu Sasaki (JPN) Husqvarna +0.119, 4. Collin Veijer (NED) Husqvarna +0.136
World championship standings Moto3
1. Daniel Holgado (ESP) KTM, 161 points, 2. Ayumu Sasaki (JPN) Husqvarna, 135, 3. Deniz Öncü (TUR) KTM, 124, 12. Collin Veijer (NED) Husqvarna, 47.
Results Moto2 CryptoDATA Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich
1. Celestino Vietti (ITA) 36:25.093, 2. Pedro Acosta (ESP) +1.435, 3. Ai Ogura (JPN) +5.189, 10. Lukas Tulovic (GER) Husqvarna +35.361, DNF. Darryn Binder (RSA) Husqvarna
World championship standings Moto2
1. Pedro Acosta (ESP) 176 points, 2. Tony Arbolino (ITA), 164, 3. Jake Dixon (GBR), 117, 19. Darryn Binder (RSA) Husqvarna, 13. 21. Lukas Tulovic (GER) Husqvarna 12