Alex Marquez, younger brother of MotoGP champ Marc, is leading the Moto2 championship. However, all of that went to one side in an instant when he was tipped into the air in Motegi — only to pull off the save of the season.
Marquez admitted his wild moment “wasn’t so fun” but saw the funny side after his team was laughing, happily entertained. It would have been no laughing matter had Marquez come off his Marc VDS Kalez machine as he was chasing a fast lap in FP3 on Saturday.
In wet conditions, the 23-year-old had a dramatic high-side at the exit of the final corner and was tipped into the air. However, after he was flicked off his bike, Marquez had a white-knuckled grip on the handlebars, refused to let go, slid on his knees, and brought it under control.
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Winning the PIRTEK Enduro Cup made up for a lean first half of the season for Jamie Whincup, who combined with Craig Lowndes to execute one of the most clinical endurance campaigns in history following their Sandown 500 win.
Across the three events at Bathurst, Surfers Paradise and Sandown, the #888 duo finished no lower than fourth in all races, including the two Sandown sprints.
From a maximum of 950 points across the three events, Whincup and Lowndes tallied 878, which marks the highest ever total recorded by a combination in Enduro Cup history.
Lowndes claimed a record third Enduro Cup win, with Whincup winning his second. If not for a late gamble on a pit stop at Bathurst, and orders from the team to stick behind the sister car on the Sunday at Surfers Paradise, the perfect score would have been theirs.
Taking home the endurance crown made up for a sluggish start to the season for Whincup, who entered the enduro season a whopping 868 points down on eventual series champion Scott McLaughlin, who clinched the 2019 crown with ninth at Sandown.
The seven-time series champion had to wait until Race 19 of the championship at the Ipswich SuperSprint to jump onto the winners’ list – but after his and Lowndes’ enduro dominance, the early-season frustrations are dead and buried.
“Obviously the championship got away from us halfway through the year, and Bathurst got away from us as well,” Whincup said.
“It’s nice to have a major trophy in the cabinet coming to the end of the year … the start of the year was lean from our standards.
“We’re used to having good performances, so from the start of the year, not being able to crack a win, or a pole, or anything for so long, it was very tough.
“We worked on the things in our control, and of course the category did a great job to even the cars up to give us a fighting chance. In the enduro campaign, I feel like we made the most of our opportunities.”
Whincup, Lowndes claim win
Coming into the enduros, the pressure was on Lowndes to justify the ‘dream team’ tag after linking up with Whincup for the first time in a decade.
Lowndes was sloppy at times at Bathurst, with a pair of mid-race errors handing the lead to eventual winner Alex Premat.
From there, the 45-year-old cleaned up his act and returned to his imperious best across the Gold Coast and Sandown events. No driver launched away off starts better than Lowndes, with his stints in the Saturday Surfers race and the Sandown enduro up there with the drives of the season.
Had Lowndes beaten Garth Tander to the first chicane on Sunday on the Gold Coast, the #888 may well have won five races in a row.
Team boss Roland Dane had no qualms in trying to recreate the revered Whincup/Lowndes dynamic which brought home three straight Bathurst wins and a Sandown win over 10 years ago.
Lowndes was satisfied to repay his boss’s faith, but paid tribute to the team for putting all their chips of the table in the year’s biggest races, with the drivers’ championship a foregone conclusion.
It could have been much closer, had Shane van Gisbergen not suffered a heartbreaking suspension failure while leading late at Sandown – but a one-two in the Enduro Cup standings proved to Lowndes that Triple Eight remain the benchmark in the long distance events, with the team winning five of seven Enduro Cups since it was introduced in 2013.
“When the PIRTEK Enduro Cup was introduced, I think it gave every team something to strive for,” Lowndes explained.
“If you’re not going to win the championship, it gives you another spectrum of racing to be able to hang your head high, in that at least three of the races you’ve done the right job.
“There’s no secret that Roland came here to win Bathurst. Jamie and I have different opinions, he loves to win the championship, I love Bathurst, but hopefully between us we can keep winning the Enduro Cup.
“It’s about the consistency over the three races. All three tracks are massively different, so you could be good at Bathurst and bad at Gold Coast, and vice versa.
“It highlights team preparation and how they go about it. We would have been separated by one point, so everyone in the Red Bull Holden Racing Team must be very proud.
“To be racing one-two with 11 laps to go, one point apart, is pretty special for the team.”
It was a bittersweet day for the factory Holden squad, with Whincup and Craig Lowndes benefiting from van Gisbergen’s failure to win by over 20 seconds – and the 2016 champion rued the end result.
“It’s gutting but that’s racing,” van Gisbergen said on Fox Sports’ Supercars Trackside after the race.
“Garth was awesome in the first stint, then I got in, [the] car was mega, and our pace was really good.
“It’s a real shame, would have been a nice one-two and the PIRTEK [Enduro] Cup would have been close but I’m just gutted.
“[I’ve] never won this race before so it would have been great to get it but a part failure with 10 [laps] to go, it’s just a shame.”
Not only did van Gisbergen and Tander lose the race, but also the Enduro Cup, having led the standings through the Bathurst and Gold Coast events.
However, a Sandown win would have proved the most impressive of all, with Tander vaulting the #97 into contention after a stunning opening stint, where he came from 24th on the grid following van Gisbergen’s Saturday qualifying race shocker.
The 2007 series champion made up a whopping seven positions on the opening lap alone. By Lap 20, he had passed Penrite Racing’s Luke Youlden for ninth.
Under the race’s only Safety Car period on Lap 32, Tander was short-fuelled and jumped into the top six, and wasted no time slotting behind the sister Red Bull lead car after the restart.
As Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes celebrated another Supercars success, their thoughts were with teammates Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander.
The Red Bull Holden Racing Team duo claimed Sunday’s Sandown 500 to secure the 2019 Endurance Cup as the best-performed pairing in this year’s three endurance events. But it took a moment of misfortune for van Gisbergen to hand the pair the win.
Propelled from 24th to the front of the field after a stellar drive by Tander in the opening half of the race, van Gisbergen was charging towards a maiden Sandown crown when his right rear suspension failed.
Subdued celebrations were the order of the day at the 3.1km Melbourne circuit. Ford’s Scott McLaughlin’s ninth-placed finish secured him back-to-back championships but a pre-race penalty for breaching engine regulations at Bathurst last month meant there was little cheering at the DJR Team Penske garage.
Whincup admitted the news of the penalty had affected the field before the race start.
“The news that came through about Penske’s engine this morning certainly distracted us,” Whincup said.
“We were reminiscing and thinking back on the biggest race of the year and what could have been, but we had to keep the focus to go out there and race hard.”