Why Sam Lowes is* quitting Moto2


*almost certainly
A decade ago Sam Lowes paid around £200,000 to get into Moto2. Since then he’s won ten GPs, challenged for the title and beaten many of today’s fastest MotoGP riders, but now he wants out. Why?

Sam Lowes celebrates Moto2 win in Jerez 2023 with his crew and family

Lowes celebrates his latest win at Jerez in May (where he beat Pedro Acosta and Alonso Lopez) with his crew, including daughter Kathryn, wife Marina and team owner Marc van der Straten (red cap)

Marc VDS

It’s an open secret that Sam Lowes is considering a return to the World Superbike paddock next year after nearly a decade in the MotoGP paddock.

In 2013 he won the World Supersport championship but instead of graduating to the bigger production-based class he wanted to fulfil his dream of going grand prix racing – he was a big Valentino Rossi fan! But this dream was expensive, because he had to spend around £200,000 of his own money to get into Moto2.

Grand prix racing is a vicious game, so Lowes has ridden a rollercoaster over the last decade, including a horrible 2017 in MotoGP with Aprilia, when the Italian factory was at rock bottom and finished dead last in the constructors’ championship.

“I’m only 32 – here that’s old, but over there it’s not too bad”

The 32-year-old Brit nearly won the 2020 Moto2 crown and has raced and beaten most of the riders on the current MotoGP grid, but now he’s had enough. MotoGP’s new format has downgraded the Moto2 class, plus he wants to race twin brother Alex, Jonathan Rea’s factory Kawasaki WSB team-mate.

During his nine years in Moto2 he’s raced a Speed Up, a KTM and a Kalex, spending the last four seasons with Marc VDS [owned by Marc van der Straten, a descendant of the Stella Artois family].

The current rumour is that Marc VDS will also run a team in WSB, with Lowes, most likely on a Ducati or Yamaha.

Sam Lowes at Jerez in Moto2 race

Lowes leads Acosta at Jerez – a middle-aged man teaching a teenager

Marc VDS

Mat Oxley: There’s a lot of talk about you switching to World Superbikes, so what’s going on?

Sam Lowes: I can stay here in the same team, doing what I’m doing now, or go there and try something different. Things have changed here – there’s the new [sprint] schedule, so we get less track time.

Plus the bikes have stayed very similar since Covid. There’s been a few little changes, but the bikes are also quite basic – no electronics – so you just turn up and push hard, which is no problem, I enjoy doing that, but I’ve been here a long time and I feel like if I stay here much longer I’ll become another Tom Luthi – you stay in Moto2 until you’re finished and that’s it. So if I change things up a bit I still feel like I’ve got a lot to give.

Last year was shit, being injured and that, but mentally and everything I’m good. I still love riding, I’ve still got a lot of motivation, I’m still willing to push hard, so I’ve still got a bit to go. I’m only 32 – here that’s old, but over there it’s not too bad.

Going back to your beginnings here, you had to fork out quarter of a million Euros, so you must’ve really wanted it…

I got out for a bit less! At the time I was in World Supersport, with a Russian team. They were with Yamaha and the plan was to go up to Superbikes with Yamaha, which would’ve been quite interesting, but then they moved to MV Agusta. I didn’t want to go to Superbikes with MV, so I had to pay to get out of there. It was quite funny actually, because I’d also had an offer from Paul Denning to go to World Superbike with Suzuki and Alex ended up doing that.

Sam Lowes on Moto2 grid

Lowes on the grid and getting in the zone. Moto2 is all about mentality, because the motorcycles are mostly identical

Marc VDS

Obviously everyone’s dream is to come here, to GPs. I didn’t have the same upbringing as most guys here. Look at Tony Arbolino as an example, because we’re in the same garage now: the amount of riding he’s done at his age [Arbolino is 22] is probably more than I’ve ever done. Your teenage years are your learning years, but I was working for my dad, so I didn’t really ride that much.

I was in World Supersport, which is obviously a lot lesser level than here, but I was doing well, so I was quite confident, it was my dream to be in GPs and I had some chances to come here with Tech3 or Speed Up.

The usual route for British riders is from BSB to WSB, not MotoGP…

Yeah, but even if I’d gone there and won the Superbike title I’d be fully aware that the top level is here. I was quite young, doing well in Supersport and I thought, I’d love to go to GPs. And if I did well in Moto2 maybe I could go to MotoGP.

What did it feel like when you won your first GP, at COTA in 2015?

Relief, because until I got here I never thought that would be possible, because I’d not come through Moto3, so even Moto2 seemed a long way off from where I was, so that win at COTA was a great feeling. Lots of people thought the Speed Up I rode wasn’t the best bike, but actually it was a very good bike.

Sam Lowes and Moto2 crew chief Gilles Bigot

Lowes with long-time crew chief Gilles Bigot, who won the 1999 MotoGP title with Alex Crivillé.

Marc VDS

Moto2 is a strange class – one-make road engines in GP chassis – it must fry your brain chasing thousandths of a second all the time.

Yes, it is a strange class. The biggest thing in Moto2, as much as you try to over-complicate it, is the mirror. Because the guy winning is almost always on the same bike as you, a Kalex, so you have to look at yourself in the mirror.

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If you become consistently competitive in Moto2 then you can go to another class and you’ll have a good attitude, because you’ve learned that you need to work on the bike, of course, but you still need to work on yourself.

It’s easy to get lost in Moto2. It’s easy to have a bad year, be a little bit off the pace and be nowhere. They’re quite basic bikes to ride – no electronics, standard road gearbox, road bike engine, so the lap times we do are quite fast considering. They’re strange to ride – 50% is feel and some of it’s just faith.

How do you deal mentally with that when you’re looking in the mirror and telling yourself that you’re missing those vital thousandths?

I’m lucky. From my upbringing I’ve always tried to look at myself a lot and not try to blame everyone else. I’ve never thought I have a right to be here. I always knew I’d have to work for it, and that some riders would be better than me and some wouldn’t. When I first arrived in Moto2 I was always grateful for the opportunity, so I didn’t want to kick off too much. I wanted to try and improve myself to warrant more chances, which is tough sometimes.

Birthday meal for Marc van der Starten in Marc VDS Moto2 catering

Marc VDS celebrates Marc van der Straten’s birthday at this year’s Portuguese GP – it’s a tight-knit team

Marc VDS

You’ve had good periods and lean periods – like you won at Jerez recently and that was your first since October 2021…

Last year, from the injury in the winter [tendonitis], I had a bad first few races, then I did a shoulder at Silverstone. I should’ve missed the rest of the season after that, so last year was a write-off.

The lean parts are hard but that’s what’s good about Moto2 – you’ve got the same bike as the winner, so you know you can turn it around.

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I’d never denigrate World Superbikes, but a colleague, Pieter Ryckaert, describes the difference like this: WSB is like putting your hands in a bath full of pike and MotoGP is like putting them in a bath of piranhas.

The intensity is higher here. In Supersport a lot of people could do the lap time over one lap, but here you are basically qualifying every lap! Sure, the front guys in Superbikes are f**king fast but the depth here is different – you have a bad day and you’re nowhere.

In WSB there’s a pecking order – the top handful of guys and the rest – which doesn’t really happen here.

We have this thing in our team where every weekend we each pick the top three in the MotoGP race. We all know a bit about racing and we’re nearly always miles off every weekend! It’s hard in MotoGP because there’s quite a bit of inconsistency.

A lot of that comes from silly things, like who’s got their front-tyre pressure right…

Yeah, stuff we never thought we’d be talking about ten years ago!

Superbikes are different – the vibe. There’s a lot more pressure here, a lot more intensity, whereas there it’s a bit more relaxed, even if the racing is hard.

Sam Lowes on Moto2 bike at Portimao

Lowes on the gas at Portimao in March

Marc VDS

Plus your brother is there and you’ve both got kids now…

Yeah and it’d be nice to race against him. It was a long time ago we last raced together, in 2010, although when I was in British Supersport he did a few races with me. It’d be nice to do it again.

How are your World Superbike talks shaping up?

I’m not sure yet but the bike will be blue or red. The problem is it that everything happens earlier every year, so you have to decide before the summer break.

Your best Moto2 season was 2020 – three wins and third in the championship behind Enea Bastianini and Luca Marini – why was that?

“I was a match for all of them. The problem is doing it every week”

I should’ve won the title if I hadn’t crashed in practice at Valencia! It’s all about momentum, especially in Moto2. In 2020 I started winning some races and got into a good run of form.

Some years I’ve had something good happening, like the last few races, then Mugello happens [where a rival knocked him off when he was second], so then we come here and start again. If I’d finished second at Mugello I’d have come here with a different mindset. In 2020 I had no real problems, so it was a real momentum build.

If we look at who you’ve raced with you’ve raced with nearly all the top MotoGP guys: Enea Bastianini, Pecco Bagnaia, Marco Bezzecchi, Jorge Martin and so on…

I’ve had it my whole career. I’ve raced against all of them, apart from Bagnaia, because that year he was good and I had a shit year, because it was my first coming back from MotoGP.

All the other guys I’ve raced with them to win, so that’s nice and I’m proud of that. On my day – and this isn’t a big-headed thing, because now they’re all doing a lot better than I am – I was a match for all of them. The problem is doing it every week. That’s the secret and if I knew the answer to that, which I wish I did, I’d have done a lot better.

Sam Lowes crashes in Moto2 race at Le Mans

Sometimes things go pear-shaped! Crashing out on the warm-up lap at Le Mans – Lowes had to start from pit lane and finished 15th

Marc VDS

Who have been your most impressive Moto2 rivals, and why?

Álex Rins in 2016. I followed him a few times, like at Austin [where Rins won and Lowes finished a close second]. He was doing stuff on the bike that I thought, ‘’f**k its difficult for me to do that’. But I was thinking, ‘I’m in a good position here’, then the last few laps, the way he was picking up the bike, being a lot more still on the bike than I was and how he made it move.

From the archive

Also, Raul Fernandez in 2021. I followed him in Aragon [where Fernandez won and Lowes crashed trying to keep up] and I thought, ‘f**king hell!’. He was so good and I thought, he’ll be strong on a big bike. I know he’s not shown that yet, but I still believe he’ll be good.

And Maverick Viñales was very strong, on his day. It’s when you’re behind these guys – where they put the bike, the way they pick up the bike, without moving so much and so on.

What about Bastianini?

He’s a Sunday man, he’s always there. When I was fighting for the 2020 championship with him I’d think, I’ve got him covered this weekend. Then you look at your pitboard on lap four of the race and it says, ‘+0 Bastianini’, so you think, f*ck! He’s the one that can turn a weekend around. And the way he rides is different – he’s off the bike with his body, so when you follow him it does look different.

And Bezzecchi?

I’m surprised how well he’s doing in MotoGP. He’s good, because he won some races in Moto2, but there were guys that were stronger. In MotoGP now he looks real solid.

Sam Lowes in press conference with Fabio Di Giannantonio and Enea Bastianini

Lowes after beating Fabio Di Giannantonio and Enea Bastianini at Aragon in 2020

Marc VDS

Marc VDS is owned by a patron, rather than a corporate entity, so it’s like back in the old days when you had trucking magnates, chicken farmers and owners of amusement arcades spending their money on racing, instead of buying a Picasso…

Yeah, going racing is better!

Does that create a different atmosphere?

Yeah, it’s more like a family. Marc [van der Straten] treats us all very well. He’s proud to have us riding and working for him. It’s less business than other teams. Like when I was at Gresini – a great team but it felt different – here you feel more of a part of it.

Marc is here because of his passion, not just to get more sponsors and income. He’s into it, he loves it and he wants to do well.

How do you rate your current team-mate Tony Arbolino?

He’s a good kid – a hard worker. Obviously he’s pushing to get into MotoGP. I feel like everyone is, because of the way the schedule is going. I feel that over the next few years the difference between MotoGP and Moto2 and Moto3 will be bigger than ever, so I can see why riders want to move quick to get there.

Are you talking about the new format for sprint races, with less practice time for you guys, no Sunday warm-up and so on?

Honestly, it’s one of the biggest reasons for me thinking about leaving. We get 45 minutes of riding on Saturday and no warm-up on Sunday.

So if you crash badly on Saturday and the bikes needs a big rebuild?

That’s what happened to me in Austin. I went out for the race and the bike felt rubbish on the out-lap. What can you do? It’s not safe and it takes the edge off.

I’m 100% aware how the business works – MotoGP is the top class. And I’m not against that at all, so as a MotoGP fan I don’t mind, but as a Moto2 rider it’s not nice. That’s one of the main reasons I want to leave.

Sam Lowes leads Miguel Oliveira and Marco Bezzecchi in 2020 Moto2

Lowes leads Miguel Oliveira and Marco Bezzecchi in 2020 – both the Portuguese and the Italian are now in MotoGP

Marc VDS

What about the safety angle of no warm-up?

It strange but talking to Tony he doesn’t see it like that, because he’s done the Spanish championship and a lot of the other young guys have done Red Bull Rookies, so they’re used to not having warm-up, but for me it feels so weird.

I need to get out there – you’re a bit nervous on Sunday morning, so you go out in warm-up, check the bike, pull a few wheelies and you’re ready to race. No warm-up is all right when everything is mint, but…

I’ve been here a while, so you look at some things more negatively. If you’re younger you just accept it, because it is what it is. For me, it is what it is and I agree with it, but I’ve been here and done it, so if I’ve got a chance to change, why not?

If the format was like it was in the past I wouldn’t even think about going to World Superbikes, because I love it here. I know I’ll never be going to MotoGP again, so I look at World Superbikes and think I can have another four or five years there, instead of maybe one or two here. And play some golf…