EHe had overdone it, now his machine slipped away from him. A fall – and that in the last fast corner, at 180 km/h. At the end of a tough day of practice, Lukas Tulovic on his Kalex really wanted to achieve a better lap time on the Portimão track, “with a crowbar”, as he admits. The skidding motorbike, unnerved by the pilot’s eagerness, straightened up abruptly and threw him out of the saddle, in a high arc, forward over the handlebars. A spectacular exit, for which Tulovic paid dearly: the hairline fracture and edema in his right wrist made racing impossible at first, the pain that ran through his body when he pulled the brake lever was too stabbing.
That was last March. Tulovic, what a disaster, missed the first two race weekends of the Moto2 season. The seventh round takes place this weekend at the Sachsenring. Having recovered in the meantime, the only German Grand Prix pilot with a regular cockpit is struggling to assert himself in this competitive world championship. There, 30 pilots compete with almost identical material. “The driver,” says Tulovic of the FAZ, “makes the difference in Moto2.” They all, he and the others, strive for something higher. Their goal is MotoGP. That’s where the elite circles.
A lot of risk for the dream
Tulovic scored points twice this year, finishing 15th at Jerez and eleventh at Le Mans. “I still have to find a few tenths of a second to catch up to the top,” he says, having just turned 23. He rode in the Moto2 World Championship before, that was a while ago. Now he starts for Team IntactGP. “The way back, if you’ve already been here and didn’t make it, isn’t easy,” says Tulovic.
Lukas Tulovic spent his childhood at the racetracks of the republic, accompanying father Branko, who drove amateur races. “At the age of three I sat in the stands in Hockenheim, had the stopwatch in my hand and took the times,” he says with a wink. As a five-year-old, he did his first laps in the paddock on a pocket bike, with little five-hp motorbikes. Soon there were two passionate bikers in the Tulovic household. That was one too many for this expensive hobby. A weekend on the racetrack quickly eats up 3,000 euros. A friend persuaded the father to get off the bike and rather support the son. “Maybe something will come of it,” said the friend, says Lukas Tulovic. He should be right.
Time is against him
Mother Gerlinde took care of the family restaurant, brother Niklas played football – and Lukas toured Europe with his father, trained in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, competed in dozens of races and was constantly on the move. It’s been a good ten years. “At times I took part in three championships at the same time,” he says. “So I had a lot of driving time and was able to improve quickly.” Father Branko was his mechanic, trainer and, last but not least, main sponsor.
Then in 2016 the risk: Tulovic switched to the Spanish European Championships, where the highly talented competed. “This is the springboard for the World Cup,” he says. That’s where he wants to go. It costs between 100,000 and 200,000 euros to circle in the south for a season. Thanks to his sponsors, Tulovic collects the money and risks a lot for his dream: fly there on Wednesdays, return late on Sundays, go to school on Mondays and Tuesdays. He has to do his homework in between. “It was a difficult time,” he says. Also on the track. Because he hopelessly follows behind, he soon finds himself at a crossroads: stay or give up? “I never had a plan B,” he says. He stays. And will be rewarded.
Kiefer Racing noticed him. The team from Bad Kreuznach brought out the former Moto2 world champion Stefan Bradl and promotes German talents. 17-year-old Lukas is allowed to stand in for an injured pilot and prove himself on the world stage: “I wrote my math high school diploma, rushed to the airport and completed my first world championship race in Jerez.” In 2019, Kiefer promoted him to regular driver in the World Cup, but things are going down again.
Tulovic is struggling at the bottom of the field, and Kiefer will lose his place in the 2020 World Cup to a wealthier team. The young racer has to go back to Spain and makes courageous decisions that pay off: he switches to IntactGP and exchanges his management. In 2021 he will be third in the championship in Spain, last year he raced unstoppably to the title.
After all the ups and downs, he’s back where he used to be: in the Moto2 World Championship. “My second chance.” And what next? “The goal remains MotoGP,” says Tulovic. This conviction, with which he replies, is still missing on the motorcycle, according to the scene. Time is against him. He knows that hungry talent is coming up. “Next year, or at least the year after next, I have to be in the top three if I want to have a realistic chance of promotion,” says Tulovic. “Otherwise it will be too late at some point.” Until then, he wants to keep improving – and this Sunday (12.15 p.m. / ServusTV) at the Sachsenring, he will finally finish in the top ten. “Not much is missing,” says Tulovic. Just don’t overdo it.