Unusually for Qatar, the sunglasses were out in force by the time the first race of the 2018 season got underway. And in true Moto3 fashion, it did not disappoint in terms of drama and close encounters. The winner was not all that surprising though, the man who finished last season on a high picking up where he left off. Jorge Martin backed up his fantastic pace in practice with a win and although he was challenged all the way to the line by Aron Canet, the Gresini rider kept his cool and grabbed the win by the slimmest of margins. The final podium spot somewhat predictably came from the Leopard team but not the rider most people would've bet on, Lorenzo Dalla Porta saving the day in feisty fashion after his teammate threw away a shot at the win.
Poleman Niccolo Antonelli had led into turn one at the start but he found it hard to keep Martin at bay, while Canet had dropped down to tenth and Jakub Kornfeil went from 11th to third by the end of this first lap, joining the front row men as they were trying to make an escape. With the long straight of Qatar and a determined Enea Bastianini in the second group, the gap did not got bigger than a handful of tenths and a sizeable group was attempting to keep Martin in check. The mission wasn’t all that easy, with the Spaniard building a gap of seven tenths of a second by lap two, and Bastianini took over the task of leading the pursuit, ahead of a recovering Canet.
By lap five, the trio of Martin, Bastianini and Canet got separated from the rest of the pack in their haste to lead, with a second and a half keeping them ahead of the chasers led by Antonelli and including Kornfeil, Gabriel Rodrigo, Dalla Porta, Marco Bezzecchi and Ayumu Sasaki.
Back in front, Martin, Bastianini and Canet were trading blows to snatch the lead and the first to blink was the Italian, who went down in turn six on the sixth lap after going somewhat wide. That left two rivals up front, with the remaining Leopard rider, Dalla Porta, fronting the group that was chasing them down, to little success.
Martin resumed the lead for the mid part of the race, with Canet testing the waters on slipstream at every opportunity. Halfway through the race, the battle for the final podium spot was happening three seconds back on the leaders, with no clear favourite, as Dalla Porta, Bezzecchi, Rodrigo, Antonelli and Kornfeil where covered by about two tenths of a second, with Sasaki yoyo-ing between them and the next group a second down the road.
Canet continued to show intentions on a couple of occasions but his attempts to lead were short lived, Martin striking back all the time. As the gap to the chasing pack inflated to six seconds, John McPhee and Fabio Di Giannantonio joined that particular fight, bringing the count of possible third place contenders to eight riders. Dalla Porta was the most consistent leader of that group, which is not always the best position to be in by the time you hit the main straight.
With Martin looking calm in the lead and Canet glued to his rear wheel, all the action was happening behind them, with second row starter Kaito Toba catching up to join that fight on the very last lap. The first victim of the last lap was Bezzecchi, the Italian crashing out but rejoining to finish fourteenth. McPhee gave his best to repeat last year’s feat in Qatar and climb from 12th on the grid to the podium but the Scotsman’s luck turned and he joined the crash list before completing the final lap.
Martin’s faith in his speed was enough to snatch him the win despite running wide on the last lap and Canet’s strategy to use his drive out of the last corner only got him as close as two hundredths of a second from the big trophy. Six seconds after, Dalla Porta also managed to keep his minuscule advantage at the front of the second group and crossed the line third to sweeten the blow for his team after seeing their other rider drop out of the victory battle.
Poleman Antonelli finished only four hundredths of a second outside a podium position, with Rodrigo and Di Giannantonio in close tow. Toba left it late to make his mark on the race but the Japanese rider backed up his best qualifying position with a career best in seventh place, followed by an equally impressive performance by compatriot Sasaki in eighth. The top ten was completed by Moto3 veteran Jakub Kornfeil and Andrea Migno.
That nail-biting finale puts Martin in charge of the championship standings heading to Argentina, ahead of Canet and Dalla Porta, and with Bastianini setting himself quite the task to catch up to his main rivals and put up the title challenge expected of him.
|3||48||Lorenzo DALLA PORTA||Honda||+6.746|
|6||21||Fabio DI GIANNANTONIO||Honda||+6.916|
|17||John MCPHEE||KTM||1 Lap|
|72||Alonso LOPEZ||Honda||7 Laps|
|11||Livio LOI||KTM||7 Laps|
|8||Nicolo BULEGA||KTM||8 Laps|
|33||Enea BASTIANINI||Honda||13 Laps|
|65||Philipp OETTL||KTM||15 Laps|
|40||Darryn BINDER||KTM||15 Laps|