We should get used by now with the fact that the intermediate class is no longer the siesta between the manic Moto3 and the nauseating premier class and the first race of the season went to confirm that. After keeping a low profile throughout the weekend, Pecco Bagnaia took off like a rocket at the start, proved nearly impossible to catch up with and served his team and himself with a fantastic first win in the category. The Italian shared the podium with the same men sharing front row at the start, both Lorenzo Baldassarri and Alex Marquez showing able to at least challenge the winner but eventually settling for the podium spots, the Pons racer leaving it a little too late and the Spaniard getting pushed back by a glow-in-the-dark rear brake.
Marquez may have started as favourite from pole but Bagnaia jumped him at the start and he dropped behind Baldassarri as well. The Spaniard was lucky to even continue the race after Miguel Oliveira made a great start and tagged him into turn one. The KTM rider lost a lot of ground in the avoiding action and dropped down to eighth position.
Bagnaia only needed a lap to free himself at the front, putting eighth tenths of a seconds into his fellow front row starters, who in turn had eight tenths on the chasing group led by Marcel Schrotter and Mattia Pasini, followed by Xavi Vierge and the two KTMs of Brad Binder and Oliveira.
Further down, Joan Mir had made up ten places on the first lap, knocking on the doors of the top ten by the end of the second lap. The reigning Moto3 champion was ninth by lap three, in the lead of the third group and with two seconds to make up on the pack ahead.
With the top three of Bagnaia, Baldassarri and Marquez running in the mid 2:00s, they quickly stretched a gap of over two seconds, determined to dispute the win between themselves. In the chasing pack, Binder was a man on the move, running similar pace to the leaders. By lap seven, the KTM riders were left with four seconds to recover if they were to put up a podium challenge but Pasini and Schrotter wouldn’t let them off either, the Italian spending most of that race in the lead of the chasing pack.
Bagnaia didn’t quite shake off his rivals, perhaps trusting the harder rear tyre he selected to help him make the difference in the end but his cause was aided by Marquez attacking Baldassarri and dicing with the Italian at the halfway point of the race. The Spaniard decisively got ahead with ten laps to go but Bagnaia had stretched a second’s gap at the front. Similarly, Pasini was riding in a secure fourth place, five second behind the leading trio and over a second ahead of Schrotter and the KTMs.
While the gap to Bagnaia was slowly being reduced by Marquez, the Italian was still posting personal bests and making the Marc VDS rider work hard for a shot at a late showdown. With six laps to go, Marquez’s challenge was put to a stop by a threateningly glowing rear brake that saw him drastically drop back four seconds and into the clutches of Pasini, who started hoping for an unlikely podium.
With four laps to go, Baldassarri was struggling to bring the gap to Bagnaia to under eighth tenths of a second, while behind them, Pasini had the same gap to make up to Marquez. In the final two laps, both chasing Italians threw some orange and red sectors at it and saw their gaps shrink to half a second. Baldassarri started to pile the pressure on Bagnaia for the first time, with a minuscule tenth of a second separating the two going into the final lap but the SKY racer replied with some personal best sectors and although he was briefly mugged of the lead in the final turns, Bagnaia retook top position and kept it to the line.
Baldassarri finished a tenth of a second behind, with Marquez’s red hot rear brake going back to normal and enabling him to save third position. Pasini had to admit defeat on the final lap and finish fourth, with Oliveira and Binder sharing fifth and sixth place after a race-long battle. Schrotter ended the Qatar GP seventh, closely followed by teammate Vierge. Nine seconds down the road, Luca Marini and Jorge Navarro completed the top ten, with Mir as top rookie in eleventh place.
After the dominating win, Bagnaia becomes the first leader of the championship standings, with Baldassarri and Marquez firmly in championship contention, leaving KTM with a bit more work to do.
|12||87||Remy GARDNER||Tech 3||+30.292|
|17||52||Danny KENT||Speed Up||+31.958|
|18||64||Bo BENDSNEYDER||Tech 3||+32.382|
|20||20||Fabio QUARTARARO||Speed Up||+35.357|
|23||89||Khairul Idham PAWI||Kalex||+42.776|
|22||Sam LOWES||KTM||10 Laps|
|27||Iker LECUONA||KTM||13 Laps|