Act two of the season opener in Qatar saw the wind take on a leading role as night fell over Losail but it could not overshadow the stellar performances of the podium men. No one shone brighter under the floodlights than Sam Lowes, the British rider one step ahead throughout the whole weekend and two seconds ahead at the checkered flag, taking the first victory of the season in commanding fashion. Remy Gardner was his closest challenger but the Australian had to make do with the second step of the podium, while the final trophy went to Fabio Di Giannantonio. The Italian stole the limelight on the final lap, when a fine move on Marco Bezzecchi rewarded him with an emotional podium for the Gresini squad.
Bo Bendsneyder had briefly featured at the front as he made an excellent start off the line but it was Bezzecchi who edged ahead into the first corner, from the second row of the grid. Poleman Lowes also made quick work of Bendsneyder to go on a pursuit of his Italian rival. Front row starter Raul Fernandez kept in touch as well, while Jake Dixon quickly joined the top five, having started 10th on the grid following his penalty.
The start-finish straight wasn’t quite the free-for-all from Moto3 but Lowes found the inside of Bezzecchi into turn 1 at the beginning of lap 3 and immediately pushed to stretch a gap on the Italian. One lap later, the Marc VDS rider had a half second advantage and Raul Fernandez lent a helping hand by demoting Bezzecchi another position. The SKY Racing rider seemed to be struggling a little in the early stages, with Gardner and Dixon glued to his tail and Di Giannantonio, Bendsneyder, Joe Roberts and Jorge Navarro not too far back either.
Meanwhile, Lowes extended his gap to one second by lap five but a mistake promptly dragged him back into Fernandez’s reach so the British rider had to do it all over again. Half a second behind the leaders, Bezzecchi looked vulnerable but the battle between Gardner and Dixon behind him allowed him a bit more respite. Gardner eventually found an opportunity to knock the Italian out of podium positions on lap eight and pushed to bridge the half second gap to his teammate ahead. It didn’t take long for the swap to happen at turn 6 and Lowes found himself with a one second gap to defend from Gardner. The Australian had 11 laps left to work through that but he wasn’t making much progress in the next few laps, allowing the gap to grow by another half second. Raul Fernandez kept close to his teammate but not close enough to trouble him and Bezzecchi was keeping an eye on the rookie but did not seem able to bridge the one second gap just yet.
The action moved to the midfield for the next few laps, as gaps seemed to increase amongst the leaders. Lowes was untouchable at the front and Gardner was safely ahead of Fernandez, but the Spaniard was slowly coming under threat from a resurgent Bezzecchi, with Di Giannantonio not too far behind with five laps remaining. Bezzecchi made his move for the podium into turn 1 with 3 laps remaining and Di Giannantonio soon followed suit, quite keen on the podium himself.
Despite a track limits warning in the final couple of laps, Lowes safely took the checkered flag two seconds ahead of the opposition led by Gardner but all eyes were on the Italian battle for third on the final lap. Bezzecchi held onto it for a long time but Di Giannantonio pulled a beautiful move into turn 11 and just about held onto third across the line. While Bezzecchi was off the podium by only one hundredth of a second, Fernandez scored an impressive top five on his debut in the intermediate class. The rest of the top ten was full of solid performances from Roberts, Dixon, Marcel Schrotter, Bendsneyder and Navarro.
Lowes makes a perfect start to his championship bid but his main rivals kept close and will be looking to turn things around in Qatar on the following weekend.
|3||21||Fabio Di Giannantonio||Kalex||+5.228|
|18||19||Lorenzo Dalla Porta||Kalex||+19.220|
|35||Somkiat Chantra||Kalex||1 Lap|
|97||Xavi Vierge||Kalex||6 Laps|
|40||Hector Garzo||Kalex||11 Laps|
|55||Hafizh Syahrin||NTS||11 Laps|
|7||Lorenzo Baldassarri||MV Agusta||14 Laps|
|42||Marcos Ramirez||Kalex||0 Lap|