There’s no opening act quite like the chaos of the first Moto3 race of the season and the sunset in Qatar was a perfectly dramatic backdrop. With a leading group that never slimmed down to fewer than a dozen men, the one who would emerge victorious looked like a roll of the dice but in the end it was the most consistent challengers who climbed onto the first podium of the year. The Red Bull KTM Ajo team got the most cava to celebrate with, as Jaume Masia crossed the finish line half a tenth ahead of teammate Pedro Acosta. The rookie took his maiden podium on his debut in the class after a tough race that saw the lead change several times a lap. The KTM duo managed to avoid the dreaded slipstream on the finish straight and kept poleman Darryn Binder at bay until he joined them on the podium to pick up his third place trophy.
Binder had made an excellent start to lead off the line, while Gabriel Rodrigo launched himself from seventh on the grid to second into turn one, closely followed by Izan Guevara. Front row starter John McPhee kept close in fourth position despite losing some ground at the start, while Acosta and Masia were steady inside the top seven, the rookie making a particularly impressive start from 11th position.
It did not take long for the dreaded/much sought after slipstream on the start finish straight to spice things up and Binder found himself going from the lead all the way down to sixth by the end of the first lap, while Guevara lost 11 positions, provisionally leaving the top ten. Rodrigo got some time in the limelight for about half a lap but slipstream was king once again and Binder flew past at the start of the following lap to resume control on lap three. Copy paste for the next few laps, with slightly different participants, as the leading pack was still large and close together. However, the chaos on lap three saw rookie Xavier Artigas wipe out McPhee, Andrea Migno and Jeremy Alcoba at turn six, causing some early damage to championship aspirations.
That reduced the number of challengers at the front but Masia, Binder and Acosta continued to be the main characters in the lead of the sizeable pack. The likes of Rodrigo, Sergio Garcia, Kaito Toba, Ayumu Sasaki and Tatsuki Suzuki were also part of the rollercoaster, the last two men particularly impressive having joined the party from outside of the top 15 on the grid. At the halfway mark, 14 men were still standing amongst the podium contenders but every crossing of the finish line caused the timing screens to go crazy with swaps and changes amongst the group, dropping leaders to the bottom of the top ten while rivals were flying past a handful of their colleagues at a time.
Rookie Acosta got some serious time in the limelight as he was leading the way with 8 laps remaining, but it was a tricky position to maintain with the likes of Masia and Binder on his tail. The Spaniard lasted two laps at the front until the veteran sharks attacked and it allowed Sasaki to grab the lead with five laps remaining. The group hadn’t reduced too much in the closing stages, only down to 13 riders, but the rookies got feisty and Acosta was back in control with four laps left – as much control as one can have in a lightweight class race. Sasaki promptly demoted the rookie one lap later and in turn was pushed back by Masia on the penultimate lap but it was still anyone’s game as the race entered its final lap.
Niccolo Antonelli hit the front for the first time as the final lap got underway, while Sasaki abandoned the fight at turn two. That left the other two Red Bull KTM machines to bring the silverware home but being in the lead seemed like a risky strategy come the final turn. Masia and Acosta managed to stretch a bit of a gap from Binder throughout the lap but the South African pushed to be right back on their heels by the final corner. The trio arrived to the finish line together but Masia rode an impeccable last lap and grabbed the first victory of the season. Acosta held onto second position to make it a perfect day for Aki Ajo, while Binder secured the final podium spot.
Garcia took the checkered flag three tenths of a second later, ahead of Rodrigo and Antonelli, while the other fantastic rookie, Guevara, finished in seventh position on his debut. Suzuki, Toba and Jason Dupasquier rounded out the top ten, with a notable mention to Romano Fenati, who finished 11th after serving a double long lap penalty for jumping the start.
Masia ends the first outing in Qatar as the championship leader ahead of Acosta and Binder, while McPhee will look to make up for the day’s misfortune next weekend.
|21||19||Andi Farid Izdihar||Honda||+44.976|
|71||Ayumu Sasaki||KTM||1 Lap|
|43||Xavier Artigas||Honda||11 Laps|
|17||John Mcphee||Honda||16 Laps|
|16||Andrea Migno||Honda||16 Laps|
|52||Jeremy Alcoba||Honda||16 Laps|
|54||Riccardo Rossi||KTM||17 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|7||Dennis Foggia||Honda||0 Lap|