Francesco Bagnaia (Pull&Bear Aspar Mahindra) took his second ever career win at Sepang International Circuit, as he escaped at the front ahead of a demolition derby through the field – with Jakub Kornfeil (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) taking second for an amazing home result for the SIC team, ahead of another rookie podium for Dutchman Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo).
A largely dry track, high ambient temperatures and a full Moto3™ grid characterized the start of the race, before the drama began early and went on to claim almost half the field. There were high rates of attrition on Lap 1, with a first incident at Turn 2 seeing Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46) losing control of his KTM and making contact with RBA Racing’s Juanfran Guevara to take both out of the race. Ayumu Sasaki, replacing injured Enea Bastianini at Gresini Racing Moto3, was another early casualty as the 2015 SAATC winner and 2016 Red Bull Rookies Champion retired.
There was then a crash at Turn 6 on Lap 1, as Jorge Martin (Pull&Bear Aspar Mahindra) caused a domino effect crash through the racing line on the corner, with Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46), Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Philipp Oettl (Schedl Racing GP) caught up in the incident.
The next drama saw the lead group suddenly shaken up at Turn 7 – after local hero Adam Norrodin (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) also fell at the corner – when World Champion Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Joan Mir (Leopard Racing), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Sky Racing Team) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing Moto3) all slid out in unbelievable unison – leaving Bagnaia free at the front to build an incredible lead of over three seconds. Binder and Dalla Porta rejoined, but out of the points and lapped.
Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) then crashed at the final corner, losing out on the chance to haul in absent Bastianini for P2 in the title, as a missed gear at the end of the back straight put paid to his chances at points – leaving the top six in the Championship again unable to score in the Moto3™ race, after a similar situation in Phillip Island one week earlier.
Turn 9 then claimed two casualties as Ongetta-Rivacold teammates Niccolo Antonelli and Jules Danilo crashed out in separate but almost simultaneous incidents, with only Antonelli able to remount and remaining in the points.
At the front, Bagnaia was building his lead over four seconds with 12 laps to go, with Jakub Kornfeil, Bo Bendsneyder and RBA Racing’s Gabriel Rodrigo next on track in the second group. Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) found himself in space on the chase, with World Champion Binder coming back out to rejoin the race after repairs and then sharing the track with the Frenchman.
The battle over sixth saw local hero Khairul Idham Pawi (Honda Team Asia), Andrea Locatelli (Leopard Racing), Maria Herrera (MH6 Team) and Marcos Ramirez (Platinum Bay Real Estate) locked together on track, with Livio Loi (RW Racing GP BV) in tenth but back from the group, fighting to catch up.
After a trip through pitlane, it was the South African World Champion on the move despite being down the order in terms of position, as he passed Quartararo and Rodrigo to unlap himself at least once – his superior pace allowing him the chance – as Frenchman Quartararo started to reel in the podium places.
Lapped Dalla Porta moved over to let the podium fight through, with Bendsneyder taking advantage to take Kornfeil for P2, as Binder did the same to allow Quartararo back past for the chance to continue his charge towards the podium.
A crash for Maria Herrera at Turn 15 in an incident with Livio Loi then prefaced a Red Flag, and with well over two thirds of race distance completed, the results would stand – with the positions determined by standings on Lap 13 as the last full lap completed by the whole field; a dramatic end for a melodrama of a race.
Bagnaia therefore took his second career victory by an incredible margin, free at the front in an impressive, concentrated ride, with Kornfeil taking P2 by virtue of his position on Lap 13, and rookie Bo Bendsneyder completing the podium.
Quartararo was fourth as he lost the laps needed to reel in the podium, with teammate Locatelli further back but completing the top five. Marcos Ramirez took another fantastic haul of points in sixth, with Rodrigo, home hero Pawi and Loi in P7, P8 and P9 respectively, despite an apparent problem for the Belgian by Lap 15 when the flag came out. Darryn Binder was tenth in another impressive ride after his P4 in Australia, completing a double top ten for the Platinum Bay Real Estate team.
The season finale now awaits, as the Circuit de Ricardo Tormo in Valencia gets ready for the Moto3™ grid for the last lights out of 2016.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko