Moto3 Preview 2017: An All Italian Job?

The 2017 Moto3 season promises to be as frantic and energetic as ever and with the mix of the last year’s rookies, this year’s rookies and lightweight class veterans, who’d bet on a championship that will go down to Valencia once again. 18 rounds, 13 countries, 31 riders but only one world champion and the chance to make history, this could be the best Moto3 season we’ve ever seen.

Let’s start with the veterans. Romano Fenati returns to the series after being sacked out of the VR46 Riders Academy set-up. The Italian, with seven wins, is now the most successful rider in the field. He returns with the Marinelli Rivacold team; the team have been in Moto3 for some time now, with three wins under their belt with Niccolo Antonelli.

Antonelli in-turn joins reigning champions Red Bull Ajo KTM, in search of a proper title challenge. The Italian has ridden the KTM before, back in 2014 for Gresini. Three race wins might look good on paper but he’s been in the class since 2012, so this time it must be a top three performance if he is to come up through the GP paddock.

Enea Bastianini has also relocated and is in the Estrella Galicia Marc VDS team. This will be the first time in his career that he has changed team so it may take him some time to adapt to his new surroundings. However, he joins a team who took the Moto3 title in 2014, so maybe that’s the experience the Italian needs to propel him to a championship title. Two wins suggest room for improvement for ‘Bestia’.

Grand Prix winner and sole Belgian rider, Livio Loi has the weight of Belgium on his shoulders for 2017. After not quite living up to potential last season, with just a best of 5th in Australia, you get the feeling that this year must be Loi’s year. He finds himself in the 2015 championship winning team, the Leopard Team – although the actual team is totally different to Stefan Kiefer’s title winning 2015 squad.

John McPhee has been one of the unluckiest riders in Moto3. Bike issues, wrong team – wrong time situations and just bad luck when it mattered, the Scot finally finds himself in a team that looks like it could be his magic key to success. Set up by Dorna, the British Talent Team is centred around McPhee – the only Brit in Moto3 this season. Hopefully BT will get some stickers on the bike too, to help with financial situations. A winner in Brno last season, McPhee is fully recovered from horrific injuries sustained at the Australian Grand Prix last year and ready to get properly stuck in.

Jorge Martin joined the paddock in 2015, with a whole year of solid results. In 2016, he finished 16th in the title and took a 2nd place in Brno. Now, he joins a team that is more than established in the class with Gresini Racing and on a bike that is more than established in winning, with Honda. Martin has been one of the fastest riders through testing and could be on for his first win at some point during the season.

I feel a bit conflicted on calling Andrea Migno a veteran but the 21-year-old from Cattolica has been around for a few years now. Entering his 3rd season with the Sky VR46 Team, Migno showed us what he is capable of last year, with two 3rd places at Assen and then Valencia but the win still eludes him. Or will it…

Phillip Oettl is back in 2017, with the same team as last season – the Schedl KTM squad. The pole-sitter from the Americas Grand Prix will be looking for his 2017 to feature a few more podiums, having not cracked open the champagne at all last year. A great ride at the Red Bull Ring however does reinforce his potential and give us journos and fans a great outlook on the season ahead.

Jakub Kornfeil is the only rider in the whole field who has started every single Moto3 race since its introduction in 2012. He took one podium on his way to 8th overall last season, but this year sees him change team once more. The Czech rider moves over to the Saxoprint team, riding the Peugeot. Whether he can take the bike to the heights that McPhee took it to last year is still unknown but Kornfeil will be wanting to check in rather than Czech out…

Last year’s rookies though will be fast from the off though and many are thinking that 2017 will go to one of the new boys from yesteryear. One of them former rookies is Niccolo Bulega. The 2015 CEV Moto3 champion has been topping timesheets all the way through testing and comes into 2017 as one of the favourites. His podium at Jerez was massively impressive and who better than Valentino Rossi to help you out?

Fellow Italian Fabio Di Giannantonio stunned all of us last season, coming through from nowhere in Mugello to take his first points and 2nd place, triggering a string of 10 top-10 placings – with two more podiums along the way. Fabio will be desperate for his first win in Moto3 and will be wanting to win the title at the 2nd time of asking. However, he’s one of a string of riders who believe the same after successes last season. He stays with Gresini Racing in 2017 but changes his number from #4 to #21.

One of them riders is Austrian GP winner, Joan Mir, who stays with the Leopard Racing but makes the switch from KTM to Honda. Mir, like Di Giannantonio, took three podiums last season and finished top rookie, a considerable way back from runaway series winner Brad Binder but only 33 points from 2nd place. Mir will be looking to add to his win tally this year.

Aron Canet is another rider searching for a win this season; the Spaniard took his first podium towards the end of the season at the Australian GP, with a third place. He crashed out of a podium placing at the Argentine GP so he has bags of potential and being a part of the Estrella Galicia Marc VDS team alongside Bastianini, experience from all around him will rub off on his form throughout the year.

Bo Bendsneyder stays in the Red Bull Ajo KTM set up for 2017, joined by Antonelli who replaces Binder. The tall Dutchman took two podiums on his way to 14th in the season overall: one in Great Britain and one in Malaysia – both of which were 3rd places. He will be looking to become the first Dutchman to win a race since Hans Spaan won at Brno in the 125cc class at Brno.

Don’t forget though, there are some incredibly quick rookies in 2017, including three Asian riders. Ayumu Sasaki is a bit of a character and he’s on the Sepang International Circuit Honda. He partners last year’s rookie, Malaysian rider, Adam Norrodin.

In the Idemitsu Honda Team it’s all change again, as the other two Asian rookies jump in. Japanese sensation Kaito Toba graduates from the CEV championship into Moto3 to join Tadayuki Okada’s wonderfully decked-out outfit. His teammate is Thai rider, Nakarin Atiratphuvapat. No, your screen has not decided to go all weird, that is his surname. Try saying it after a few pints of Thailand’s finest Singha or a few cans of the local Chang. ANYWAY, he’s incredibly quick and shone particularly well at Catalunya in the CEV. Keep your eyes peeled.

Tony Arbolino steps up to the Moto3 category, with the SIC58 team, a set-up which is run by Paolo Simoncelli, Marco’s father. Yes, he sounds like a character from The Sopranos or an associate of Ronnie and Reggie Kray but he is actually quite quick, having finished 6th in the Jerez test. It really is a wonderful tribute to Marco, who would be proud of what Italy has achieved since his passing and just how influential he was and still is in the paddock. Arbolino’s joined by Tatsuki Suzuki, who has a best finish of 10th, although that is from 2015 at Silverstone.

There are other riders too, such as Gabriele Rodrigo. The Argentine topped the crash list for Moto3 last year and will be looking to top the podium instead in 2017. Juanfran Guevara also returns, teaming up with the Argentine once again in the RBA team, who have team shirts like Myanmar budget airline, Air KBZ.

Young 16-year-old Patrik Pulkkinen joins the championship after having two seasons in the Red Bull Rookies cup. He has won the Moriwaki Junior Championship and has good pace, although it may take time to be recognised. His move underpins Dorna’s support for Finnish interaction, with the addition of the Kymi Ring in 2018 and new television rights with MTV in Finland for this season. And with Aki Ajo already in the paddock, Finland is becoming a more prominent force in the world of bikes.

Marco Bezzecchi returns to the paddock after his previous races, joining the CIP Technomag Mahindra team. Adam Norrodin is back too; the Malaysian remaining in the Sepang International Circuit team. Darryn Binder is also back, on the Platinum Bay Real Estate bike – the team switching from Mahindra to KTM. Marcos Ramirez is also in the championship, joining Darryn in the Platinum Bay outfit, with a best result of 6th at the Malaysian GP last season. Lorenzo Dalla Porta returns, under the VR46 umbrella but in the Aspar team along with Albert Arenas, starting his first full season. Jules Danilo is alongside Romano Fenati in the Marinelli Rivacold garage, whilst Manuel Pagliani enters the championship as third bike at the CIP Mahindra team, after winning two CIV Italian Moto3 championships. Appearances in the CEV series, Red Bull Rookies, European Superstock 600 and World Moto3 all add to the 20-year-old’s potential. The AGR team make their Moto3 debut with MotoGP’s only female, Maria Herrera, who will want to score more points and crack the top 10 on a regular basis.

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

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