The Argentinian Termas de Rio Hondo circuit plays host to the second round of the 2018 Moto3 World Championship, after an opener in Qatar which was far from your average lightweight class race.
One of the main reasons for this was the gap between the leading pair and the chasing pack, which grew from the start and reached nearly seven seconds by the end of the race.
The duo who led the race, and ultimately took the top two spots on the podium, were Jorge Martin and Aron Canet, the Spaniards engaging in the first battle of what could well prove to be another Spanish civil war in the lightweight category. Finally it was Jorge Martin who took the victory, with Canet failing in his attempts to slipstream his compatriot to the line. It was Martin’s second consecutive victory, after coming out on top in the final round of the 2017 season in Valencia, and that put him level with Canet on two career victories. The pair will no doubt be fighting it out at the front again this weekend, but it would be a surprise if they weren’t joined by some other riders.
The prime candidate for a rider who will interrupt Martin and Canet’s private battle is Enea Bastianini, who has looked sharp and confident ever since he left Estrella Galicia for Leopard, and also should have been in the fight for the win three weeks ago but for a crash early in the race whilst sitting in third spot. La Bestia has failed to make the podium in the four times he has previously visited Termas, but that fact fits well with his tradition for subpar beginnings to seasons. Of course, so far this season has not started any better than his previous efforts but the signs are there that Bastianini can fight for victories this season, and after the Qatar result a win might be something of a necessity.
The Beast’s teammate at Leopard, Lorenzo Dalla Porta, took what should have been Enea’s spot on the podium in Qatar with third place, coming out on top in a battle between ten riders. The 2016 Moto3 Junior World Champion will be looking to make it two out of two podiums this weekend, and has the potential to do so. Would such a result paint the Italian out as an outsider for the title?
John McPhee joined Jorge Martin and eventual World Champion Joan Mir on the 2017 Argentinian podium, and in the build up to this weekend’s race has set out his ambitions to take his second Grand Prix victory. Fighting talk is not something we are used to from the Scot, but he seems to have gotten on quite well with the KTM – he certainly made a better switch to it from the Honda than Niccolo Antonelli managed twelve months ago. McPhee will be looking to make up for his crash in Losail at round one where he crashed on the final lap, and so is rightly fired up for the second round of the championship.
It was well covered by many after Qatar that one of the biggest trends from 2018 appears to have transferred itself into 2018, and that is the dominance of Honda over KTM. It is perhaps no surprise, considering the relative size of HRC compared to KTM and also the fact that a lot of KTM’s old Moto3 people who engineered them to so much success in the lightweight class have moved onto the MotoGP or Moto2 projects. Either way, they will not be looking to repeat the baron season they had in 2017, and there are a few riders who will be anticipating an opportunity to take a win this weekend aboard an Austrian bike – the aforementioned McPhee being one of them.
One of these riders will be one of the standouts from Qatar and he is Marco Bezzecchi. The VR46 Academy rider was in the battle for the podium all race long until a crash at turn six on the final lap ended his charge. He was still able to pick up fourteenth place, but would have been disappointed nonetheless. With that in mind, perhaps Bezzecchi is one to watch for this weekend, especially if it rains (which looks possible), as last year on the Mahindra the tall Italian expressed his prowess on many occasions when the conditions became difficult.
Bezzecchi’s teammate, Jakub Kornfeil, also shone in the race three weeks ago, remaining with Marco in the podium battle until the final lap. It’s certainly fair to say that the Czech rider is getting on better with the KTM than he ever did with the Honda which he rode in the last two seasons, and so could again be one to keep an eye out for this weekend.
Niccolo Antonelli could be another rider to watch out for this weekend. The Italian took pole position in Qatar and seems at home in the SIC58 Squadra Corse. He took fourth position in Losail, but is without a win since the opening round of 2016, and will be keen to change that this weekend considering his good form at the moment. Also, his teammate, Tatsuki Suzuki remains injued from his free practice one crash three weeks ago, so the hopes of the team rest very much with Niccolo this weekend once more.
Nicolo Bulega had a disappointing Qatar which was hampered by his ongoing recovery from the ankle injury he sustained in the Valencia race weekend at the end of last year, which was limiting the mobility of his foot, and was no doubt also still quite painful. Since Qatar, though, Bulega has been to Valentino Rossi’s MotoRanch for the first time in five months, and also went with the rest of the VR46 Riders Academy to Mugello for some training at the home of the Italian Grand Prix. With this in mind, and also considering that the Italian took second on the grid in Termas last year, he could be worth keeping an eye on over the course of the weekend.
If Bulega’s pace is a significant improvement over Qatar, and he is able to run a pace similar to the front runners, that could also benefit Dennis Foggia who, arguably, suffered in Losail due to a lack of track knowledge; and the lack of meaningful data that his more experienced teammate was able to provide perhaps meant that the reigning Moto3 Junior World Champion found himself in a bit of a hole – it is notable that when around other riders in the race he was able to make up positions and finished sixteenth after qualifying twenty-sixth. If Bulega is fast, expect Foggia to become fast too.
Of course, this being Moto3, there are about twenty riders who could be in contention come the final lap on Sunday and the likes of Kaito Toba, who experienced his best weekend of 2017 at Termas and also scored his best finish of his short Grand Prix career three weeks ago; Ayumu Sasaki, who was battling in the top five in Qatar; and Fabio Di Giannantonio are also worth recognising ahead of this weekend. And, of course, the weather is typically South American and therefore very subject to change over the course of the next three days, so whilst there are definitely some favourites ahead of this weekend, the result will remain very much undecided until the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon.