For round three of the 2018 Moto3 World Championship, the lightweight class paddock goes to the Circuit of the Americas after two rounds which were not exactly what you might expect from a Moto3 race. Firstly, Aron Canet and Jorge Martin stormed away in Qatar to fight for the race win between themselves, six seconds ahead of the third-place scrap. Then, last time out in Argentina, the field was spread out by the mixed conditions which saw Marco Bezzecchi take the first win of his career in the World Championship and Jorge Martin make a tyre choice error but recover to score points.
Starting with Bezzecchi, it was a stunning ride from the Italian in Argentina. He could have been on the podium in Qatar too, but a crash on the last lap meant he could only manage fourteenth. It’s fair to say he made up for that two weeks ago, when he took the victory in tricky conditions – the type of conditions we knew he could excel in from last season, when he was riding the CIP Mahindra and would often appear towards the top of the time sheets when grip was scarce. With the KTM package underneath him for this season, there was always the possibility that he could make the next step to be a rider who could contend for the podium or even the victory on a regular basis, and so far he has proven that. There were some who questioned whether Bezzecchi can go on to fight for the title – the fortunes of other KTM riders at the moment might suggest otherwise, but maybe Marco is the rider to extract the most from the RC250GP. It can be said that we will learn a lot about the credentials of the Italian this weekend in America, where last year on the Mahindra he finished 19th and 26 seconds off the win.
Where there are doubts about the championship credentials of Bezzecchi, there are none about those of Aron Canet. In between his two second places from the first two races this season, he even managed to evade the mace of Race Direction after the moment of madness with Makar Yurchenko in FP1 last time out. That sort of luck might just be what he needs to put his name on the World Championship trophy at the end of the season. Also, let’s not forget that Aron Canet was lightning fast in COTA last season. In the first running of the race, he was running away, just as the times through the weekend has suggested he might, but after the red flag for a Kaito Toba crash, Romano Fenati managed to pressure Canet into a mistake which turned out to be a huge high side for the Spaniard. If Canet can find that type of pace again this year, it could well be a battle for second.
In conjunction with his luck with Race Direction, there was more luck in the race for Canet, whose championship rival, Jorge Martin, decided late on to run slick tyres on the wet-but-drying track in Argentina. This cost Martin, who spent most of the race off the pace, and by the time he had an advantage, it was only enough to get him to eleventh. This might seem like a good damage limitation job from the Spaniard, but it is true that if he did not make the switch to slicks at the end of the warm-up lap, Marco Bezzecchi may still be winless.
Fabio Di Giannantonio completed the podium in Argentina, and continued his decent start to the season after a sixth in Qatar. The Italian was on the podium in COTA last season, his tall frame for once coming in useful on a Moto3 bike in the fast changes of direction in the first two sectors. The same might be said for the likes of Nicolo Bulega, who finished fifth in COTA last season, but is yet to score a point in 2018, or Darryn Binder who is in a difficult moment with the KTM Ajo team.
After a crash in Qatar and a fourth place last time out, Enea Bastianini, despite being one of the fastest guys in both weekends so far, and throughout preseason testing, is only ninth in the championship, and still looking for his first podium of the season. It could come this weekend, as he tends to go fairly well at COTA, finishing fourth last year in a difficult season with Estrella Galicia Marc VDS, and has been in the top six at the Grand Prix of the Americas in all but one of his appearances there. Perhaps this is the weekend for La Bestia to get himself back into contention with Canet and Martin for the World Championship.
Dennis Foggia had a strong weekend in Argentina – much better than Qatar. He was in fourth or fifth place when he crashed, eyeing up the podium. It is positive to see a rider in just his second race as a full-time Grand Prix rider not being content with a top five in tricky conditions, but looking always for more. Of course, it didn’t do his championship much good, and he is still without a point in 2018, but Foggia kind of announced himself last time out, now he just needs to put it on paper.
That said, the Circuit of the Americas is a notoriously difficult track for rookies. The only rookie to win in COTA is, of course, Marc Marquez. The technical demand of the track is huge, with a stop into turn one which requires immense stiffness in the front suspension to be able to cope with the insane uphill gradient on approach, but then the many other big stops around the circuit, at turn twelve, thirteen and the final corner require softer springs so that there is enough weight transfer. This, in essence, means that the rider has to deal with the front forks bottoming slightly into turn one, so that they can have sufficient transfer in the other braking zones. In addition to that, there is the mass of direction changes between turn one and the main straight, all of which require something completely opposite: a nimble, agile bike which is quite unstable to be able to change direction as fast as possible. COTA is the ultimate in compromise, and for a rookie that is daunting.
On top of the demand of the track’s layout, there is the potential for rain this weekend, which could offer a surprise result similar to that of two weeks ago. Even if the rain does not arrive for the race, there could be a shortened race distance due to the shaving of the track to get rid of the bumps which the riders complained about so much last season, but in doing so a part of the surface has been exposed which is highly abrasive, which has the potential to tear up tyres. The effect might be less on a Moto3 bike compared to the top class, for example, but the potential is there for a shortened race, and adding the rain into that could create a difficult situation for the race organisers.
Between a variety of contenders, the potential for dominance from Canet, the abrasive track and the threat of rain, this weekend’s Moto3 Grand Prix of the Americas is looking as though it could be a particularly intense affair, but nonetheless exciting.