Jorge Martin was sat on his tenth career pole position ahead of the 2018 Moto3 Grand Prix of the Americas, and alongside him on the front row were Aron Canet and John McPhee. Tatsuki Suzuki, Fabio Di Giannantonio and Enea Bastianini made up row two, whilst row three was a Japanese sandwich made with Italian bread with Dennis Foggia and Marco Bezzecchi lined up either side of Ayumu Sasaki for the seventeen-lap race which lay ahead.
It was a good start for Martin, who was one of two riders to run the harder rear tyre, the other being Bastianini. But, as is typical for Austin, there was a pileup at turn one, with Adam Norrodin, Kaito Toba, Kazuki Masaki and Jaume Masia all coming to blows.
Martin was away well, though, ad that was a worry for the opposition because the Spaniard had looked to have supreme pace all weekend. But Di Giannantonio had found his way into second position as the field made its way through the snake, and was turning on the magnets trying to catch his teammate ahead. In behind the Italian was Aron Canet, the rookie Dennis Foggia, Suzuki, Sasaki, Bastianini and Bezzecchi with a small gap behind the Italian back to Phillip Oettl.
Over the next laps, there was the usual early sparring that you get in Moto3, and a modestly-sized, for Moto3, front group of about twelve riders. There were surprises, though, as the likes of Foggia took a stint at the front – people who might not have been expected to be fighting right at the very front before the race. Foggia spent a lot of time in the early laps in the front four in the beginning of the race, which made his swift demise in the final seven or so laps all the more confusing. But it was a strong race for the Moto3 Junior World Champion, who should have even more confidence when the paddock heads back to Europe.
With ten laps to go, the race began to take shape, as the two Gresini bikes, led by the #21 of Di Giannantonio had found their way to the front with Bezzecchi in tow. Despite their best efforts, they could not escape the pack behind thanks to the series of long straights at COTA and the importance of slipstream in the lightweight class.
But what was missing was Aron Canet, who was struggling, battling with the likes of Andrea Migno for seventh, and not making any headway. It was a confusing situation, because he had been quite strong all through the weekend, but now was seemingly unable to put himself in a position from which he might be able to challenge in the last laps.
With seven laps to go the front group had definitely split. There was now a front group of five, with Bezzecchi, Martin, Diggia, Bastianini and Oettl; and then behind there was Livio Loi who had come from way back on the grid in 26th place to now be trying to bridge the gap between the front group and the chasers, and he was bringing Migno and Jakub Kornfeil with him.
With five to go the front group of five had almost become a sixteen-wheeler thanks to Migno, but more importantly Jorge Martin, with that harder rear tyre, had hit the front. Bastianini had seen the danger, but he was back in sixth place when it arrived. The Beast made quick work of Oettl and Bezzecchi, but already Martin was creating the gap. Enea made the move on Di Giannantonio with four laps to go at turn seven in the middle of the esses, but already the gap had grown to nearly a second.
Over the next three laps, Bastianini showed that he had the pace to match Martin, but could go no faster. Martin finally took the win because he made the move at the right time, and Bastianini could not challenge him because he was not in the right place to react. It is this apparent lack of race craft which has hindered Enea in the past and, even though he is clearly one of the fastest riders this season, it could once again cost him the championship if he doesn’t address it.
Either way it was a stunning piece of timing for Martin to escape when he did, and he made perfect use of his hard rear tyre. As mentioned, he was not the absolute fastest rider on the track; other riders could match his pace. but he had the superior race craft and the superior intelligence to make the most of what pace he did have, and it is that which gave him such a comfortable win.
The second place for Enea Bastianini was the first of his season, and also his first in Texas. With that in mind, you would have to say his championship challenge has now started, typically for Enea a little later than everyone else. Jerez will be an important round for the Italian, because he needs really to beat Martin to close the gap in the championship, and also announce himself as a contender.
Third place went to the Argentinian GP winner, Marco Bezzecchi, who did not look so spectacular this weekend, and in fact many people discounted him, implying that Argentina was a one-off due to the conditions. But Bez proved them wrong in the race, with a strong pace throughout which was only matched by one other KTM rider in the shape of Philipp Oettl who we know from past performances likes the Texan track a lot. In a track which for a lot of the weekend he had struggled, Bezzecchi still found the podium, and this could be the sign that he might be able to fight for this championship.
The podium was won for Bezzecchi in the final corner, where Fabio Di Giannantonio dive-bombed him, as you might expect in the final corner of a race. In doing so, Diggia ran wide, and that cost him fourth to Andrea Migno on the exit. Migno had produced some stellar pace in the second half of the race, and fought hard at the end to achieve his best result of the season. Had Migno qualified better, he may well have been able to beat Bezzecchi to the final podium spot.
Finally, it seems Andrea is starting to click with the Angel Nieto Team, who have their home race up next in Jerez, at the circuit which has been named after the late Spanish motorcycling legend after whom Jorge ‘Aspar’ Martinez named his team between the 2017 and 2018 seasons. A good result at such a venue would not go uncelebrated, that is for sure.
Di Giannantonio ended up fifth, but only after fighting for the lead for most of the race, that will come as a disappointment to the Italian. Sixth place went to Philipp Oettl who had by far his best result of the season and the same can be said for Jakub Kornfeil, the Czech rider finishing in seventh place. Aron Canet was disappointing in eighth, especially after the incredible pace he had in Austin last year, but the result evened out the championship a little bit, after Martin’s eleventh place in Argentina. Tatsuki Suzuki took ninth place, and in the end. Despite a promising pace towards the end of the race, Livio Loi could only manage tenth, but from third-last on the grid, that can be considered quite an achievement for the Reale Avintia Academy rider.
Ayumu Sasaki had a huge moment on the exit of the final corner early on in the race when he was in the leading group, but in the end could only muster the pace for eleventh place ahead of Gabriel Rodrigo, Darryn Binder – who was really quick when the circuit was slippery – and the KTM pairing of John McPhee, who had a difficult race from the front row and Albert Arenas who rounded out the points.
Dennis Foggia managed to somehow, lose 20 seconds in five laps, indicating either a destroyed tyre, maybe the rider running out of energy or just a lack of rhythm after he started to get overtaken. Whatever the case, the result does not represent in this case the performance of the rider because in this race Foggia could have been in the fight for the podium, and with five laps to go; he was. Maybe in Jerez, a track where he was quick at last season in the CEV, he will be in the fight until the end.
Four seconds behind Foggia, was fellow rookie and youngest rider in the paddock; Alonso Lopez. Who beat Lorenzo Dalla Porta to seventeenth after the Italian lost time by running on at turn twelve at the end of the main straight. Makar Yurchenko took nineteenth, ahead of a disappointing Tony Arbolino in twentieth on the Snipers Honda. Jaume Masia could not recover from his involvement in the first lap collision at turn one and finished 21st, ahead of the other riders who were involved and remounted Kazuki Masaki and Nakarin Atiratphuvapat, and also Niccolo Antonelli who ran into the back of Lopez at the end of the main straight on lap one.
There were four retirements: Marcos Ramirez and Nicolo Bulega, both of whom continue their horrendous starts to 2018. As well as Adam Norrodin and Kaito Toba.
After the first three fly-away races of 2018, the next six races in Europe, starting with Jerez in two weeks, offer an opportunity for the championship to settle, the cream to rise and the true championship contenders to show themselves as such.
Featured image courtesy of Redbull contentpool