After three fly-away races to open the season, the 2018 Moto3 World Championship heads to Europe, Spain, and the Jerez de la Frontera circuit, which sits on one of the three points of the “sherry triangle”, which any European wine named and labelled as sherry must come from, as per European law. In fact, jerez translates to sherry, so I guess you could call Jerez the sherry capital of the world. Furthermore, turn six, “Dry Sack”, the hairpin at the end of the main straight and the main overtaking spot on the track, is named after a vineyard which lies just behind the run-off area on its outside. But, for this weekend Jerez is not the sherry capital of the world, or anything to do with wine – because Grand Prix motorcycles have arrived, and for three days there won’t be a corner to turn or a street to walk without something to tell you that MotoGP is in town.
This weekend will be a special one, though, as it will be the first Spanish Grand Prix to be held since the tragic death of Angel Nieto last year and, whilst there have been Grands Prix in Spain in that time, none have been the “Spanish Grand Prix”, and that is important, considering Spanish politics. Furthermore, since the 12+1-times World Champion’s passing, the circuit in Jerez has had a rebranding, so it is now named after the grandfather of Spanish motorcycle racing – the “Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto” is the track which will be lit up this weekend, and firstly by Moto3, which seems correct considering Nieto’s expertise on the smaller capacity bikes. And with that in mind, how much of a fairy-tale would it be for either Andrea Migno or Albert Arenas to pick up a podium or even a win, riding for the Angel Nieto Team? Considering Migno’s pace in the last race at COTA, where he finished fourth, and that Jerez was the circuit where Arenas picked up his first Moto3 Junior World Championship victory back in 2015, perhaps such a story is not so difficult to imagine.
Perhaps it is equally as fitting that a pair of Spaniards head the lightweight class World Championship coming into this weekend, with Jorge Martin ahead of Aron Canet in the standings by seven points. Moreover, there are positive omens for the pair coming into this weekend, with it being the track where last year Martin took his second pole position of the 2017 season, and that at which Canet became a Grand Prix winner. The 2017 race was not as smooth for Martin, who struggled to a lowly ninth place, and that is certainly something he will want to rectify for this season’s race, with the world title at stake for the Gresini Racing rider this year.
As mentioned, though, it was a victory for Canet the last time Moto3 raced in Jerez, and after a disappointing result last time out, the number 44 will very much be looking to bounce back well and reclaim the championship lead he lost after Austin.
The surprise package of 2018 so far has been Marco Bezzecchi, who has made the most of the KTM machinery underneath him for this season with the PruestelGP team to land his first GP win in Argentina, and now lie third in the championship, just twelve points off the lead. Austin was a very important race for Bezzecchi, who took the opportunity to prove that he can be fast in the dry, as well as the mixed conditions which proved so fruitful in Termas. But Jerez is a circuit where the group can be quite big for the whole race, so it will be yet another test for the number twelve, who now needs to prove he can fight at the head of the front group for the full race distance.
Dennis Foggia put in a good performance in Austin, although perhaps he did not get the result that he would have hoped for. But now, with the Championship’s return to Europe, we will be able to judge Foggia on tracks he knows, starting this weekend with Jerez. In addition to this, he is one of the few riders on the grid who have raced on Jerez’s fresh surface, which is new for this year, but was raced on in 2017 by the CEV Repsol championships, which is the umbrella under which the Moto3 Junior World Championship (of which Foggia is champion) sits. With that in mind, there could be an early advantage for the rookie, as well as for the likes of Jaume Masia, Kazuki Masaki, Alonso Lopez and Makar Yurchenko, fellow graduates from last year’s JWC. In fact, it was Lopez who won the first of the two races held in Jerez last year for the Junior World Championship, when he beat Foggia (2nd) and Masaki (3rd) to the line.
The second race last year was won by Ai Ogura, who was then a graduate from the Asia Talent Cup, which he nearly won, but narrowly lost out to in the final round when Somkiat Chantra was crowned the 2016 champion. This year, Ogura is wildcarding in Jerez for his debut Grand Prix appearance. Since his time in the ATC, he has stood out to me, I remember watching the Sepang round in 2016 and seeing how late he was on the brakes into turn one and turn four, and being quite impressed. He is definitely one that people should be keeping an eye on this weekend, like Foggia in Aragon last year. Ogura is coming into this weekend on decent form, too, as he took his first podium of the 2018 Moto3 Junior World Championship last weekend in Valencia, with a third place on the Asia Talent Team Honda.
There will be one other wildcard rider, Jeremy Alcoba, in the Estrella Galicia Junior Team. Alcoba was once the teammate of Jaume Masia before Masia was unceremoniously booted out of the Monlau programme. Since then the pair have gone their separate ways, and Alcoba has seen himself beaten to the ride Enea Bastianini vacated at the end of 2017 by one of his teammates from last year, Alonso Lopez. In addition, Alcoba had to sit back and watch his teammate, Sergio Garcia, romp to victory in the first Moto3 in Valencia last weekend. This is Jeremy’s opportunity to rekindle his chances with Monlau and Emilio Alzamora.
The return to Europe is often the point at which the championship starts to really take shape, and this season will likely be no different. This weekend we will begin to get an idea of who truly can fight for the World Championship.
Featured image courtesy of RedBull Contentpool