The Moto3 World Championship rolls into Le Mans this weekend for round five of the 2018 season, off the back of a dramatic fourth round two weeks ago in Jerez, which saw a new winner in the shape of Philipp Oettl as well as a pileup courtesy of Aron Canet.
It was Oettl who stole the headlines, though; as his win brought him and his father, Peter, into the same group as Stefan and Helmut Bradl, Graziano and Valentino Rossi and more, as a father-son pairing to have both won a Grand Prix. It was clearly particularly special for Peter, whose celebrations after the race were quite spectacular and who has run the team for which Philipp rides since he began in the World Championship back in 2013. We saw Brad Binder claim his first Grand Prix win in Jerez back in 2016, and go on to win the championship in the same year, will we see the same for Oettl?
There are 28 points between the German and the new; and first time championship leader, who is also riding a KTM this season. That is Marco Bezzecchi, the latest surprise from the VR46 Riders Academy, and what a start to the season he has had. A fall in the first race when he was battling for the podium now seems a long time ago; since then he has won in Argentina, finished third in Texas and then second in Spain. In two out of four races this season he has been the top KTM (Argentina, Texas) and Oettl is the closest KTM rider to him in the championship. In many respects, Bezzecchi is this season what Francesco Bagnaia was to Mahindra back in 2016 – the only differences lie in Bez’s apparent ability to fight for this year’s Moto3 World Championship title, and the KTM’s allowance for him to do so, although there is little doubt that the KTM is disadvantaged compared to the Honda. But three podiums in the last three races show that, whilst the Bezzecchi-KTM partnership might not be the outright fastest one out there. It is, at the moment, the most consistent, and consistency wins championships: Alzamora in 125cc, 1998, Hayden in MotoGP, 2006, Vinales in Moto3, 2013, are all prime examples. The KTM has always been strong on the brakes, with good stability, and such a trait is a helpful one at Le Mans with many stop-start sections, so maybe this weekend Bezzecchi will be able to get onto the podium once more, and maybe Oettl can join him there.
Furthermore, the weather in Le Mans is, certainly, uncertain. Whilst the forecast has been showing, for the most part, a completely dry weekend with decent temperatures, is would not be unlike Le Mans to throw some rain into the equation this weekend, and we know from last year as well as Argentina that Bezzecchi excels in low-grip and rain conditions – maybe the French weather will present an opportunity for the Italian.
Jorge Martin comes into this weekend lying second in the championship, but also injured, after the aforementioned Canet-caused mayhem in Spain. It is a wrist injury for Martin, but he is hoping to be fit for this weekend, and really it would be a surprise if he was not able to compete, but there is always the chance that, like Leon Camier at Imola last weekend, he is unable. It was a crash for Martin in Le Mans last year, with six laps to go, and it was the same the year before when he crashed on the final lap. So, perhaps not a great circuit for Martin, and with the injury he is carrying, this weekend could present an opportunity for his championship rivals to make an advantage to the Spaniard.
One such rival could be the person who caused Jorge’s injury, Aron Canet, who lies fifteen points off the lead, in the World Championship and seven from Martin. Canet fought for the podium in 2016, his rookie year, but nearly took his teammate out in the penultimate corner, trying to pass for third. As it was, they both stayed on, but considering that, in combination with Argentina FP1 and Jerez two weeks ago, a reputation is building for Canet, and not one he would like. Hopefully, this weekend his speed will be the main talking point, not his potential danger to the rest of the field.
Canet did take a podium last year, though, although a long way behind the victor, Joan Mir. The other rider on the podium, in third place, was Fabio Di Giannantonio, who will be coming into this weekend looking to make up for the missed opportunity in Spain, where he had the pace to win the race all weekend, but was unable to use it on Sunday, and ended up down the order in seventh place after he was caught in the second group due to a mistake in Dry Sack in the mid-portion of the race.
Enea Bastianini has a crucial round this weekend, too, after a 50% crash rate in the first four races. Admittedly, his second DNF of the season was entirely not his fault, as he was caught up in the incident with Canet, but the crash in Qatar looks like it is really hurting the Italian at this moment, as he is thirty points away from the top spot in the standings. Even if he could not challenge Martin or Canet in Qatar, he would have taken sixteen points for sure, which would put him just fourteen points off at this point in the season. At the end of the year we always look at the ‘ifs and buts’, and this seems like a particularly popular one for people to speak about with respect to the Moto3 class in November. But there are many races to go, and perhaps this will be the one where “La Bestia” turns his season around.