Saturday in Losail for the first round of the Moto3 World Championship saw for the first time a segmented qualifying for the lightweight class. It would see the top fourteen riders from the combined free practice times compete in Q2 along with the four fastest riders from Q1.
The four fastest riders from Q1 were Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46), John McPhee (Petronas SRT), Ai Ogura (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia) and Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team). These would therefore fight it out for pole position in the second fifteen minute qualifying session, along with the fourteen fastest riders from the combined free practice times.
Although the new qualifying format for Moto3 was intended to reduce the amount of bunching on track, and to stop as many people waiting for a tow, the majority of the field – in both sessions – found themselves occupying the same 200 metres of track.
In the melee, Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) managed to put together a strong lap, at the end of which he found a useful tow from Vicente Perez (Arizona Reale Avintia) with which he managed to set a time good enough for pole position. It was the perfect start to his partnership with Max Biaggi’s collaborative effort with Peter Oettl, and moreover the perfect way to start what he will hope to be a championship challenge.
Second fastest was Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing), just under two tenths shy of Canet’s time. The Italian has been largely under the radar for most of preseason and throughout the winter. However, let’s not forget that he took the first podium of his career in Qatar twelve months ago.
Completing the front row was Kaito Toba (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia), for his first ever front row start in grand prix racing, and has had a good weekend so will be hoping to fight for the podium tomorrow.
John McPhee took fourth place from Q2 to start from the head of the second row, after a difficult start to the weekend (hence he went through Q1) the Scot seems to have turned it around, and has a good shot at making a good result tomorrow.
Niccolo Antonelli (Sic58 Squadra Corse) has been fast this weekend, despite falling twice (the first crash being the first of any grand prix rider this year). Fifth place gives him a good starting position for tomorrow, and he will hope to capitalise on that on a track at which he won in 2016.
Rounding out the second row for the first round of the season is Albert Arenas (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team).
Seventh fastest in Q2 was Tony Arbolino (Snipers Team), and he will be joined on the front row by Celestino Vietti in his first race as a full time grand prix rider and Vicente Perez – who is in a similar situation to Vietti.
The top ten was rounded out by reigning Moto3 Junior World Champion Raul Fernandez after he passed through Q1. He will be joined on the fourth row of the grid tomorrow by Romano Fenati (Snipers Team) – who should have been on the front two rows at least, but for a miscalculation in sending him out for the final run meant he didn’t get a flying lap in at the end – and the injured Gabriel Rodrigo (Gresini Racing).
Kazuki Masaki (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) took thirteenth place, ahead (provisionally) of Jakub Kornfeil (PruestelGP) who was seen blocking Kaito Toba mid-session. Ai Ogura impressively rounded out the fifth row on his debut as a full-time grand prix rider.
Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) will be disappointed with sixteenth place in the opening qualifying session of the season, as will Andrea Migno (Bester Capital Dubai) who was up inside the top ten before his lap was deleted. 2018 Valencia GP winner Can Oncu (Red Bull KTM Ajo) rounded out the sixth row.
Featured image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM