The opening round of the Moto3 World Championship in Qatar is the only twilight race of the year, and the 2019 edition of the race was spectacular in vistas, but even more so in on-track action.
Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) made the holeshot, with fellow front row starters Lorenzo Dalla Porta and Kaito Toba (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia) close in tow. When Albert Arenas (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) made his way into fourth at the end of the first lap, there started to become a gap between the top four and the pack behind. This gap was soon closed, and a nineteen-rider front group proceeded to battle it out for the podium.
Over the course of the race it became clear that the Honda of Lorenzo Dalla Porta was particularly quick, as was that of Kaito Toba. In comparison, Aron Canet’s KTM could not live with the two riders who started alongside him on the front row when it came to the front straight.
As such, Canet’s time was completely made in the corners, his laps spent recovering positions he had lost on the straight, before losing them all again between turn sixteen and turn one.
After a mistake in qualifying that prevented him from having a final push at the end of Q2 for pole position, Romano Fenati (Snipers Team) made quite a poor start from the fourth row, and slipped towards the back of the top fifteen. Eventually, though, he started to make his way through the pack and towards the front, with tremendously adventurous lines, characteristic of his previous season in the lightweight class back in 2017, as he seemed to have the ability to ride around the outside of almost anyone at almost any time. Fenati also had the ability to carry seemingly significantly more corner speed than any of his rivals, especially those riding KTMs, and could turn tighter than even any of his Honda stablemates. He looked nailed on for the win, until he received a track limits warning with three laps to go, and proceeded to, by mistake, take the long lap penalty, putting him out of contention.
With Canet written off from the race win by virtue of his lack of straight line speed, the victory candidates were left at three: Kaito Toba, Lorenzo Dalla Porta and Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) who had come from twentieth on the grid to fight for the win.
In the end, Dalla Porta entered the final corner first, and looked good for the win – such was his straight line speed – but Toba lined up turn sixteen beautifully to carry substantially more exit speed from the final corner than Dalla Porta. A small dose of slipstream from the Leopard rider ahead was then enough to take Toba into the lead, and despite tucking back into the Japanese’s slipstream, there was nothing Dalla Porta could do to stop Toba taking his first win in grand prix racing, as well as becoming the first Japanese rider to win a Moto3 grand prix.
Whilst it was ultimately defeat for Dalla Porta, second place was a good way for the Italian to begin his campaign, in which he will aim to fight for the championship. From this weekend he can take many positives, and if he can match the speed he showed in the opening race with the consistency of 2018, he is sure to be a formidable title contender.
That will not have gone unnoticed by Aron Canet, neither will his straight line disadvantage. Nonetheless, the Spaniard came home in third place, again a strong way to start his season, and will hope to build on that in the races to come. However, the speed of the Hondas will be a concern for him – when the straights are as long as they are on Moto3 bikes, straight line speed is critical. If you can’t stay in the slipstream of your rivals, you can find yourself defenceless.
Marcos Ramirez’s impressive fightback ended with fourth place – a good way for him to mark his return to the team with which he fought for the Moto3 Junior World Championship in 2016, a title which he ironically lost to his teammate, Dalla Porta.
Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) looked strong for the whole race, never slipping outside the top ten, and eventually finishing in fifth, where he had spent most of the race. Like Canet, Vietti had to battle with bikes which were faster than him in the straight, but he didn’t have the same speed in the corners to fight back. Nonetheless, fifth place is an impressive ride from Vietti, in his first race as a full-time GP rider.
Albert Arenas, like Vietti, had looked strong all race, and came home in sixth place ahead of his Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team teammate Raul Fernandez, who was also making his debut as a full-time grand prix rider, and impressed with seventh place – again, on an apparently under-powered motorcycle.
Niccolo Antonelli (Sic 58 Squadra Corse) had looked on for a podium for a lot of the race, but fell back towards the end and finally came home in eighth place, ahead of Fenati who only partially recovered after his apparently self-enforced long-lap penalty. Jakub Kornfeil (PruestelGP) rounded out the top ten.
Ai Ogura (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia) was another impressive full-time debutant in eleventh place, and stayed amongst the leading group for the whole race, coming home just ahead of Alonso Lopez (EG 0,0 Monlau Competition), John McPhee (Petronas SRT), Andrea Migno (Bester Capital Dubai) and Gabriel Rodrigo (Gresini Racing) who completed the points.
There were several fallers. The first came on the first lap, with Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas SRT) and Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) getting caught up with Tom Booth-Amos (CIP Green Power) and Makar Yurchenko (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race). The latter two continued to finish last and second-last respectively.
Darryn Binder (CIP Green Power) crashed with seventeen laps to go in the second of the fast rights towards the end of the lap. The South African was joined on the side lines a couple of laps later when Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) was tagged by Rodrigo, fell and collected Kazuki Masaki (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) and Tatsuki Suzuki (Sic 58 Squadra Corse) on the way. Masaki continued to finish nineteenth, but Foggia and Suzuki retired on the spot.
Featured Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM