Rain was forecast for Sunday, but the Moto3 World Championship race at Le Mans took place before it arrived, instead enjoying dry, if overcast, conditions for the fifth round of the 2019 series.
John McPhee (Petronas SRT) started from pole but it was Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers) who took the holeshot, although Tatsuki Suzuki (Sic58 Squadra Corse) took the lead at turn six on the opening lap.
The pack was split on lap one, as Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) high-sided on the exit of turn ten. His bike came back onto the track, but somehow the entire field managed to avoid it.
That left four riders out front, although they were soon joined by three more to make it a seven-way scrap. It was Suzuki, McPhee, Gabriel Rodrigo (Kommerling Gresini Moto3), Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) and Andrea Migno (Bester Capital Dubai) who were fighting for the lead, and it stayed this way for the majority of the race.
The change came in the closing stages, when Suzuki crashed in turn three, and collected Arbolino. This split the group, and allowed McPhee and Dalla Porta a break at the front, although it was not long before Migno arrived back with the two leaders. In fact, on the penultimate lap, the group expanded to its largest, with twelve riders now fighting for the win.
However, onto the final lap, it was clear that the win would be contested between four riders: McPhee, Dalla Porta, Canet and Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) who had benefitted from his compatriot’s crash a few laps previous.
Canet and Toba were taken out of contention on the final lap in turn eleven, when the Spaniard nearly crashed, and nearly took Toba with him, when he passed the #27 for third place. It was a move that Toba was clearly unhappy with after the race, and it was certainly on the limit from Canet, but it was fair enough on the last lap.
That left Dalla Porta and McPhee to fight for the win with three corners to go, but Dalla Porta was unable to out-brake the Scot into the final complex, and so McPhee emerged the winner.
McPhee’s triumph was the second of his career, and the first victory for a pole sitter at Le Mans in the lightweight class since Maverick Vinales bested Nico Terol in 2011. It was a classy race from McPhee, not getting involved in too much in the first part of the race, but when the race moved towards the closing stages, he was always able to put himself in the right place.
Dalla Porta finally returned to the podium after a trio of disappointing results since his rostrum in Qatar. Perhaps this result will see the start of a retaliation in the championship from the Tuscan, whose return to form has arrived just in time for his home Grand Prix in a couple of weeks.
Rounding out the podium was Canet. Unpopular with at least one of his rivals post-race, but the Spaniard’s third podium of the season came at an important moment, as the results of some of his rivals have allowed him to significantly extend his championship advantage. It was also an important result for the Max Racing Team, as Pietro Biaggi, Max’s father, died earlier in the weekend.
Gabriel Rodrigo took fourth place, having taken advantage of Canet’s move on Toba. Andrea Migno did the same, to finish fifth, whilst Toba dropped from third to sixth in the final sector of the lap. A poor qualifying and anonymous race led to a seventh place for Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46), who is beginning to make a habit of finding the top ten on Sundays. Kazuki Masaki (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) took eighth place after a decent weekend for the Japanese, ahead of Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PruestelGP) and Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) who completed the top ten.
Albert Arenas (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) finished eleventh, ahead of Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai), who incurred a 2.2 second penalty for cutting turn four and finished twelfth.
Makar Yurchenko (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) was the first rider home outside of the front group, finishing thirteenth, ahead of Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas SRT) and Filip Salac (Redox PruestelGP) who scored the first point of his Grand Prix career with fifteenth.
A plethora of retirements befell the Moto3 race: Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Ai Ogura were both down on lap one. Then, Darryn Binder (CIP Green Power) ended a miserable weekend in the gravel trap of turn three, before Riccardo Rossi (Kommerling Gresini Moto3) also crashed out. Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) spent his race riding around on his own, unable to catch the front group, and crashed on his own at turn three with fifteen laps to go.
Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers) was slow throughout the race until he retired two laps after Ramirez, possibly suffering with the after-effects of his Saturday crash. The big news for the championship was Niccolo Antonelli (Sic58 Squadra Corse) crashing, as he missed only one point compared to Aron Canet coming into this weekend. Vicente Perez (Reale Avintia Arizona 77) was the next to go, before Arbolino fell at the hand of Suzuki. Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0) joined his teammate in retirement with five to go at turn seven, whilst Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) crashed out at turn nine on the same lap, five tours from the end of the 2019 French Moto3 Grand Prix.
Featured Image courtesy of PETRONAS SRT