On a day where MotoGP in Qatar brought the sort of racing it’s dedicated fans soak up, the drama had begun with the support class action – with new winners, crashes and breakdowns all on the menu.
Moto3 had been quite an open affair with Masbou sitting on pole after a great tow to the line, where Moto2’s build -up had seen British rider Sam Lowes stamp his authority as the form rider. Like with qualifying the two races couldn’t have been more different, though equally exciting, with a nine man group in the shootout for the win on the final lap in Moto3 and a series of crashes within a lap taking out many of Moto2 big names in a flash, followed by a technical failure for the then easy leader Johann Zarco.
Moto3 had the honour of getting the Sunday action under way and was a tense, close affair starting with Miguel Oliveira being knocked out of contention at the first corner. A large gaggle of riders, which had shrunk to nine by the final lap jostled for position as the laps counted down.
It was to be Alexis Masbou who converted his maiden pole to a victory, having the drive to the line to slipstream and pass Enea Bastianini ,the Italian Gresini rider equalling his best result to date after qualifying way down in 21st.
The all Honda podium was completed by Danny Kent who held off his Leopard Racing team-mate Efren Vazquez, leader at the start of the final lap.
Off the rostrum John McPhee impressed on the second SaxoPrint bike, slashing through the pack after a poor start to catch the leading group and get in contention, finishing fifth.
Just behind the Briton Isaac Vinales cam home in sixth, rookie Fabio Qartararo briefly held the lead twice on the way to a competitive seventh and early pace setter Nico Antonelli finished eighth.
Francesco Bagnaia was fighting hard when contact saw him fall to ninth with no time to move forward, the Italian held off Brad Binder who completed the top ten.
The remaining points went to Andrea Locatelli in 11th, rookie Jorge Navarro in 12th, a determined Karel Hanika who moved up to 13th , Philipp Oettl in 14th and Jorge Martin who secured the final point in 15th.
Along with Oliveira, Ajo, Ono,Khairuddin, Gardner and Fenati all failed to finish.
Moto2 began as a resumption of the Zarco/Lowes battle that had punctuated the weekend as the pair eased away at the front.
At the end of lap three that all changed when British Speed Up rider Sam Lowes crashed out, leaving rival Zarco clear up front. Lowes was swiftly followed by reigning Moto2 champion Tito Rabat, who had nowhere to go behind Simone Corsi, who also didn’t see the end of lap four.
Axel Pons also crashed out, taking Luis Salom with him, all on the same lap.
Johann Zarco looked easy for the win when he was hit with a technical issue, seemingly stuck in gear on his Ajo Motorsport bike, allowing AGR rider Jonas Folger to hit the front, winning by five seconds as he had also squeezed out a gap of his own after winning his battle with second place man Gresini’s Xavier Simeon.
Tom Luthi held on to third on his Kalex debut, but was reeled in and pressured to the line by class rookie Alex Rins, who claimed an impressive fourth after recovering from a tough first lap.
He was followed over the line by the bikes he beat in the battle for fourth, with the Italtrans pair of Franco Morbidelli and Mika Kallio fifth and sixth respectively.
Seventh went to Sandro Cortese, ahead of the determined Zarco in eighth and the first non Kalex finisher, Tasca Racing’s Tech 3 rider Louis Rossi in ninth. Lorenzo Baldassarri completed the top ten.
Rookie Alex Marquez won his battle with Hafizh Syahrin for eleventh, with the Malaysian twelfth. Julian Simon took 13th, Taka Nakagami 14th and Dominique Aegerter took a positive end to a tough start to the season with the final point.
What have we learned?
Expect the unexpected and nothing is guaranteed – determination is key in Qatar (and the rookies mean business).
From Masbou’s first pole and second win at the age of 27 and Bastianini’s rise to the podium from 21stin Moto3 to the form man Lowes and defending champion Rabat falling and Zarco having a mechanical failure when looking assured, racing can always throw up some surprises – and some new winners.
Under the radar a little because of all the drama but still significant were the rookie performances.
A lot was made of Fabio Quartararo ahead of the season start. Whereas the Frenchman may not have come away with a win, he was certainly in contention and displayed some great racecraft and muscle when required, and even lead for a spell. His Estrella Galicia team-mate Jorge Navarro was unlucky to miss out on a top ten finish in such an open race.
Equally impressive in Moto2 was the Paginas Amarillas HP 40 rider Alex Rins, who dug deep after falling to sixteenth on lap one to catch the group battling for fourth, claim that position and then try to take Tom Luthi’s third on the line. The Swiss man’s quick thinking and experience gave him the mind to block and deny the Spaniard on an impressive first Moto2 outing. His team-mate and old Moto3 rival Alex Marquez also fared well, beating Syahrin as the pair battled for 11th and coming close to a top ten finish too once free as he caught up to Baldassarri.
Full Moto3 race results available here.
Full Moto2 race results available here.