High expectations and a million questions: that’s what lay before the grid as the lights went out for the VisitQatar Grand Prix and it didn’t disappointment. The closest top fifteen of all time and another duel to the finish – with another trio right behind – made it a stunner of a season opener…with a familiar name on top: Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati Team). It was a familiar name diving down the inside at the final corner too, as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) rolled the dice once again – just 0.023 off ‘DesmoDovi’ over the line. Behind that classic duel that defines a rivalry came another battle but this time of three, with Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) pulling out all the stops to complete the podium and fend off Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and a late-charging Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).
It was Dovizioso who got the holeshot from pole, he and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) grabbing P1 and P2 into Turn 1 as Marquez held position just behind. Polesitter Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) didn’t get the start he would have been aiming for as he dropped to sixth on Lap 1, with Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and teammate Crutchlow catapulting through to the top five.
The race then began to settle into a rhythm, with a train of riders at the front led by Dovizioso keeping a steady pace at the front. Rins was the man on the move on Lap 4 as the Spaniard made more progress after a sharp start from P10 on the grid, the Suzuki man coming through to take the lead by Lap 5 before the Spaniard duelled Dovizioso for the pleasure. It remained a lead group of nine following each other line astern, however, with no one breaking rank just yet.
On Lap 12 the number 04 was back at the front, and the pace then turned up a notch as he and Marquez started to create a gap back to third place Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati), who’d made his way through the group. The pace then slowed again, however, as Dovizioso went from a 1:55.3 to a 1:56.1 to bring the top eight back to within just over a second…
With seven to go, the top eight were covered 1.2 seconds and that’s when Rossi really started to make up ground, picking off his teammate first and then Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) to go up to P6. With three laps to go the fight for the win became a five-way scrap, with Petrucci, Viñales and Mir fading off the pacesetters.
Reigning World Champion Marquez had got the better of Dovizioso on the penultimate lap, but the Ducati struck back down the straight. Crutchlow held P3, Rins P4 and Rossi P5, menacing behind and waiting for the fireworks to begin in the lead. Pushing hard, Marquez had a slight moment with the front at Turn 3, before making a lunge up the inside of Dovi at Turn 10. He couldn’t keep it though as the Desmosedici was able to cut back up the inside on the exit, setting up another classic grandstand finish.
It looked like a carbon copy of 12 months ago at the final corner, but it was the same edge-of-the-seat heart-in-your-mouth moment as Marquez dove through on the inside, sitting up Dovi but running wide as he couldn’t quite get it stopped in time. From there it was another classic point and shoot contest to the line as both gunned it on the exit, but Dovizioso couldn’t be caught and made it out ahead. It was closer than before though, with an infinitesimal 0.023 separating the two as the flag waved. Behind, Crutchlow kept his cool to take a remarkable podium on his first race back since his huge Australian GP crash, with Rins a valiant P4 and Rossi again proving you should never count ‘The Doctor’ out. P5 from P14 on the grid was another impressive race day showing from the nine-time World Champion.
Petrucci would have to settle for P6 on his maiden factory Ducati ride, 2.320 behind his teammate in the end, with polesitter Viñales crossing the line 0.161 back from ‘Petrux’, in P7. Mir produced a fantastic rookie ride to finish just over five seconds off the race win in P8, with the Spaniard beating ninth place Nakagami and tenth place Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) – and just 9.636 covering the top 10 in Qatar.
Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was just 0.011 behind Espargaro in P11 on his debut ride for Yamaha, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team), Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completing the point scoring positions.
So who was the ride of the day? Far from the podium in the end and not scoring any points on his debut, an argument could be made for Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) regardless. The rookie was forced into a pitlane start after issues on the grid ahead of the Warm Up lap, and set about unleashing some almighty pace and nerves of steel for a first ever premier class appearance. Fastest laps flowed from the Frenchman and he was soon into point-scoring contention…although sadly, it wouldn’t last. Too much too early in a bid to catch the group ahead saw Quartararo fade back to P16 by the flag – but only eight tenths off Zarco. Fellow debutant Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) also impressed and, for some time, was top KTM, before fading slightly, a fate that also befell Mir further forward as they all aim to gain more full-length race experience. Final rookie Francesco Bagnaia (Alma Pramac Racing) suffered a DNF, with more to come from him in Argentina for sure, and his more veteran teammate Jack Miller also suffered some bad luck. The Australian fell victim to some problem with his machine that saw him drop from podium contention to suddenly outside the top ten, then retiring before the end of the race.
That’s all she wrote from Qatar but what a story it was. Records broken and history made, five riders in six tenths makes for an awesome opener…even before looking at the winning margin of 0.023. But then, past the stats, it’s much more than a numbers game and always has been. Dedication, precision, passion, talent, confidence, pressure, potential, evolution, rivalry…and respect. This is MotoGP™ and we’re back in business. Tune in for the Gran Premio Motul de la Republica Argentina on March 31st for more, because we’ve only just begun.
Flexbox HP 40’s Lorenzo Baldassarri had to fight off huge last lap pressure from the returning Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) to take Moto2™ victory at the VisitQatar Grand Prix, with the duel going down to the line. The Italian led from Lap 2 but had to withstand some serious pressure in the final sector of the last lap to hold off a swarming Lüthi, eventually taking the chequered flag just 0.026 clear of the Swiss rider. Dynavolt Intact GP’s Marcel Schrötter completed the podium from pole.
As the lights went out it was Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) who took the holeshot from the middle of the front row of the grid, but a big crash behind drew focus early on Lap 1. Debutant Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46), Iker Lecuona (American Racing KTM) and Jorge Navarro (+Ego Speed Up) all crashed, before Red Bull KTM Tech 3’s Marco Bezzechi then fell out of contention on his debut ride.
Back at the front, Baldassarri had blasted his way past Vierge on Lap Two before slowly but surely beginning to build up an advantage over the chasing pack. Despite taking the holeshot, Vierge then started to slip backwards, dropping from second to fifth inside four corners. Schrötter, Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) and Vierge’s EG 0,0 Marc VDS teammate Alex Marquez all made their way past.
Lüthi then got in on the act, fighting his way through to fifth place before setting back-to-back lap records around the Losail International Circuit to close in on Marquez and then get past him. The Kalex rider then sliced into third place past Australian Gardner with six laps to go, soon after setting up a grandstand finish by catching and passing teammate Schrötter with four laps on the clock.
The former MotoGP™ rider had 0.821 to pull in to catch Baldassarri at the front and with just a lap left, he had managed to cut that advantage down to nothing and was all over the rear of the Italian’s Kalex. Baldassarri was able to hold off off Lüthi’s charge for three quarters of the lap but the Swiss rider looked the favourite going into the final sector, applying huge pressure. It wasn’t enough, however, as Baldassarri’s defensive riding was enough to keep him at bay despite the fact the pair exited the final corner side-by-side – with Baldassarri holding on by just 0.026 to take the win.
Gardner initially stole third place from Schrötter on the final lap, but the German slipstreamed his way past the Australian to take the final step on the rostrum by two thousandths and complete a Dynovolt Intact GP double podium finish. Flexbox HP 40’s Augusto Fernandez came from row four of the grid to take fifth place, hugely impressive as he ended the race narrowly ahead of Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2).
Marquez eventually had to settle for seventh but was over two seconds clear of Sky Racing Team VR46’s Luca Marini in a lonely eighth place. Italtrans Racing Team’s Enea Bastianini was one of the rides of the day to take ninth on his Moto2™ debut, fighting off Vierge, who eventually slipped down to tenth. Fabio Di Giannantonio (+Ego Speed Up) took P11 as second rookie, ahead of a tougher race for Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Brad Binder.
A nail-biting start to a new era in Moto2™ saw Baldassarri collect a commemorative first Triumph-powered race win trophy alongside his VisitQatar Grand Prix race winner prize. With a plethora of riders showing their potential this weekend, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll collect 25 points in Argentina.
Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) became the first Japanese winner in Moto3™ and the first in the lightweight class since Tomoyoshi Koyama took victory in the 125cc race at the 2007 Catalan GP after a stunning ride at the VisitQatar Grand Prix. He’s also the first Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup Champion to become a Grand Prix winner after duelling it out in style to the line against Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing), the man who just lost out, and polesitter Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), who completed the podium.
Toba started third on the grid but it was Canet who got the initial good launch to lead into Turn 1, with Toba slotting into P2 ahead of second on the grid Dalla Porta. There was drama on the opening lap further back though, with Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai), Tom Booth-Amos (CIP – Green Power), Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Makar Yurchenko (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) crashing out of contention at Turn 6. There was no drama further up, however, with Canet, Dalla Porta, Albert Arenas (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) and Tony Arbolino (Snipers Team) getting an initial break in the lead before a front group of the top 19 started to form; just two seconds covering them in true Moto3™ style.
The lead swapped and changed between several riders, with Toba forcing his way to the front on Lap 6. A 19-rider fight then became 16, Turn 6 the location again as another multiple rider crash occurred – this time it was Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46), Kazuki Masaki (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) and Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) who crashed out. Fellow SIC58 Squadra Corse rider Niccolo Antonelli then had a turn at leading the freight train with 10 to go, before Romano Fenati (Snipers Team) took the baton off his compatriot to lead for the first time in Qatar. Nine laps remained.
The lead was changing lap by lap and any one of the top 15 were still in with a shout at the win. Then, with four laps to go, a major talking point of the race happened. Fenati seemed to misunderstand a track limits warning that appeared on his dashboard and the Italian then dived into the new ‘Long Lap Penalty’ area on the outside of Turn 6 to drop him from fourth to 12th. He wasn’t out of it though as the top 13 were covered by less than two seconds with just three laps to go.
By the final lap it was Toba who led once again and it soon became a three-way fight for the win between him, Canet and Dalla Porta. Coming into Turn 16, the Italian had the advantage but Toba timed the slipstream to perfection to just beat him to the chequered flag, taking the number 27 of childhood hero Casey Stoner back onto the top step. Dalla Porta was forced to settle for P2, with Canet coming home third.
Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) took P4, with Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) crossing the line in fifth to get his rookie Moto3™ season off to a great start as the top debutant. Arenas, a contender for the win throughout, beat reigning Junior Moto3™ World Champion and teammate Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) to the line by 0.028, making it 6th and 7th respectively for the duo.
2016 Qatar GP winner Antonelli was just 0.004 off Fernandez in P8, with Fenati salvaging P9 after looking odds on for at least a podium on his return. Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PrüstelGP) rounded out the top ten, less than a second from the win.
History made in Qatar, it’s next stop Argentina for the field – with Toba the first Championship leader of the season.
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