Alexis Masbou wasn’t too quick throughout free practice for the opening round of 2015 Moto3 at Losail International Circuit in Qatar, but showed his true strength during qualifying.
During qualifying, The SAXOPRING RTG Honda pilot edged out Husqvarna Factory Laglisse’s Isaac Vinales by 0.067 of a second for the pole, and the top-five riders all qualified within a tenth of a second.
Tight battles were expected during Sunday’s Moto3 race, and these expectations proved true, with the top-nine riders separated by just a second. Masbou was able to carry his momentum into Sunday, and earn his debut Moto3 victory after an exciting finish.
The French rider took the checkered flag by a mere 0.027 of a second ahead of Gresini Racing Team Moto3’s Enea Bastianini and 0.142 of a second ahead of Leopard Racing Honda’s Danny Kent.
During the race, a group of 10 riders battled for the win. The Moto3 grid were all on medium front and rear tires, except for Hiroki Ono, who used a harder rear tire.
There was drama from the start as Francesco Bagnaia went up the inside of Miguel Oliveira at Turn 1 with the Red Bull KTM Ajo rider, and race favorite, crashing out. A strong recovery saw the Portuguese rider battle back to 16th, but he did not dwell on this, saying “I sincerely believe that I could have been fighting for victory today, if everything had gone well, but racing is like this. We have to forget this result and take only the positives away from this race.”
With the departure of Oliveira a frantic battle ensued that saw a multitude of riders, including Brad Binder and Moto3 rookie Fabio Quartararo, briefly lead. Turn 1 was a popular overtaking spot with riders able to take advantage of a slipstream down the straight to gain several positions. The top 12 riders were all together during the opening stages before Danny Kent Bastianini, Francesco Bagnaia and Efren Vazquez made a brief break.
Bagnaia and his Mahindra were one of the surprises of the race, able to fight with the top riders and compete for the win. The young Italian overtaking Vazquez around the outside and able to maintain his lead in the race despite a small mistake. He eventually finished in ninth, within a second of Masbou. No doubt he will be a podium contender as the season progresses. “I did my best, but in the last lap Quartararo touched me, and I went wide. We could have made the podium today,” he said.
Third on the podium was Kent, the British rider attempting to lead and break up the front pack at several points during the race. “I’m happy with the result, coming out of the last corner it’s anyone’s race with a big group like that,” commented Kent. The Leopard Racing rider has often struggled during the early races so begins 2015 on strong ground.
Perhaps the most impressive ride of the weekend went to Bastianini in second, recovering from a disastrous 21st position on the grid. His Gresini Racing Team switched from KTM to Honda machinery and a lack of dry testing seriously hindered the Italian. The end of the first lap had him already challenging the top ten, he then went on to lead for much of the last lap before Masbou gained better drive out of the final corner. An excited Bastianini said, “I’m very happy because we had a difficult weekend. Today was perfect. The last corner was tough because I couldn’t get a better drive. Next week the win is possible.” Bastianini finished 13th at COTA last year.
Masbou was able to show his vast experience in the class, sitting in the pack and waiting for an opportunity during the race. It was not easy for the SAXOPRINT RTG rider, who found himself outside the top five on the final lap. A strong final two sectors saw him tuck behind Bastianini and wait for the final corner, going on to win by just 0.027s. Masbou previously took victory in Brno last year, where the podium was identical to the one at Qatar today. “I was scared on the last lap because I wasn’t in the top five. In T3 and T4 I was very strong. At the end I didn’t think I could do it! I stuck behind Efren and Enea and waited for the straight. Perfect!” commented a relieved Masbou.
Whilst several Italians shone in the race, it was a different matter for Romano Fenati. The SKY Racing Team VR46 rider was a title favourite coming into the season and had previously had strong results at Qatar, claiming a podium in his first Moto3 race. The Italian was only able to manage 17th in Qualifying and had a tough start to the race, battling with Darryn Binder in 19th for the majority of the race. The Italians efforts ended in a DNF.
There were crashes for Niklas Ajo, Remy Gardner, Hiroki Ono and Livio Loi who were all unable to remount.
The next race in the Moto3 World Championship will take place at the Circuit of the Americas on April 12.