Albert Arenas (Aspar Team Gaviota) played his cards to perfection in the QNB Grand Prix of Qatar to take KTM’s 100th victory in Grand Prix racing, outlasting a last gasp attack from John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) as the two veterans duelled it out on the drag to the line and ended the race split by only 0.053. Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) completed the top three to take his second podium, crossing the line in fourth but promoted a position as Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing) exceeded track limits on the final lap and was penalised.
Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) took the holeshot from pole and it was initially a case of as you were from the front row round the first few corners, until Arenas attacked Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) to take over in second. But as ever in Moto3™, nothing stays the same for very long at all and the chopping and changing began.
Soon enough, Arenas took over at the front of the freight train and there he would ultimately stay, although it was far from easy going as the group would concertina from five riders to 11 to 20 and then back, with plenty of impressive performers making their mark on the battle. But Arenas, although not always leading, looked very much in control as he consistently remained in the lead or right next to it.
With a few laps to go, McPhee started making his moves. The Brit picked his way through to the top three and then further; his tactics having been to wait it out and then strike. And that he did, almost to perfection as the last lap saw him and Arenas able to pull a few metres clear – just enough to ensure it was a duel to the line.
The Spaniard exited the final corner ahead, with the Scotsman in the slipstream and gaining metre by metre, starting to move to the side… it wasn’t quite enough, however, and as the two neared the line Arenas was still in the driving seat, taking his fourth Grand Prix victory by just 0.053.
Behind McPhee, the next man across the line was Masia but after exceeding track limits on the final lap, the Spaniard was penalised with a one-position drop – putting Ai Ogura onto the podium. The Japanese rider visited the rostrum as a rookie once last year, but he converted his incredible preseason pace into a second chance to stand on the box, and first time out as a sophomore.
Masia was therefore classified fourth, ahead of polesitter Tatsuki Suzuki. Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) was classified sixth after fighting for the win late on, another to fall foul of track limits, with the same true of the man taking seventh: his teammate Jeremy Alcoba. The reigning FIM Moto3™ Junior World Champion was nevertheless the top rookie though.
Filip Salač (Rivacold Snipers Team), the fastest man overall at the Qatar Test, took eighth and his second best result in Grand Prix racing, with Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) in P9 after an impressive ride into top contention at times – from 19th in qualifying. Raul Fernandez completed the top ten, another to get demoted a position due to track limits.
Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) ended up in 11th despite threatening for the lead earlier in the race, ahead of rookie Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), another who faded slightly by the latter stages. Alonso Lopez (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) scored Husqvarna’s first points of the year as they return to Grand Prix racing, the Spaniard taking 13th, with 2019 Qatar winner Kaito Toba and Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team) completing the points. Arbolino was another penalised a position for last lap track limits.
One key player in the race ultimately missing from the results is Darryn Binder (CIP Green Power) as the South African put in a storming performance at the front, only to see his GP end early after he and Arbolino made contact into Turn 1. Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) also crashed, in his case after an incident with Alcoba at Turn 10, but the Italian was able to finish the race.
That’s it from yet another Moto3™ classic to get the season in gear, with Arenas putting his name down in the KTM history books and the Austrian factory hitting a milestone. What will Round 2 bring? The lightweight class will show us soon enough…
Albert Arenas: “It was an incredible race for me, leading so many laps the feeling was really good. I was pushing to the limit, I thought I could lead…but it was hard when I started to fight with them, we had an incident with Tatsuki and I went wide, it was hard to recover but anyway, the feeling was really good and it tastes amazing. KTM worked hard this winter to achieve the 100th victory today in the first race of the season, I’m sure they’re really happy and I am!”
1 – Albert Arenas – (Aspar Team Gaviota) – KTM – 38’08.941
2 – John McPhee – (Petronas Sprinta Racing) – Honda – +0.053
3 – Ai Ogura – (Honda Team Asia) – Honda – +0.344
4 – Jaume Masia – (Leopard Racing) – Honda – +0.247
5 – Tatsuki Suzuki – (SIC58 Squadra Corse) – Honda – +0.789