The first race of the year sees the podium split by less than a tenth as Moto3™ returns with a bang
Moto3™ opened the season in style at the Barwa Grand Prix of Qatar as Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) fought off rookie sensation teammate Pedro Acosta and Petronas Sprinta Racing’s Darryn Binder for victory in the first race of the year, with less than a tenth covering the three over the line after a classic Moto3™ melee.
Off the line it was Binder who took the holeshot, with the number 40 getting the hammer down from pole position as a freight train immediately fired up behind him. There was early drama elsewhere on the grid for Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) though as the Italian jumped the start, and not long after that Dennis Foggia’s (Leopard Racing) race came to an end at Turn 3 as the Italian had contact from Carlos Tatay (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3). Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech3) then went down at Turn 6, but at the front the battle raged on.
Binder retained the lead but the insane slipstream effect was seen on the front straight as five riders shot past the South African before Turn 1, with Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) taking the lead in a gaggle of 10 riders. By Lap 3 there was more drama, however, as fast-starting rookie Xavier Artigas (Leopard Racing) overcooked it. After an incredible start it came to an early end and, unfortunately, three other riders fell foul of the Spaniard’s mistake: John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing), Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) and Jeremy Alcoba (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3). Artigas was given a double long lap penalty to serve next time out.
Despite that crash, there remained 14 riders covered by just two seconds and the lead, mostly on the run into Turn 1, was changing every single lap. Friday pacesetter Kaito Toba (CIP Green Power) was one of the riders up front as he and Binder had a nice little scrap on Lap 9, and rookie sensations Izan Guevara (GASGAS Gaviota Aspar) and Acosta were battling it out in the group alongside the likes of Masia, Sergio Garcia (GASGAS Gaviota Aspar), Rodrigo, Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) – the latter, incredibly, from the very back of the grid.
With eight laps to go, Masia and Acosta were leading the way but the ever-present Binder was getting his elbows out. The South African and Rodrigo came into slight contact a couple of times but with seven to go, a potentially costly mistake from Rodrigo saw the Argentine run wide at Turn 2, with replays showing he rubbed wheels with Masia in a close call. He was soon back in the fight but had work to do.
Lap 13 then saw Binder return to P1 for the first time in a good handful of laps, but Masia bit back at Turn 6 on the same lap. Then, Acosta followed his teammate through to shove Binder back to P3. 13 riders, with six laps to go, were racing just 1.6 seconds apart. Sasaki was now leading heading into the last four laps but yet again, the slipstream effect was like shuffling the deck and Acosta was back up in P1, with teammate Masia tucked in behind.
By three to go, Sasaki, Binder and Masia was the top three but any one of 13 riders could still count themselves as in the fight for the win. Rodrigo was back up into fourth after his earlier error and Sasaki enjoyed a lap a the front, but the Japanese star was swamped at the end of the straight, shuffled to P7 and Masia back in front from Binder and Rodrigo.
Nearing the final lap, Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3) had shot up from the group to lead but it didn’t last for the experienced Italian and former Qatar winner. Masia slipstreamed back to lead into Turn 1 for the final lap, and drama then suddenly hit for a key contender as Sasaki’s race ended with a heart-breaking crash at Turn 2. After that, a gap formed between the leading three and the chasing pack, and it was seemingly Masia vs Acosta vs Binder for victory. And so it played out. Into the final corner the number 5 had just enough breathing space, but with Acosta and Binder so close behind it would come down to the run to the line.
Binder, slightly deep into the last corner, had a two-bike slipstream but Masia was able to keep both Acosta and Binder behind him to take the first 25 points of 2021. A brilliant ride from the Spaniard and an equally outstanding effort from reigning Red Bull Rookies Cup winner Acosta to take a maiden Grand Prix podium in his World Championship debut. Binder was satisfied with P3, a fantastic way to open his account with Petronas Sprinta Racing as the South African settles into life on a Honda.
Garcia claimed P4 after just losing touch with the podium battle on the final lap, but the Spaniard finished just 0.435s from the win. Rodrigo recovered well to salvage P5, ahead of Antonelli in a solid sixth. Guevara may have lost out in the battle of the rookies to Acosta this time around, but finishing under a second from victory in P7 was a terrific job by the current FIM Moto3™ Junior World Champion. Tatsuki Suzuki, who missed testing due to illness, took eighth to impress too – up from the very back.
Toba and Jason Dupasquier (CarXpert PrüstelGP) completed the top 10 as the latter picks up his best Grand Prix finish yet, with Romano Fenati recovering to P11. Tatay after a Long Lap for causing a collision, Filip Salač (Rivacold Snipers Team), Ryusei Yamanaka (CarXpert PrüstelGP) and Maximilian Kofler (CIP Green Power) were the remaining point scorers in Qatar.
Drama, scintillating racing, and a ridiculously tight finish? Check. Moto3™ delivered at the Qatar GP as Red Bull KTM Ajo take home maximum points, with Masia the first victor of the season. The best thing? We get to do it all over again next weekend at Losail International Circuit!
1 Jaume Masia – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 38:29.620
2 Pedro Acosta – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – +0.042
3 Darryn Binder – Petronas Sprinta Racing – Honda – +0.094
Jaume Masia: “I’m very happy for this win, we confirmed our potential and the work done in winter. It was not easy to manage this race, a lot of wind in the fast corners and when I exited first onto the straight I arrived at Turn 1 in fifth or sixth which was difficult. I kept my mind as calm as possible and tried to keep focused on the last laps and not make any mistakes. I did the last lap in first, I tried to push more and do a good clean lap without mistakes. In the end I didn’t know 100% if I could cross the line first but finally I did and I want to thank my team and family for the support. We will see in the next races!”
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