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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