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13 days ago
By Steve Day

Moto3™: What we learned in Qatar

Commentator Steve Day looks back at the first race of 2017

A cancelled Saturday was not enough to dampen the inevitable excitement of your typical Moto3 race, as the introduction class dished up a great season opener under the night lights of Qatar – with Joan Mir taking the win from John McPhee and Jorge Martin.

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Moto3™: Mir takes close fought victory in Losail

Mir was expected to go well this year based on his feats as Rookie of the Year in 2016, but with the Leopard Racing team switching from KTM to Honda, a few pondered whether it'd take a few races before we saw him gel with the bike. Based on this weekend, if his best is yet to come, then the others had better be worried.

Behind Mir when the flag went out, British Talent Team rider John McPhee hushed a few critics. Despite his win at the soaking wet Brno last year, it was a tough season to endure. Pundits surmised that perhaps the whole experience of fighting lower down the field had labeled his fate in grand prix motorcycle racing, but those that knew John would tell you otherwise.

Back on a Honda with the new Dorna-backed team in conjunction with the forthcoming British Talent Cup, John couldn't have set a finer example to those looking up to him. From 12th on the grid, he not only made light work of getting to the sharp end, he looked like he belonged there and picked up his best ever dry race result.

The last place on the podium went to Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3). From pole, he was a threat throughout, but he fell back to sixth with two laps to go and had to dig deep to pick up his first dry weather podium. The fight he showed in those closing stages demonstrates why he was a young man attracting so much attention at the back end of 2016 - it won't be his last podium.

In races like this, you can't help but feel for the rider finishing in fourth, and on this occasion, missing out on a trophy by 0.034 was EG 0,0 Honda rider Aron Canet. The 17-year-old Spaniard was a live wire last year and it often resulted in a crash or two, but he showed maturity in Qatar and will be one to watch in Argentina - at a circuit he likes.

Fifth and sixth went to two Italian former teammates. Romano Fenati's return to the paddock onboard the Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda is a welcome one if you like a bit of spice. He was a little shy of packing his usual punch, but for a season opener, I doubt he'll lose sleep over fifth place. Andrea Migno is the other Italian in question, the Sky Racing VR46 KTM rider kissed goodbye to some great opportunities in 2016, but he looked very happy to get round one out of the way with solid points and the knowledge that he has the pace to challenge for wins.

Behind the top six, Niccolo Antonelli just lacked the cutting edge to fight for a podium. But with a new team that know how to win, getting a firm top ten finish under his belt was desperately needed for a rider struggling with confidence. I'd imagine the Red Bull KTM Ajo team are satisfied with that for now, though the pressure will mount if he's not on a podium before we head to Europe.

Gresini's Fabio Di Giannantonio was eighth, and was quiet by the standards we've come to expect. He was 15th on the grid and so had work to do, but with four laps to go, he had climbed to fourth, but was surprisingly bullied out of the podium fight and will need to get those gloves off again if he's to find his maiden victory in 2017.

As for the disappointments, look no further than Italian duo Nicolo Bulega and Enea Bastianini. Both were given the task of clawing their way through the field from way down the grid, but neither really sparked into life when the race began. Bulega was off colour and by the time he'd got his act together, the leading pack were gone and so finished in 14th.

Enea Bastianini came off a lot worse though. Nowhere in pre-season testing and nowhere in Qatar, a mistake during the race cost him a chance of any points, but even without it, he was staring at 13th place at best.

Both riders are expected to bounce back immediately and Bulega probably will, but you get the feeling Bastianini isn't quite firing on all cylinders right now, which is exactly the same way as he started last year.

Last year was unique, the entire field were demoralised by a dominant champion: he looked the best and was the best. But Brad Binder has moved on and opportunity knocks. Luck has a part to play sometimes but it's how you win that catches attention.

Despite only beating McPhee by 0.135 of a second, Mir should be feared. He led across the line on thirteen of the eighteen laps, including the most important, but never let himself fall beyond third place in the race, a tactic that was so successful for Binder in 2016.

There are not many riders who after just 20 GPs have wins to their name on a KTM and Honda, but Mir has been there, done it, and arrives back from Qatar with no ruffled feathers.

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#QatarGP: Moto3™ Full Race

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