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Rookie no more: eyes on the prize as Mir returns to Austria

Last year’s first time winner is now this year’s odds-on favourite at the Red Bull Ring

At the Austrian GP in 2016, Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) cemented his bid for Rookie of the Year by taking his first ever pole position and following it up with his first ever win. With the Majorcan Championship leader seeming to slowly erode the morale of his competitors on a regular basis this season, he’ll be walking extra-tall on the way into the Red Bull Ring.

Key rival Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) arrives with a little less track time at the venue, too. Last season the Italian didn’t race after splitting with his previous team following qualifying, although he was set to line up in P11. So he knows the track, but hasn’t had a dress rehearsal for trying to defeat Mir this year.

The good reading for the Championship leader continues: Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) had a tough time last year in Austria, coming home outside the points. But the Spaniard is a different competitor in 2017 as he gains more and more experience, and proved his mettle once more in the Czech GP – coming from way down the grid to complete the podium, and in tricky conditions. In doing so, he kept his title hopes alive. If he can qualify closer to Mir, he’ll be aiming to do much more than limit the damage.

John McPhee (British Talent Team) was another who put on a great show from further down the grid to take sixth, and recovered well from a tough qualifying. Now fourth in the Championship and wanting to break clear of those on the chase, McPhee should be another threat. The man he overtook in the standings – ‘Mr Pole Position’ Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) – broke his leg in Germany and tried to ride in Brno, but was forced to pull out of the event. He was, however, passed fit to try and ride – so he’s a sure bet for another attempt in Austria, following another few days of recovery. He came sixth last year.

Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0) was on the podium last year and Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) took a solid top ten in 2016 – along with Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46): the omens are good for many of the class of 2017.

There’s one home hero on the grid – Maximilian Kofler, who is racing as a wildcard with his Motorsport Kofler E.U. team. And Philipp Oettl (Südmetall Schedl GP Racing), although German, is from closer to the Red Bull Ring than the Sachsenring – making it a home race of sorts. He came fifth in 2016 too, only a few tenths off the win in the final battle to the line in the front group.

Now 42 points clear, Mir is certainly in the driving seat. But as Moto2™ showed at Brno, everything can change remarkably quickly – and there’s still a maximum 200 points to play for. Moto3™ start the Austrian GP on Friday at 9:00 (GMT +2), before the lights go out for the race at 11:00 on Sunday.