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Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) became the first Japanese winner in the lightweight class since Tomoyoshi Koyama took victory in the 125cc race at the 2007 Catalan GP after a stunning ride in the Moto3™ race at the VisitQatar Grand Prix.
Round 1: Moto3™ VisitQatar Grand Prix in full
Toba started third on the grid but it was polesitter Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) who got the initial good launch from the line to lead into Turn 1, with Toba slotting into P2 ahead of second on the grid Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing).
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, with the already injured Masia heading to the medical centre for a checkup.
Back at the front and it was Canet, Dalla Porta, Albert Arenas (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) and Tony Arbolino (Snipers Team) who got an initial break, but it wasn’t long before a lead group of top 19 formed – two seconds covering them in true Moto3™ fashion.
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 to go.
The lead was changing lap by lap and with eight laps to go, any one of the top 15 were still in with a shout of 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, the Italian then dived into the new ‘penalty lap’ area on the outside of Turn 6 to drop him from fourth to 12th. Fenati wasn’t out of it though as the top 13 were covered by less than two seconds with just three laps to go.
The lead was changing every lap as the slipstream effect came into play down the front straight, but it was Toba who led onto the final lap, with the Leopard Racing duo tucked in behind. The Japanese rider got his head down and suddenly, himself, Dalla Porta and Canet had forged a small gap to the following pack as it soon became a three-way fight for the win. Coming into Turn 16, Dalla Porta had the advantage but Toba used the slipstream to full effect, powering past his fellow Honda rider down the straight to take the chequered flag in P1, becoming the first Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup Champion to win a Grand Prix. Dalla Porta settled for P2, with Canet coming home third to give himself and Max Biaggi a podium in Qatar.
Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) managed to bring his Honda home in P4, with Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) crossing the line in fifth to get his rookie Moto3™ season off to a great start. 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 – 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 then in the opening race of the lightweight class season, with Toba becoming the first Japanese winner of a GP since Takaaki Nakagami won the 2017 Moto2™ British Grand Prix. What a race to kick start the season!
1. Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia)
2. Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) + 0.053
3. Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) + 0.174
4. Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) + 0.505
5. Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) + 0.584
6. Albert Arenas (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) + 0.818
7. Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) + 0.846
8. Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) + 0.850
9. Romano Fenati (Snipers Team) + 0.890
10. Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PrüstelGP) + 0.903
Click here for the full results!
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