A second victory of the season came Celestino Vietti’s (SKY Racing Team VR46) way in the Moto3™ race at the SHARK Helmets Grand Prix de France. The Italian left it late but produced the goods to take the 25-point haul by 0.142 seconds as Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team) and Albert Arenas (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3) complete the podium. The latter reclaims the Championship lead as Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) salvages a P9 finish.
And it was Arenas who launched perfectly as the lights went out and easily grabbed the holeshot, polesitter Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing) and fellow front row starter John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) didn’t get the best of getaways. Masia though recovered and was into P2 on the opening lap, McPhee dropped to P11 while Championship leader Ogura slipped to P25 from 17th on the grid. Arenas led Lap 1 with Masia and Arbolino in hot pursuit, as a typical Moto3™ freight train formed.
Masia then grabbed the lead on Lap 3 as the Spaniard used the added Honda grunt to demote Arenas to P2, a lead group of 13 had formed. On the third lap Arenas was shuffled back to P5 as the fairing bashing began, Arbolino, Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) and Vietti getting the better of the early race leader. Squabbling and a mistake in the final sector from Arbolino allowed Masia to have a little bit of breathing space at the front, as Darryn Binder (CIP Green Power) started to make great progress through the top 10 – the Barcelona winner was up to P3 past Arenas at Turn 13 and looking good. Binder and Arenas then shoved their way through on Arbolino on Lap 7 for P2 and P3.
And on Lap 7, two of the front runners were down at Turn 13. The two Sterilgarda Max Racing Team machines were in the gravel and out of the race, Alonso Lopez and Romano Fenati tangling after Lopez slammed into the back of his Husqvarna teammate. Injured Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) – who had just set the fastest lap of the race – then crashed out of the lead group, Turn 8 catching the Italian out, rider ok.
With some early race drama unfolding, the lead group had been cut to 11 riders, McPhee at the back of it. Masia was stilling holding P1 with Arenas now his closest challenger, with Binder once again proving Turn 13 is his territory – the KTM star diced his way past Arbolino and set the fastest lap of the race heading onto Lap 10 of 22. Binder just four thousandths off the Moto3™ lap record. One thing to note was Vietti’s tyre choice. The Italian was the only rider on the hard rear tyre and it was the VR46 rider who set the fastest lap of the race, a masterstroke? We’d soon find out.
With 12 to go, Masia lost the lead for the first time since the third lap. Arenas, Binder and Arbolino were all through on the Spaniard but it was going to change all the time as the race entered squeaky bum time. McPhee was P10 and 0.8 seconds off ninth place Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo), but the Scotsman was starting to reel in the leaders with personal best laps of his race as Masia and Arbolino carved their way past Arenas into Turn 3, the riders getting a little too close for comfort into the tricky left-hander with eight laps left.
With seven to go, a scary moment occurred. Coming out of Turn 10, Binder was out the seat but not only that, his KTM then suddenly had no power. Thankfully, and somehow, all the riders managed to avoid the third place rider but it was day done for the Catalan GP winner. It was all starting to bubble up to the surface in Le Mans, crucial Championship points were on the line and with Ogura only just getting into the point-scoring positions, the title race was going to take another twist. The cameras panned to show McPhee and Jeremy Alcoba (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) walking away from a crash scene, but what had happened? Alcoba had just passed McPhee and Fernandez but coming out of Turn 10, the reigning Junior World Champion highsided. McPhee was left with nowhere to go and the title contender was down – a huge blow for McPhee’s 2020 hopes with four laps remaining.
Three to go and Masia led the 16-wheel lightweight class train. Arbolino, Arenas, Vietti, Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3), Andrea Migno (SKY Racing Team VR46), Rodrigo and Fernandez all in the victory hunt. With two and a half laps to go, Masia was wide at Turn 8 and Vietti said thank you very much to dive underneath Arenas and Masia. The latter was down to P4 heading onto the last lap of the race, Vietti led from Arenas and Arbolino. Arbolino was up to P2 heading into Turn 3, Arenas down to P3.
Vietti was formidable on the last lap and didn’t allow anyone to get close enough to attempt a pass. Arbolino defended well against Arenas and wanted to try and attack, but Vietti was too strong and took the chequered flag in P1 – a fantastic race from the Italian who moves up to third in the standings, just 16 adrift of top spot. A second win of the season for Vietti, who finishes 0.142 ahead of compatriot Arbolino. He too makes significant ground in the title race with his fourth rostrum of the season, Arenas settled for P3 but it’s a result that moves him back to the top of the Championship.
After leading for most of the race, Masia misses out on a podium by less than two tenths. Slim margins matter in Grand Prix racing, and even more so in Moto3™ - that Turn 8 error costing the Spaniard. Migno makes it a great day for SKY Racing Team VR46, a top five for the Italian is his best result since P4 at the Spanish GP. After suffering several doses of bad luck in 2020, Sasaki claims a fantastic P6 at Tech3’s home Grand Prix – the Japanese rider’s first top 10 of the year. Fernandez was in the lead group throughout to pick up a solid P7, Rodrigo eventually slipped to P8 as the leading eight riders finished 13 seconds ahead of former Championship leader Ogura.
The Japanese rider will be disappointed with P9 at Le Mans, but it was a great recovery in the second half of the race. A top 10 after sitting outside the top 20 in the opening stages is a job well done for Ogura all things considered, but he squanders the title lead to Arenas. Ogura now sits six behind heading to the Aragon double header. Rounding out the top 10 was Carlos Tatay (Reale Avintia Moto3) – his best result of the year. The reigning Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup winner beat a gaggle of riders to the line – Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0), Filip Salac (Rivacold Snipers Team), Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) and Riccardo Rossi (BOE Skull Rider Facile Energy) were in that group, with Stefano Nepa (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3) picking up the final point.
So the Championship lead changes once again. Arenas is back in charge and will head to MotorLand Aragon with a six point advantage over Ogura as the top four sit just 20 points apart – Vietti and Arbolino charging into contention.
1. Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46)
2. Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team) +0.142
3. Albert Arenas (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3) +0.198
4. Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing) +0.336
5. Andrea Migno (SKY Racing Team VR46) +0.569
6. Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3) +0.834
7. Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) +1.361
8. Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) +1.625
9. Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) +15.003
10. Carlos Tatay (Reale Avintia Moto3) +15.139