Flawless Fernandez capitalises on huge drama for first win

Arenas, Vietti, Masia and McPhee all fail to score points as the Moto3™ title race hits overdrive. Garcia and Ogura complete the podium

A flawless ride from Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) saw the Spaniard claim his maiden Moto3™ World Championship victory in an extraordinarily dramatic race at the Gran Premio de Europa. 2019 Valencia winner Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) picks up his first podium of the season in P3 as Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) grabs a podium to cut Albert Arenas’ (Valresa Aspar Team Moto3) Championship lead to just three points. The Spaniard was forced to retire after getting tangled up in an incident between Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) and Alonso Lopez (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team).

As the lights went out the riders roared off the line and there was some slight contact between Lopez and Arenas, but the fastest off the line was Vietti as the Italian grabbed the holeshot. Polesitter John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) didn’t get a bad launch but the Scotsman was swamped in the first sector, with Vietti leading around the first lap. However, unbelievable title drama would unfold on Lap 2.

Coming out of Turn 4, Vietti got on the gas too quickly and he highsided. Just behind, Arenas did well to stay on but Lopez could do nothing and clattered into the back of the Spaniard’s KTM. Lopez went down with Vietti, the Italian managing to remount but the damage from Lopez hitting Arenas was incredibly costly for the latter. There was a problem with Arenas’ bike and at the end of the second lap, Arenas was forced to pull into pitlane. It was all hands on deck for the mechanics and Arenas was back out on track on Lap 6 of the race, but the chances of him finishing in the points were incredibly slim.

At the front, the drama had played into the hands of Fernandez. The KTM star had a two second lead over the chasing pack that was briefly led by Ogura, who was now in prime position to take the Championship lead off Arenas. By Lap 6 the gap for Fernandez was 2.7 seconds and just before that, McPhee crashed out at Turn 1 – title race over for the British rider?

Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team) was spearheading the chasing pack and starting Lap 8, Fernandez’ gap was still 2.7 seconds. The Italian was right in title contention and knew that three contenders were either out or lapping right at the back – it was game on. Garcia was shadowing Arbolino in P3 with Ogura and Darryn Binder (CIP Green Power) in hot pursuit, but they weren’t damaging Fernandez’ lead at this stage.

Then, yet another title hopeful crashed. After starting P28 and getting himself up to P16, Masia crashed out and the Spaniard limped away relatively unscathed. A situation then occurred where Arenas was back on track, a few laps down and mixing it the podium battle where Ogura and Arbolino were scrapping it out. After a lap, Arenas did drop back to behind fifth place Binder but then overtook the South African again. Arenas was getting the blue flags, meaning he needs to let the other riders through and then, unfortunately, the inevitable happened – black flag for Arenas on Lap 13 and his race was done as Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) took a long lap penalty from inside the top 10. Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) then crashed unhurt at Turn 2 after contact with Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3).

So, back to the lead and Fernandez was still over two seconds up the road from Arbolino, Ogura and Garcia, Binder was 1.3 seconds adrift of the podium fight with Carlos Tatay (Reale Avintia Moto3) just 1.3 seconds off Binder in P6. A crucial eight laps were coming up and Ogura knew that a P2 finish would see him take the Championship lead with two races remaining. At the same time, Arbolino knew that a P2 was crucial for his chances. Garcia was looking for his first podium of the season on a track he won at last season, Fernandez was 2.2 seconds up the road.

The gap was coming down. The three chasers were into the 1:39s and were quicker than Fernandez, the gap was now less than two seconds as Garcia didn’t fancy an overtake on Arbolino. The trio were boxing clever, Arbolino – with seven laps to go – had some serious pace and the last thing they needed to do was trip over each other. Ogura then made a move at Turn 1 though, the Japanese rider was up to P3 and the gap with six to go was 1.9 seconds.

Garcia bit back at Turn 6 and Ogura then grabbed P3 back as the duo started to scrap. Garcia was back into P3 at Turn 1 and the gap was now down to 1.7 between Fernandez and Arbolino. Four to go and Fernandez’ lead was still 1.7 seconds, Garcia in the slipstream couldn’t get past Arbolino and the Spaniard then lost P3 to Ogura, the latter back up into the podium positions while halfway around the lap, the gap was now 1.5 seconds. The chasing riders were really testing Fernandez heading onto the final three laps and it was almost disaster for Ogura through Turn 2. A big moment for the Honda rider as Garcia then pounced – a huge warning sign for Ogura.

Two to go. Fernandez was faster than the three behind him and the gap was back up to 1.7, it looked like the MotorLand podium man had this in the bag. Last lap time and the lead was 1.4 seconds as Arbolino had a huge twitch at Turn 1, Garcia was up the inside of the Italian and into P2. Garcia had nothing to lose, Arbolino and Ogura had everything to lose. Ogura picked Arbolino’s pocket at Turn 6 and Arbolino was now off the podium. Garcia had broken the two title contenders and the gap was down to a second, but it was too little too late.

Ogura went defensive at the final corner to cover Arbolino – and it worked. The chequered flag came out and fantastic Fernandez crossed the line to take his first Grand Prix victory by 0.7 seconds over Garcia. Ogura returned to the podium for the first time since the Emilia Romagna GP and in doing so, closes the gap to Arenas to just three points with three to play. Arbolino was second heading onto the last lap but ends P4, the Italian is now 23 points from the top of the Championship – a good day for all the top four.

Binder dropped off the podium battle and eventually took P5 – but only just. Tatay was just 0.032 off the South African as the 2019 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup Champion claims his best Moto3™ result. Interestingly, the gap between the top five in Valencia was 13.392 seconds, whereas if you add together the gap between the top five in every races of 2020, the total is 6.845 seconds – an unusual but riveting lightweight class race.

Stefano Nepa (Valresa Aspar Team Moto3) led a huge gaggle of riders over the line to pick up a great P7, that’s a career-best for the Italian. Jeremy Alcoba (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3), Filip Salac (Rivacold Snipers Team) and Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3) rounded out the top 10.

Incredible drama in Moto3™ once again as four of the top six in the Championship score 0 points in Valencia. Arenas still leads the title race but his advantage is severely cut as five riders head into the final two races just 24 points apart. Vietti finished the race but it was a disaster for the 2021 Moto2™ competitor, but luckily, he’s still only 20 points away.

The lightweight class will do it all again at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in seven days’ time, what happens next Sunday is anyone’s guess.

Top 10:
1. Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo)
2. Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) + 0.703
3. Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) + 1.005
4. Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team) + 1.037
5. Darryn Binder (CIP Green Power) + 13.392
6. Carlos Tatay (Reale Avintia Moto3) + 13.424
7. Stefano Nepa (Valresa Aspar Team Moto3) + 16.719
8. Jeremy Alcoba (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) + 16.824
9. Filip Salac (Rivacold Snipers Team) + 16.964
10. Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3) + 17.088

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