Sergio Garcia once again leads the Moto3 championship after a phenomenal victory, followed by Jaume Masia and Ayumu Sasaki.
With the QP of the lightweight class being a thriller in of itself on Saturday, there was no doubt that the opening race of the day would prove to be an intense one. With the Poleman Deniz Öncü ending Q2 just 0.017s ahead of Mario Aji, fans awaited eagerly for the lights to go out come Sunday.
As Öncü shot off the line to take the holeshot, it was Sergio Garcia who nailed the start, catapulting into P3 from 6th on the grid into Turn 1, soon claiming second position into the second corner. Towards the end of the opening lap, Öncü and Garcia already began to break away from the pack, as Aji held strong in third place. Across the line, it was Garcia to claim the lead from the Red Bull KTM Tech 3 rider, capitalising on a minute error by the Turkish rider. With all the excitement up front, it appeared to be the opposite for title leader Dennis Foggia, as the Leopard Racing rider was beaten up off the line and managed to lose 5 positions on the opening lap. This race would prove to be a tough recovery for the Italian.
As Garcia lead the race into Lap 2, Izan Guevara began to drag the rest of the pack back up to the front-runners. Bridging the gap to Öncü after gaining 6 positions from the start, it wasn’t long until Guevara made an attempt for P2 across the line, as Öncü once again took a wider line through the final corner. However, Öncü was able to defend his position this time around, but it was only a matter of time before Guevara would make another dive. While the fight for second place only brought the rest of the pack into contention, Garcia continued to form a gap in the lead.
With the race well and truly underway, Sasaki was on the charge up the order and on the way to the fight for second place. As the junior class headed into lap 5, the contenders for P2 were three-abreast across the line, as both Guevara and Sasaki made light work of Öncü. The Turkish rider continued to struggle in the opening sector, with Carlos Tatay hot on his heels. Meanwhile, fellow KTM rider Jaume Masia joined the group, another rider on the rise from a lacklustre grid position – gaining 10 positions from P15 in 6 laps. Soon enough, the boys in orange were side by side, as Öncü continued to struggle, and Masia found his pace – claiming the fastest lap time of 1:48.468.
With 15 laps to go, the front-runners – minus Garcia – began to separate into pairs, with Guevara and Sasaki closing in on the race leader, and Masia and Öncü breaking away for P4. Meanwhile, a 7-man battle had formed for P6, with Foggia in the mix. Slowly but surely, Garcia’s lead was getting shorter and shorter, as teammate Guevara lead the charge, bringing the entire top 5 along with him.
It only took a further 3 laps before Garcia’s lead came to an end, as Guevara’s sheer relentlessness put the Spaniard at the front of the pack. As we reached the halfway point, it was anyone’s race as the top 5 had a 4.7 second gap back to the battle for 6th. As Guevara attempted to break away, Öncü struggled to hold onto the group. However, as the leading quartet all made dives at one another, Öncü was able to somewhat rejoin the fight.
Once again, the leading quarter fanned out across the line heading into lap 12, and it was Sasaki who was able to take advantage of the slipstream, gliding into first position. Meanwhile, there was brief contact between Garcia and Masia as the pair slotted into the following positions. The shuffling of the pack resulted in both GASGAS Aspar Team riders looking to recover the lead, with Garcia ahead of Guevara in third position.
As the race hit 9 laps to go, it was simply unpredictable as none of the top 5 appeared relenting. Garcia was able to once again resume the lead into Turn 1, even breaking away by a few tenths, but Masia remained a clear threat throughout the lap, and took to the front a lap later. It soon became apparent that we were in for another last-lap dash to the line, as is the way in Moto3. In the following laps, it was a matter of calculating who had the best benefit in which position across the start/finish straight, as we witnessed even Öncü take to the front from the rear of the group.
With the lightweight class heading into its final lap, it was Sasaki who lead across the line. However, Garcia was able to work the slipstream to his favour, catapulting into the lead heading into Turn 1. Once again, a brief gap was able to form, but it was Masia on the hunt in P2. As Masia continued to push Garcia through the final sector, there was barely even room to breathe for the entire top 5, any error for any of them would have costed them a podium position. However, Garcia’s mastery of the final corner proved crucial in maintaining just enough of a lead for the Spaniard to claim the victory in Portugal.
Commendation to the entire Top 5, it really couldn’t be called! But once again, Garcia had the perfect final lap. Masia just missed out on the win by 0.069s, while Sasaki took the final step on the podium. Öncü held his ground to take P4, as Guevara settled for 5th place. Out of the giant battle for 6th, it was Tatay who came out on top in a great run, just ahead of Andrea Migno in 7th.
Dennis Foggia was able to take 8th place, after Diogo Moreira lost two positions post-race for track limits, but Garcia’s win means that the Leopard Racing rider ultimately loses his title lead, sitting just one point behind.
We head to Jerez this week for Round 6 of the season. Can Foggia retake the crown, or will Garcia once again prove perfect come the final lap?
Feature Image: MotoGP.com