Moto3: 2016 - The year of the rookie

Moto3: 2016 - The year of the rookie

Whilst South African Brad Binder made history with a fantastic season that led to him winning the 2016 Moto3 championship with Red Bull KTM Ajo, he was still made to work hard for it as a gang of rookies arrived in the paddock wanting to mix things up... a lot. A look back at the amazing 2016 Moto3 season; the full year review.

Danielle Overend

The Moto3 class, made up of many evenly matched aggressive 250cc four stroke machines from three manufacturers, and equally hungry and aggressive riders, usually results in a close race with several fighting for the lead.

We have witnessed this on many occasions throughout the 2016 season which turned out to be action-packed, full of surprises and it’s fair share of controversy, we witnessed old records broken including a South African who won the championship… but no-one was aware of the wrath of the rookies.

No major changes to machinery ahead of the season

The Moto3 class were without the tyre issues that the MotoGP class experienced as they switched manufacturers. Dunlop are very much established in the class, and it came down to the machinery and the riders. Some riders chose to dabble in the changes to the aerodynamics, experimenting with the winglets as they witnessed their elite counterparts do, but their efforts were miniscule in comparison.

The world championship class met for the first time at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar for the season opener under the floodlights. That first meeting, 33 riders of 11 different nationalities lined up on Mahindras (including Peugeot), Hondas and KTM.

Two main 2015 contenders out of the mix

Although there were favourites for the championship, as there is still the factory and independent team split in the class, the two main contributors to the 2015 season were out of the mix. Britain’s Danny Kent took the 2016 Moto3 title with the Leopard Racing Team. The team however, following their success, had decided to progress on to the Moto2 championships; they expanded their team and chose Kent and his rival in the 2015 Moto3 championship Miguel Oliveira to pilot the bikes and so the 2016 championship turned into a blank canvas.

Fenati on pole for season opener

Lined up on that first grid of the season, headed by Sky Racing Team VR46 rider Romano Fenati, who was to find himself in hot water further into the season, along with the regular faces, were 10 rookies. The title ‘rookie’ meant they were new to the class, but their rivals were aware of them having competed with them in other championships, or trained alongside them in the many academies now available, but no-one was aware of the impact they would have on that season when they lined up on the grid for the first time.

With two main rivals out of the competition, Kent and Oliveira, many were keen to get a great start to the season, knowing that in a Moto3 race it would take the slightest mistake that could prove costly when it came to positions and points in the championship. There had been some movement in the paddock prior to the start of the season and over the winter when testing took place, it was Brad Binder who appeared to step up to the plate having dominated the top of the time-sheets. The South African Red Bull KTM Ajo rider, had the machinery and the talent, but was he going to pull it off?

Every round memorable in their own way

Not one of the 18 rounds that took place for the Moto3 classes were without drama. Practice and Qualifying sessions in the build-up to race days consisted of many of the riders following waiting for Brad Binder, or another fast rider, to take to track so that they could follow them in the hope of learning the fast lines. Riders were penalised for ‘over-use of the track’ or ‘exceeding track limits’ as they were sunning running over the coloured painted areas near corners; these penalties would prove significant or costly when it came to race day.

Turn one, or any turn at the end of any length of straight for that matter, would prove to be overtaking hotspots. No-one wanted to be heading into the corner first, especially at the final one of the race, because if they hadn’t managed to shake off the large group that tended to follow by the time they entered it, chances were they would be near the back of the group by the time they left it.

Close finish to the season opener

The season opener at Qatar was full of drama, not only did Niccolo Antonelli just pip the favourite Brad Binder to the finish line by 0.007 seconds as he took advantage of the slipstream, after an intense battle on track, the trouble began back at the Sky Racing Team VR46 camp.

Bulega immediately became one to watch

Italian rookie Nicolo Bulega, a product of the VR46 Racing Academy, definitely became one to watch from the outset of the 2017 season. He stood out for several reasons. The young teenager is incredibly tall, how his parents kept him in clothes growing up was an amazing achievement in itself. Trying to tuck a lad over six foot tall on a 250cc motorbike so that he could benefit from the slipwas another achievement.

His fitness had to be top notch as he had to make extra movements on the bike so not to be penalised by his height. It could be nerve-wracking to watch at times as he would make the adjustments when you would be least expecting it. He also showcased a huge talent, and immediately looked competitive and a danger to the championship from the get-go.

Trouble in the Sky Racing VR46 Team camp

This was much to the dislike of his teammate Fenati, who when they made their way back to their pit garage at the end of the race having failed to finish on the podium after a close race, refused to shake Bulega’s hand. The young rookie stuck his hand out to Fenati, who shunned him much to the shock of Bulega and the rest of the team; was he aware of the threat of his potential straight away?

Grand Prix Commission meeting results in ban on wings

After just one round of the season, a Grand Prix Commission meeting took place following the races in Losail, and as a result some changes were made with immediate effect. The winglets were to be banned for the Moto2 class, and would be for the Moto3 class, but not until the 2017 season.

The class made their way to Argentina for the second round of the season; a round that was to lead to shock and unexpected results. Controversy concerning the Michelin tyres surrounded the MotoGP class as they practiced and qualified in mixed conditions. The weekend began under very hot conditions meaning that riders were struggling with less grip due to the increase in temperature.  Overcoming the conditions, it was Brad Binder who secured his first pole position of the season… but all that work was to be discounted come race day.

Heavy rain causes shock result in Argentina

It rained, heavy and it completely split the pack. The scorching hot conditions had switched to thunderstorms overnight and it was still very wet with more rain falling when the race got underway. The riders were led by Fenati as they teetered into the first corner, but his lead did not last long as Malaysian rookie rider Khairul Idham Pawi pushed his way to the front on his Honda Team Asia bike within laps and then began to pull away, extending his lead to over 25 seconds.

The 17 year old continued to push as the track dried out, and with a handful of laps remaining he found himself coming across back markers. His pit-crew urged him to slow down from the pit wall but there was no stopping the determined Malaysian. He won, and made history becoming the first Malaysian to win at that level, and did it with style.

Weather prohibited travel out of Argentina

Some Moto3 riders and teams struggled to get out of Argentina as the weather conditions caused many delays and disruption to travel arrangements. After a long, hard and tiring journey for some, they finally made their way to Austin, Texas for the third round at the Circuit of the Americas.

Quartararo did not seem to learn from mistakes

It was time for another rider to begin to make his presence felt on the track as Fabio Quartararo, who was brought in as a replacement for the Leopard Racing Team, stood out when things got underway and was fastest on day one. Quartararo, despite always being fast and near the top of the timesheets throughout the season, never had his efforts recognised however as he always pushed too hard at most rounds and had many , many lap times cancelled.

Oetll proved entertaining on and off track

It was German rider Philipp Oettl who secured his first ever Moto3 career pole position however on his Schedl GP Racing KTM ahead of the race after a slippery session due to rainfall. On several occasions throughout the season we would witness him sat in his pit garage, helmet on, eyes shut, and he would be simulating his way through the track, going through the motions with his hand up in front of his face.

Fenati wins at COTA

The feisty Italian Fenati however emerged from COTA as race winner. Antonelli had qualified in 30th on the grid, and made a heroic effort to catch the leaders before crashing on the penultimate lap. It was a comfortable win for Fenati who crossed the line 6.5 seconds ahead of Jorge Navarro who was also a 2016 championship favourite on his Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda.

Issues in Qualifying throughout the year

Onto Jerez in Spain for the fourth round of the season and stealing the show with his first ever Moto3 career pole was Bulega. Having claimed the top spot just passed the midway point of the session, the traffic on track, that proved to be a problem throughout the year, meant that nobody else was able to come close to his time.  Being the first of the European rounds, it meant that it was the first time that wildcard riders were welcomed to the class. Davide Pizzolo and Enzo Boulom made their first appearance for Procercasa – 42 Motorsport.

Heroic ride from Brad Binder helped him secure an amazing win in Jerez

The hero in Jerez however proved to be Brad Binder. Despite being penalised for ‘illegal mapping in the software’ on his KTM and having to start from the very back of the grid, he just saw it as a challenge and battled on throughout the race until he finally made his way to the front by just the eighth lap. It took just six more laps before he had closed the gap to the three front runners, and he, Bulega, Francesco Bagnaia (Pull & Bear Aspar Mahindra) and Navarro engaged in battle. 

By the end of lap 15, Navarro forced Bagnaia to make a mistake, allowing Brad Binder and Bulega to pass by, and a few corners later Brad Binder passed the rookie. He had amazingly managed to gain 33 places and took the lead. The battle continued and the South African rider proved he was championship winning material by winning the race and extended his championship lead.

Trouble for several teams and riders ahead of Le Mans

After Jerez came the fifth round at Le Mans, France, and straight after his amazing triumph in Jerez, Brad Binder continued his domination on day one of the meeting at the famous race track; despite experiencing issues with his KTM.

Two riders were forced to miss the French round; Enea Bastianini who was battling for the championship title had fractured his right wrist and had to undergo surgery after an incident when training off round, missing points that proved to be vital towards the end of the season. Wildcard rider Pizzoli was also forced to withdraw due to an ankle injury. It was announced that the only female rider in the pack, Maria Herrera, had lost her sponsor Laglisse, but was able to continue as the MH6 Team due to her father’s funds and support from MotoGP riders Marc Marquez and Alvaro Bautista.

Antonelli on pole in Le Mans where Brad Binder won

Antonelli claimed his pole, the fifth different rider so far of the season. On his final lap that he was in the middle of completing after the chequered flag had been waved, allowed him to finish just 0.067 seconds ahead of Brad Binder who thought he had it in the bag. Bulega had suffered a huge high-side during qualifying that left him aching ahead of the race.

It was a messy start to the fifth round as several riders collided and pushed and shoved their way around the opening corners. Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA Racing Team) and Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) were penalised for false starts and had to complete ride-through penalties. Despite Fenati making every effort to protect his lead in the closing stages of the race, and a last stitch attempt from Spanish rookie Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) to get on the podium, it was Brad Binder who again emerged victorious; that was now two under his leathers.

Third successive win for Brad Binder in Mugello

On to Mugello and on his home turf, it was Italian Fenati who led the way on the grid as he secured his second pole of the season so far. The Italian round was very familiar to many of the riders who have participated in many events at the track due to being part of the VR46 Academy; an establishment that has done so much for many Italian riders and the motorsport itself. Oettl was injured and left unable to compete at the sixth round in Mugello, Lorenzo Dalla Porta stepped in to cover him; another VR46 Academy rider as replacement.

Brad Binder secured his third win on the bounce however as he finished just 0.038 seconds ahead of Italian rookie Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing Moto3) and Bagnaia who collected the first podium ever for Mahindra.

The death of Luis Salom shook the paddock in Barcelona

The whole of the MotoGP paddock was humbled midway through the seventh round of the season following the death of Luis Salom, Moto2 SAG Team rider, during Free Practice. A sombre mood fell over all those who connected to the Spanish rider who had had an impact on everyone involved. He was a former competitor in the Moto3 class and after the organisers received the family’s blessing to continue with the meeting, in his honour, the riders and teams continued to make their own tributes to remember Luis.

Antonelli again made his presence felt by the end of day one at the meeting as he was quickest in Barcelona. The incident involving Salom meant that the schedule and the track layout was revised for day two of the meeting. Overcoming the hurt and upset throughout the meeting, and the changes to the circuit that bypassed turn 12 where Salom crashed, Brad Binder was able to secure pole ahead of the race; his experience playing a part in altering to the changes quickly.

Emotional win for Navarro as all riders paid individual tributes to Salom

It was an extremely emotional win for Navarro, his first of the season. A storm had hit the night before the race, however conditions had returned to normal before the race got underway. Navarro spent the final laps fending off Bastianini, Fenati, Canet and Brad Binder before crossing the line as the winner. But due to the circumstances, the celebrations were very subdued.

As a mark of respect, the podium finishers donned black t-shirts with #39 on, and refrained from the usual champagne celebrations. Individual tributes were made also, including former teammate to Salom, Brad Binder completed his parade lap waving fallen rider’s name and number before he returned to the pits.

Navarro breaks leg in training incident

Right after winning his first race of the season however, Navarro experienced a twist in fate as when training in between rounds, he fell whilst running and broke his leg in the meantime. He had to undergo surgery after breaking his left fibula and tibia and nails and it had to be reinforced as a way of allowing it to heal quicker. It meant that he was to miss the next round at Assen. Ono was also forced to miss the rond due to breaking a finger, and Jorge Martin (Aspar Mahindra Team Moto3) broke his wrist and was to be replaced by Albert Arenas.

Danny Webb returns to the Moto3

Karel Hanika was also ruled out of competing in the Moto3 class and it was announced ahead of the next round that he would be replaced by British rider Danny Webb who was making his return to the Moto3 class after competing at the Isle of Man TT.

Historical win for Bagnaia and Mahindra in Assen

Rookie Canet was quickest by the end of day one at the TT Circuit Assen ahead of the Motul TT Assen. Throughout the whole meeting rain threatened; a shower between sessions meant that it was difficult to determine what tyres were appropriate to use on the track. After returning from injury however, it was Bastianini who got claimed the prime spot on the grid; rain had begun to fall towards the end of the session and despite Brad Binder conducting one of his lessons to his many followers, they were prohibited from improving any further.

The meeting in Assen turned out to be historical for many reasons. While Jack Miller won his first ever MotoGP, and the first for the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS team, and Takaaki Nakagami secured the win in the Moto2 class, Bagnaia made history by winning his first Moto3 in Assen, which was the first ever win from Mahindra at world championship level. Conditions were extremely cold as rain threatened ahead of the race which levelled the playing field.

Battle of the Italians on track

An intense Italian battle had taken place amongst the leaders, as Bagnaia, Di Giannantonio, Migno, Fenati and Antonelli fought off French Ongetta-Rivacold rider Jules Danilo. Just 0.161 seconds covered the first six when they crossed the line led by Bagnaia, but this wasn’t going to be the only time the Mahindra stood on the top of the podium.

Unfortunately for Migno, a move that he made at the end of the race that saw him use any bit of ground to gain several positions before crossing the line in second, led to him being penalised, and despite standing on the second step of the podium he was demoted to third behind the rookie.

Crashed filled Qualifying in Sachsenring saw Bastianini take pole

Determined to make up for the mistake he made at Assen that led to him crashing out with just four laps remaining, Bastianini went on to claim pole position, his second successive pole position ahead of the Sachsenring GP in Germany. Qualifying had to be red-flagged temporarily as Webb who was recently introduced to the class, crashed out leaving oil on track.  Webb’s crash meant he had endured a serious injury which ruled him out for the rest of the season. Bulega also experienced another huge high side on the second day of the meeting which  saw him visit the medical centre however he was declared fit to race.

Unfortunately for Antonelli, the oil left on track from Webb’s crash, led to the Italian crashing out before the session was stopped temporarily. Antonelli broke his collarbone as a result and was declared unfit to continue also. At the end of the session, after several more crashes, Herrera came off at turn eight and suffered a broken wrist from the high-side.

Modifications to the Mahindras

After their success in Assen, Mahindra (which includes the Peugeot riders) introduced a new gearbox for the MGP30. Having previously introduced a new shifting mechanism, and following successful development and testing of the new transmission, they were able to provide their 10 riders wth the new technology; more upgrades were promised later on.

Rookie Pawi proved wet Argentinian win wasn’t a fluke repeating success in Germany

Rain hit the German circuit however on race day which led to Pawi’s second win of his Moto3 career and the season. Visibility was poor as there was a lot of surface water kicked up from the tyres, adding to the difficulties they aleeady faced. But it did not stop the Malaysian who again thrived in the wet. British rider John McPhee (Peugeot MC Saxoprint) had led temporarily but was unable to continue at the pace of the Malaysian.

He did continue to try though despite being forced to make a fantastic save, as did several riders on the track including race winner Pawi. The Sachsenring GP was one of those races that probably should not have ran, or should have been stopped much sooner, but then this is bike racing, and very little prevents them for taking to the track.

Riders break before summer before heading to the Red Bull Ring

The season broke for several weeks as riders and teams enjoyed their hard-earned ‘summer break’. Some fled to find good weather whilst several riders used the time to maintain fitness, or rest and recuperate as they tried to overcome injuries sustained in the first half of the season. The tenth round saw the 250cc class meet at the Red Bull Ring in Austria for another round that saw the next rookie make their stamp on the season.

Throughout the first half of the season Mir had impressed with his competitive ways on track. He oozed potential as did many of the rookies, and the break certainly made something click for him as he dominated at the Red Bull Ring. Brad Binder initially dominated on the first day of proceedings, but as the first qualifying in 19 years took place at the track in Spielberg for the Moto3 class, it was Mir who came out on top.

With the track being new to the calendar, it meant that it was a fresh start for all those competing in the class that day. The only rider out of the three classes who had competed there in the past was Valentino Rossi when he competed in the then 125cc class. The Red Bull KTM Ajo riders were at a slight advantage however as they had previously tested at the track but the time spent on the track over the duration of the meeting introduced them to a whole new set of race lines.

Mir proves his worth at the Red Bull Ring

Mir was battling on track with Brad Binder in the final stages of the qualifying session. After successfully following the KTM rider and securing pole, he crashed out. With seven minutes remaining he returned to the pits where his team set to work on repairing the damage on his bike. A mere four minutes remained by the time he returned to the track to complete his ‘out lap’.

The pressure was on Brad Binder who was again stalked by a chain of riders hoping to learn from the South African and gain a tow; he ended up running off onto the run-off area spoiling one of his final chances, but by crossing the line ahead of the chequered flag he had one more chance to succeed. But Rodrigo had other ideas, and as Brad Binder pushed one last time Rodrigo commenced in battle on track which meant that Mir’s previous time was enough to secure the rookie his first ever pole position.

Fenati banned by the Sky Racing VR46 Team

Overnight in Austria however, ahead of the 10th round of the season, it was announced that Italian Sky Racing VR46 rider Fenati was to be sacked by his team. Initially it seemed that he was just to be banned from the round, and permitted to continue later on in the season, but repeated unacceptable behaviour “not in line with the disciplinary rules of team” towards his team led to the punishment, his suspension, despite he was in contention of challenging for the championship title.

Rookie Mir takes his first Moto3 career win in Austria

The Austrian round continued though, and another intense battle took place on track. Aware of Brad Binder’s talent and experience, those who followed him worked hard to prevent him from breaking away and gaining a lead. They all kept in touch with the championship leader which paid off. Mir had led on several occasions, as did several other riders throughout the race, but in what seemed to be a perfect strategy, Mir sat back for several laps, following, watching and learning before he made his attack which allowed him to go on to win his first ever Moto3 race. What a weekend for the rookie, the second rookie to win so far during the season, and the seventh different winner witnessed so far.

Fenati’s ban turns into expulsion from the Italian team

After missing the round, news soon emerged that Fenati’s ban had turned into the Italian being sacked by his team. After three seasons with the Sky Racing Team VR46, they decided it was best to let him go, and then signed up Dalla Porta to take his place for the remainder of the season. They admitted it was not the first time they had to discipline the rider, (remember the altercation with Bulega in Qatar), but despite rumours on the reasons why, and occurrences which led to his final dismissal, they remained silent on the details. Their championship hopes now remained with Bulega.

Sky Racing Team VR46 confirm expansion to Moto2 team

Some good news was soon revealed by the team however who confirmed that they would be expanded to compete in the Moto2 class during the Moto2 season. A ride that was previously earmarked for Fenati, as he was the veteran of the Moto3 team, was instead offered to Bagnaia who happily accepted what he called an “important step” in his career.

McPhee claims first Moto3 victory at wet Czech Republic

Brad Binder returned to his leading ways when he claimed pole at the next round in the Czech Republic where they met for the Brno GP at the Automotodromo Brno; his third of the season that came from a lone lap. It was enough to fend off Bastianini, who was working hard to do what he could to prevent Brad Binder from running away with the championship; the Italian was hungry for his first win also.

Rain was to again have an adverse effect on proceedings once again in Brno, but this time, as Pawi progressed through the ranks again impressing in the conditions, so did McPhee. Brad Binder was leading, but unexpectedly crashed out at the first turn of lap 15 and was unable to re-join the race. As he stood shocked, trying to piece together what happened at the side of the track, McPhee found himself in front and all he had to do was make it to the end.

Riders were being caught out by the conditions all over the place however. Arenas broke his collarbone after a high-side during the race proving conditions were not easy. McPhee’s eight second lead was a safety cushion, but it was not guaranteed.

Amazing save from McPhee

 To add to the intense, the Scot had a huge moment. At the end of lap 17 when he began to accelerate out of turn 12, his bike threw him so high up in the air that his heels clicked. He was able to regain his seat and his composure and continued on to the race with his team urging him to calm down. McPhee achieved his first ever win, the second for Mahindra, and the flying Scotsman did it in the wet in Brno; a historical day as Cal Crutchlow won his first ever MotoGP for LCR Honda.

Bagnaia on first Moto3 career pole in Silverstone as Brad Binder takes fifth win of season

The Moto3 made their way to Silverstone  for the British round of the season, round 12. Adding to his successful season, Bagnaia claimed his first pole position making him the eighth so far but it was Brad Binder who took win number four after an intense race at full throttle around the fast track. There were 12 riders fighting for the podium all benefiting from the tow gained after slipstreaming on the straights, and daring to brake late into the turns that followed them. Desperate to make up for championship points lost due to his injury, Navarro was working hard to win until the penultimate lap when a racing incident led to Migno knocking him out of the race.

Amazing performance from Manzi in Silverstone

Stealing the show at the Moto3 in Silverstone however, was Stefano Manzi. Riding for the Mahindra Racing Team he qualified 34th on the grid, but to everyone’s surprise he crossed the line in fourth. However, he did receive a warning from Race Direction after riding ‘too aggressively’ when he caused a crash that led to Arenas ending up in the gravel at the following round during Free Practice

It was proof that anything can happen in the 250cc class. Unfortunately for Bastianini, Binder was able to gain more points on him in the championship allowing him to extend his lead as the Italian finished seventh.

Brad Binder dominates in Misano

It was on to Misano next where once again the Italian contenders in the 250cc class were hoping to impress in front of their home crowds. It looked like Bastianini may have been the man for the job, but after leading on day one, but a series of crashes from other contenders led to Brad Binder securing another pole position; his third.

Unusually, as we had rarely witnessed it so far during the 2016, Brad Binder led for the majority of the race. That was until Bastianini, who made his attack four laps from the end regained the lead he initially had. Knowing Bastianini had several laps of knowledge built up on Brad Binder, the South African decided to sit behind the Italian for several laps and chose to pounce on the lap and took the win in Misano.

Changes in the Red Bull KTM Ajo camp

Following on from Misano was the 14th round of the season at Aragon; the last of the European rounds before the three ‘flyaway’ races. Prior to the round it was announced that the Red Bull KTM Ajo team would be expanding and in 2017 it will be competing in all three classes. As we were already made aware earlier on that KTM will be joining the MotoGP class in 2017, it was confirmed they would also be joining the Moto2 class running with a ‘WP’ chassis.

The expansion meant that Brad Binder would be promoted up to the Moto2 class, and he would be joined by Oliveira who would return to his team who he represented in the Moto3 class in 2015. Bo Bendsneyder will remain in 2017 after completing his rookie year this year, and he will be joined by Antonelli who will take Brad Binder’s seat on the factory KTM.

Navarro wins in Aragon but Brad Binder becomes 2016 Moto3 champion

Heading into the Aragon GP, a win from Brad Binder potentially meant that he would be able to secure the 2016 Moto3 championship. There were two riders doing what they could to stop them however as Navarro and Bastianini were desperate to stay in contention. Claiming his third of the season, Bastianini was on pole, he had to finish ahead of Binder to prevent him from experiencing championship success.

On race day, a podium ahead of Bastianini was enough to win the title with another five rounds remaining. Bastianini stormed into turn one, but a few corners later he lost the lead to Navarro who was also wanting to salvage more championship points. Overtake after overtake, crash after crash, they went on trying to break away at the front while Brad Binder led a group hungry rookies and others desperate to add their name to the list of eight riders that had already won a race up to now.

While Brad Binder and Bastianini got caught up battling things out when they caught up, Oettl took to the front briefly before Di Giannantonio took his place leading the pack. The leader continued to change until they settled behind Brad Binder for a few laps, that was until the last lap when it was four-a-breast into turn one. Bastianini made it to the front, followed by Binder, Navarro and Di Giannantonio. Navarro began his move overtaking Binder bringing the Italian rookie with him, but Binder retaliated to take third. Within corners, the two pushed their way to the front passed Bastianini, Binder led followed by Navarro but on the very last corner Navarro overtook Binder and won the Aragon GP.

First South African champion in 35 years

Despite their best efforts, the championship race was over. Navarro succeeded in his target, but with Binder finishing ahead (second) of Bastianini in third, he had done enough to become the Moto3 champion of 2016. In doing this, he became the first South African champion in 35 years. It was such an amazing achievement, well deserved as his consistency paid off and his talent shone through.

The focus in the championship turned to second as it was now down to Bastianini and Navarro to battle it out. Along with that, we waited in anticipation to see who would become ‘Rookie of the Year’. Out of the eight different winners we had witnessed up to round 14, two had been rookies, but at the front every time throughout the races, there was a gang of them trying to force their way onto the podium.

Time for the three flyaway rounds

The paddock was packed up and shipped across the world as the first of the three flyaway rounds was about to take place at the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. Determined to make up for missing out on the podium and desperate for his first win, Bastianini became a man on a mission; he wanted to add his number to the list of successors in 2016 and by the end of day one was in the lead.

The Twin Ring at Motegi is a track built by Honda to test out the machinery they produce. Riders for the manufacturers spend a lot of time there and so local rider Hiroki Ono (Honda Team Asia) was looking incredibly strong at the circuit when he broke the lap record when he secured pole position on his home turf.

Ono on pole but penalised ahead of home round

Overnight before the race however, Ono was penalised for riding too slow on track; a tactic the riders have been seen doing throughout the year as they wait for someone who is on the pace to tag onto the back of to improve their own time. The three grid penalty handed to him meant he was starting a row behind, and instead Migno started from his first ever Moto3 career pole alongside the new champion and Bastianini.

Motegi full of carnage

There was carnage at the first corner of the Motegi GP as Navarro lost the rear and was thrown from his bike, both then slid out taking out several other riders in the process. McPhee was hit and was seen trying to help Navarro in whatever way he could as Navarro had suffered a dislocated shoulder. To add to the mess at the start of the race Bendsneyder and Herrera were penalised for a jump start.

Overcoming his penalty, Ono was able to make his way back to the front of the back closely followed by Migno and Bastianini. Migno was hungry for the win but every time he gained some positions, he lost time and space and was forced further down the field. It was desperately close on track and Ono unfortunately took Migno out of contention when they came into contact causing the Italian to spin out on track.

Bastianini claims long awaited first win of 2016

The distractions allowed Bastianini to concentrate on catching Binder who was out on his own at the front. Just four corners remained when the Italian caught the champion and made a cool and calculated move and tried to pull away, but Binder stayed close as he tried to retaliate. Bastianini went on to win his first race crossing the line just 0.017 seconds ahead of Binder in second. With his second ever Moto3 career win and his first 2016 win, he became winner number nine. Ono joined them on the podium.

Phillip Island full of drama

After Motegi they headed to Philip Island in Melbourne, Australia for the 16th round of the season. A track that has proven to be many riders and fans’ favourites, and one where the weather is usually glorious. However, rain hit from day one meaning that track time was incredibly limited; not good news for the rookies who had never visited the track before. A revised schedule was put into place to make up for lost time on day one meaning the jet-lagged riders had an even earlier start.

The Qualifying session was full of crashes, a pattern that was to continue throughout the weekend. Rain hit as the session began and riders were involved in a whole array of incidents on the track. Unfortunately in the end the session was red-flagged with five minutes remaining as Juanfran Guevara required medical assistance track side. The final few minutes of the session got underway and was full of drama as several riders visited the top of the time sheet. But in the end, experience paid off and Brad Binder secured pole ahead of the Phillip Island GP.

Epic battles, pile-ups and red flags in Australia

The Phillip Island round turned out to be full of epic battles, pile-ups and red flags. Race day was the first time the riders had experienced the track in good conditions, it was warm and dry, the complete opposite to conditions in the build-up. Ahead of the race eight riders received penalties that disrupted the grid. Quartararo was found to have a ‘non-homologated ECU during Qualifying’ and as a result was demoted to last on the grid.  

The first pile-up occurred within moments of the race getting underway. Darryn Binder (Platinum Bay Real Estate) spun his rear tyre and went down, when he slid out it was straight into the path of another rider, he also tagged Mir, Guevara was narrowly avoided as Canet was forced to bail. When Mir was brought off he hit by Pawi who suffered a high-side as a result; Darryn Binder and Canet were able to re-join the race.  

Canet has second crash of the race

The race continued and a major battle had begun at the front of the pack. McPhee had continued with his recent form taking the lead on several occasions. But it was incredibly close on track. Canet experienced his second crash of the race when he was caught out at the notorious turn four, but again he remounted. Riders continued to get caught out as they came together, but ‘rubbing is racing’ and although some riders came off no penalties were handed out.

Then another pile-up occurred which this time led to more serious consequences. As they came over the crest of the hill, McPhee tucked the front end of his Mahindra and fell, he was immediately ran over by Migno and then by Bastianini and the three tumbled down the hill. As McPhee lay face down on the grass where he came to a  halt, the other two made their way back up to their feet, however, the sliding bike of Bastianini several riders narrowly missed it, but not Navarro and he was brought down.

McPhee sranded in Australia with injuries and forced to end season early

The race was immediately red-flagged as the riders recovered from the carnage. McPhee required medical treatment track side, and although he was conscious when he was taken to hospital, his injuries were enough to keep him stranded in Melbourne for the next few following weeks meaning that the end of the season came early for him. The damage to his lungs from being run over meant that it was unsafe for him to fly; he also had to undergo surgery on his hand. He eventually returned to Scotland accompanied by a doctor; he later announced that he had signed for a new all British team to debut in 2017.

Brad Binder wins in Australia

There was confusion in pit lane as riders were unsure of grid positions; some riders were unsure if they were able to restart the race which came down to when they crashed on track and if they made it back in time. Unfortunately and controversially, Quartararo, despite already completing his penalty at the first start of the GP, was forced to repeat the penalty another time and once again had to recover from starting at the back of the grid.

When the race restarted Brad Binder was able to pull away after getting a great and clean start, Andrea Locatelli slotted in behind him; this is how they finished up. An epic battle commenced for third as in true Moto3 style, riders continuously switched places on track. More became the victims of contact and mistakes on track crashing out. Darryn Binder as having the ride of his life getting up to fourth but it was Canet who achieved something amazing. After crashing out of the race twice he claimed his first podium finishing third in the race.

Bagnaia bags second win in Sepang

Brad Binder’s domination in the Moto3 paddock continued on to the last of the flyaway rounds in Sepang for the Malaysian GP. He was the man to beat at the end of day one, and went on to secure pole ahead of the penultimate race of the season.

The race resulted in more carnage as riders went down left, right and centre. Migno came off as they approached turn two for the first time bringing two riders down with him. Corners later at turn six, Jorge Martin went down taking three more riders out of contention, but the race went on. Brad Binder led ahead of Bagnaia, Rodrigo, Mir and Dalla Porta, but as they approached turn seven, but just as Mir passed Brad Binder, he led a string of four riders that went down almost in synchronisation narrowly avoiding Adam Norrodin and his fallen bike that was already in the gravel from the previous lap.

Again the race continued on despite the carnage of bikes and riders strewn about the place. The crash ahead of him allowed Bagnaia to get the lead and break away slightly with Jakub Kornfeil (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) in tow leading a group of six riders. Turn 15 was an area of interest as it had been restructured and the riders took a variety of lines around the corner.

Big crash for Herrera causes Sepang red flag

The race carried on until female rider Herrera had a big crash that left her in the centre of the track and the red-flag was produced; fortunately she was not seriously hurt and was able to walk away. There had been some last minute moves on what turned out to be the final lap of the race that was not restarted as enough race distance had been covered.

Bagnaia remained the winner, winning his second win of the season on the Mahindra, and winning a bet that led to him having a go of the Aspar MotoGP Ducati when they remained in Valencia after the final round for two days of testing; an experience he won’t be forgetting in a hurry. A late move from Bendsneyder meant he crossed the line in second, but as results from the previous laps were to be the final ones, Kornfeil claimed second (his best Moto3 career finish) and Bendsneyder third (matching his best Moto3 result). The results from the final round meant that it would come down to the season finale in Valencia to determine the final standings of the championship.

Canet claims first Moto3 pole at season finale in Valencia

The Moto3 paddock accumulated in Valencia for the end of another epic and unforgettable season. It was Canet, on home turf, who claimed pole position ahead of the season finale as he continued in his battle to finish as ‘Rookie of the Year’. But, on the day, after already confirming the championship four rounds previous, it was Brad Binder who wanted to end his Moto3 career, and championship winning year on the top step of the podium, but it wasn’t made easy for him.

Due to movements in the paddock throughout the 2016 season, that began with Movistar Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo making the important decision to switch to Ducati next season, it caused an influx of change throughout the three classes which up to now has led to six riders leaving the 250cc class as they were promoted. However, some riders were to lose their riders as teams dissolved or were unable to continue. It was, for many riders, the final chance to bid farewell in the perfect conditions at the Spanish circuit.

Epic performance from Brad Binder saw him recover to win the season finale

Championship winner Brad Binder initially ran off track as he felt that he was experiencing problems with his KTM. He lost 18 positions dropping down to 21st, but it just made things much more interesting for the champion as he began his surge through the pack gradually making his way back up to the front. Bagnaia and Rodrigo crashed out when Mir overtook Ono to take the lead, but because it occurred on a yellow flag, he had to give up the position which he soon regained.

Five laps from the end of the race Brad Binder was back at the front and used turn one to his advantage. Mir was able to fend him off until the final stages when Brad Binder was able to pass. Mir made one last attempt to pass the champion on the final corner, but Brad Binder won after he crossed the line just 0.056 seconds ahead of the rookie.

Mir named ‘Rookie of the Year’

Brad Binder heroically won the final race of his championship winning year in style for KTM from 21st on the grid. Mir’s second in Valencia meant he emerged victorious as ‘Rookie of the Year’ as he was highest placed in the championship finishing fifth overall, making it double success for KTM. Bastianini finished the championship in second place for Honda, 27 points ahead of Navarro in third. Bagnaia was the highest place Mahindra in fourth making it a great success for the manufacturer.

What a season...

So there we have it, the action-packed epic 2016 Moto3 season. It was a prime example of the fact that the future