Once again in the sunshine the Moto3 class took to the Circuit of the Americas to complete another session of Free Practice ahead of Qualifying before the third round of the Moto3 season in Austin, Texas.
Overcast conditions at COTA for Moto3 FP3
The 5.5km track, where the weather was overcast but dry was extremely busy immediately as the 250cc riders were out trying to return to the pace that was set the day before. Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) was untouchable and his fastest time, which was just short of the record lap times at COTA, was almost a second quicker than anyone else.
By the end of the first day, Canet had gotten his time down to 2:16.750, and 20 minutes into the third and final session he was back at 2:17.367; his lap times were consistent that indicated that he may have been able to run away with in the race should he be able to maintain that gap ahead of the others.
Only a handful of riders remained on a track to do some runs when it was clear whilst the majority of the pack chose to return to the pits; as usual in the Moto3 class, the riders like to tag on the back of the faster ones and will mimic their behaviour throughout.
Several contenders To take the top spot from Canet
Winner of the opening two rounds of the season, Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) headed out early to get some time on a clear track with less than 15 minutes to go. Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) followed him and benefited from the tow he got from the Spaniard. Romano Fenati, who won the last round in Austin in 2016 with his former team Sky Racing Team VR46 also headed out early; the Italian is now with Marinelli Rivacold Snipers.
Bulega went top just as they entered the final 10 minutes of the session reducing the time to beat down to 2:17.151. He meant business and began engaging in battle with Mir and another group that had formed. A few minutes later Canet was once again able to break through the 2:17 minute barrier and claimed the top spot with a lap of 2:16.856; it was up to the other ones to respond.
Fenati steals the top spot in the closing seconds
Every man was out on track for the final few minutes of the session. Although many were able to complete personal best times, they were not quite able to match that of Canet. That was until Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) pulled a 2:16 minute lap out of the bag that was 0.377 seconds quicker than the time Canet had just further improved with. Martin stole the top spot and the limelight from Canet with his time of 2:16.273.
But then, after the flag went out and the riders completed their last laps, Fenati was able to lap at 2:16.273 stealing the top spot from Martin in the closing seconds of the session. Fenati finished on top ahead of Martin and Canet had to settle for third as he was unable to match the time he had set the previous day.
A fantastic ride from Darryn Binder (Platinum Bay Real Estate) saw the South African finish as the highest placed KTM after the three Hondas in fourth. Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0) was able to improve and ended up fifth ahead of Bulega, Nicolo Antonelli (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Juanfran Guevara (RBA ROE Racing Team), Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Mir who completed the top 10.
COTA remains overcast for Qualifying
Conditions remained cool for the Qualifying session for the Moto3 class but it did not stop Canet from making an impression early on. He went top with a time of 2:15.785 which was a great start for the Spaniard. Canet was unstoppable reducing his time by a further 0.342 seconds on his next lap whilst out on his own on track.
Riders continued to get caught out at the American track, some were seen going straight on for example the likes of Juanfran Guevara (RBA ROE Racing Team) who ran straight on into the run off area of turn one. The large track will prove enduring for the riders and the 250cc four stroke engines and so a good grid position would more tan likely prove vital.
Rookies get caught out at COTA
Gabriel Martinez-Abrego crashed out as he passed through the chicane at the start of the lap. With 30 minutes to go, at turn three, the Motomex Team Moto3 rider tucked the front end of his KTM as he passed through the left-hand corner. Then Nakarin Atiratphuvapat (Honda Team Asia) came off at turn 1 of the track. He slid along the side of the crash barrier as his bike slid on in the track. Fortunately both riders appeared unhurt.
Midway through the session, Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) came off at turn 18 of the track. The back end came around on him just as he approached the apex and he spun out on track. He was able to pick up and recover his own bike and return to the pits. With just under 12 minutes remaining, Tatsuki Suzuki crashed out about turn 18 of the track. With assistance from the Marshalls he was able to recover his SIC58 Squadra Corse Honda.
Near miss for Canet before he continued with his fine form
Then Canet had a near miss at turn 12 as the rear nearly went on the back of his Honda as he braked on the approach to the left-hander; but the Spaniard was able to recover it with ease and continue on. He went on to further improve on his pole position time when he next lapped.
He continued on at this spectacular place lapping consistently but oozing potential to improve further. With approximately seven minutes to go, he completed a lap time of 2:14.644 that not only went on to secure him pole position ahead of the race, but it meant that he set a new lap record beating the time set previously by Danny Kent in 2015.
A few minutes later, Sky Racing Team VR46 rider, Migno crashed out of the qualifying session at turn six of the track. After losing control of the rear after travelling over a bump, the bike had only been scraped down the right hand side and Marshalls were able to help him to recover with ease.
Close call as Loi nearly causes a pile-up
A small group had formed on track that consisted of Nicollo Antonelli (Red Bull KTm Ajo), Livio Loi (Leopard Racing), and Marco Bezzechi (CIP). Loi was looking for a way past Bezzechi which he did down the start-finish straight, but then on the approach to turn one, he took a tight inside line and completely missed his braking point. He had to bail, braking into the corner and instead ran on narrowly avoiding connecting with the back of Bendsneyder.
Moments later, Atiratphuvapat crashed out for a second time at turn 18 with less than three minutes remaining. He suffered a highside at the turn which sent him tumbling and it led to him being stretchered off at the side of the track. Then Juanfran Guevara was the latest to crash at turn 12 ending his session early, but fortunately he was able to walk to the safety area himself. Wildcard Martinez-Abrego had his second crash at turn 14 within the final minute; he was out far too wide and slid out after running over the kerb.
Personal bests not enough to contend with Canet
It was coming to the closing stages of the session and things began to heat up. Many riders were able to complete personal best times yet unfortunately for some, some lap times were cancelled yet again as they were pushing just that little bit too hard.
Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) was able to move up to second with his personal best time, however his time was still almost a second slower than that set previously by Canet. Things were close behind Fenati however as the times seemed to be more evenly matched.
Untouchable Canet on pole at COTA
Canet remained untouchable and well and truly secured a much deserved pole position ahead of the third round of the season. He will be joined on the front row by Mir who claimed second with a late lap, pushing Fenati down to third completing the front row.
Bulega qualified fourth ahead of Del Conca Gresini Moto3 teammates, Jorge Martin and Fabio Di Giannantonio. Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0) will start from seventh on the grid ahead of Antonelli and John McPhee (British Talent Team) who shot from 20th to ninth on his final lap during Qualifying.
Bendsneyder is 10th ahead of Darryn Binder (Platinum Bay Real Estate) and the highest placed rookie, Tony Arbolino (SIC58 Squadra Corse) in 12th. RBA ROE Racing Team riders, Guevara and Rodrigo make up the fifth row along with Philipp Oettl (Sudmetall Schedl GP Racing).
Loi is 16th ahead of rookie Ayumu Sasaki (SIC Racing Team) and Suzuki in 18th. The seventh row is made up of Migno, Ramirez and Jules Danilo (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers), and row eight contains Albert Arenas (Mahindra Gaviota Aspar) as the highest placed Mahindra, Jakub Korfeil (Peugeot MC Saxoptint) and the only female in the class, Maria Herrera (AGR Team).
Adam Norrodin (SIC Racing Team), Bezzecchi, rookie Kato Toba (Honda Team Asia), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Mahindra Gaviota Aspar), and rookies Manuel Pagliani (CIP),Patrik Pulkkinen (Peugeot MC Saxoprint), Martinez-Abrego and Atiratphuvapat complete the grid ahead of the third round of the season.