Conditions were once again perfect for the Moto3 class as they took to the Autodromo del Mugello to complete their final Free Practice session prior to Qualifying, ahead of the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley Moto3 race.
Moto3 class straight on the pace
Although it was dry and sunny, the early morning session meant that they had to work towards bringing their times down to match those set the previous day. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) finished day one on top with a time of 1:57.328.
The final session was proving important as after Joan Mir (Leopard Racing), who is leading the championship, set the marker, the riders continued to battle it out on track; and a battle it was. A group of six riders were working hard as they passed round the 5.2km (3.26 miles) track made up of six left-hand and nine right-hand corners. Not only was this a chance to reduce their own time, but it was experience for the 20-lap race.
Bulega pushing hard on track
With a clear track ahead of him, Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) was pushing hard and worked his way up to second as they approached the halfway point of Free Practice 3. He was displaying two red sectors on the middle of the lap, but he needed to find the time he lost in the final sector that meant he was unable to match Mir’s time; a time that was decreasing as Mir worked on it.
Working in a group also proved frustrated as Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) felt he was held up by rookieKaito Toba (Honda Team Asia). As he tried to overtake on the inside of the rookie at a right-hand turn, he ended up throwing his left hand down in frustration as he felt he lost too much time.
Battle of the Italians on home turf
There will be 11 Italians competing on home turf hoping to claim that top step of the podium. One who took a cool and calculated approach, as he had done since day one, was Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers). He carefully chose when he would visit the track, remained relaxed in the pits, and then would go out and set strong lap times with a clear track ahead of him.
With 15 minutes remaining, Martin who had recovered from his spoiled lap, seemed to be spurred on as he became the first rider to lap under 1:58 minutes when he completed a time of 1:57.809. His time was still almost half a second off that set by Di Giannantonio the day before, but it was still a step in the right direction. He and Fenati remained the only two in the top 10 to have improved from day one as they entered the final third of the session.
Mir responded to the fact that he was knocked down to third and managed to further improve his time recovering up to second. However he got knocked back down to third, when Philipp Oettl (Sudametal Schedl GP) went top, but Mir was on a flying lap and reclaimed the top spot when he crossed the line; at the same time he was teaching his teammate, Livio Loi (Leopard Racing) a thing a two as the Belgium rider followed. Bulega was also pushing, and he slotted back into second behind Mir.
Intense atmosphere in Mugello
The atmosphere grew tenser as three Italians waited in the pit lane to see when would be best for their final time attack in Mugello. Fenati, Di Giannantonio and Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46), who looked consistent the day before, all ended up leaving together, shortly followed by Martin.
There was almost a collision in certain areas as riders were reluctant to be in front while they completed their final laps. Not only did they not want to provide a tow for those behind, they would not have wanted to give their lines away. However, they would have possibly put themselves at risk of receiving a grid penalty from race control for such behaviour.
Martin growing frustrated with followers
Martin was getting annoyed by Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Aspar Mahindra Moto3) as he was desperate to sit behind the Spaniard. Martin was trying to usher them past and was pulling to the side to allow the others through however the others did the same, which just wasted so much time.
Meanwhile, others pushed knowing that the chequered flag was due. Final laps, although they were personal best times for some, did not affect the top of the timesheets significantly. Scottish rider, John McPhee (British Talent Team) set the quickest sector two times, as part of a group, however, dropped down to a personal best time in sector four. He finished the session as fourth quickest with his final lap.
Mir quickest after Free Practice 3
Mir remained the top man because of his earlier time of 1:57.462 and finishing ahead of two Italians, Bulega and Fenati. McPhee was fourth ahead of Oettl in fifth. Martin’s wasted time meant he finished up sixth ahead of Darryn Binder (Platinum Bay Real Estate), quickest man on day one Di Giannantonio, rookie Tony Arbolino (SIC58 Squadra Corse) and Migno completed the top 10.
Di Giannantonio quickest on combined times
Combining the practice times from the three sessions, however, Di Giannantonio remained the man to beat with his time from Free Practice 2. Bulega’s previous time also meant he was second on combined times, and Mir’s FP3 time meant he was third overall. Dalla Porta’s FP2 time saw him finish the Free Practice in fourth and behind him, the majority of the riders were able to improve on their times from the previous day. Fenati was fifth ahead of McPhee, Oettl, Martin and Binder who along with rookie, Arbollino, completed the top 10 on combined times.
Increased temperature for Qualifying
Once again the 250cc class took a very relaxed start to the Qualifying session as although some waited at the end of the pit lane for the green light, some remained in their pits waiting for the perfect time to leave. The important thing sometimes in the Moto3 Qualifying session, is having a clear track, as traffic can spoil the chances of getting a fast lap. Eventually, they were all out doing their business.
After the first few opening laps, it was Di Giannantonio who provisionally found himself on the top spot with a time of 1:57.819. The track was hot, and possibly becoming more slippery than grippy.
Highside for the championship leader
Highside for Joan Mir at the exit of turn one and ended up sliding on his knees and facing the oncoming traffic. He was dazed and the Marshalls had to recover his bike but he ended up on the inside on the track where they were lacking a service road and so he would have lost a lot of time in returning to the pits; he only had 28 minutes of Qualifying left.
Highside for Bulega who visited Medical Centre
While pushing to improve his time, Bulega, who was already injured from the spectacular crash during the second lap of the Le Mans round, also suffered a high-side at turn 12 of the Italian circuit. Just as he began to accelerate out of the turn, currently in third on the timesheets, the back end came around and threw him up and over the bike, before he was slammed hard on the tarmac.
He was lucky to be avoided by both his bike, and Martin who was following him closely behind; the Spaniard ended up running onto toe gravel before returning to the pits. He was hurt and took a few moments understandably to get back to his feet. Most importantly he did unaided while the Marshalls recovered his battered bike. Bulega had just over 22 minutes to do what he could to secure his provisional front row start after he visited the Medical Centre for a check-up.
Temperature soars as riders look for a tow
A silence dawned across Mugello briefly midway through the session as the riders returned to the pits to make changes to their setup. The track temperature had increased to over 50 degrees Celsius meaning adhesion would start to be lowered. A huge mob of riders then descended on the track with 16 minutes remaining, all looking to get a tow and to tag onto the back of a known fast rider.
For some, however, the increased track temperature was proving to not be a problem as the likes of Di Giannantonio, Martin and Arbolino looked displayed red indicators. Martin was first to knock Di Giannantonio off the top spot, however, the Italian regained the top spot when he crossed the line 0.332 seconds quicker than the Spaniard with a time of 1:57.376.
Frantic efforts throughout Mugello
Further afield other riders were able to complete personal best times enabling them to progress up the ranks. Mir was able to return to the track for the final stint and immediately joined those completing personal best times; he had not yet set a lap time with 10 minutes remaining. Meanwhile back in the pits, the Sky Racing VR46 Team were still frantically working on Bulega’s bike.
As Di Giannantonio sat in the pits looking relaxed with his helmet off, and with a provisional pole and a 0.3 second cushion, the others continued to push. McPhee went out with seven minutes to go, as others returned to make final changes. Mir made a brief stop, he had his one quick lap that he had completed cancelled and had to do what he could.
Race preview as the entire pit empties onto the track for closing minutes
Groups of riders waited in pit lane for particular riders to leave. With four minutes to go, Bulega managed to return to the track, he left the garage in unison with his teammate, Migno. It was intense, all sorts could happen, who was going to emerge successful?
The race resumed, just kidding, Qualifying resumed, however all of the riders were so strategically bunched that the final few minutes resembled a preview of how things would be the following day. Di Giannantonio’s lead was reduced to 0.113 by second place man, Martin, and the security of his pole position was under jeopardy as he had a lap cancelled with two minutes remaining.
Four in contention for pole on last lap of session
In the final minute, Mir was displaying a red first sector; the Spaniard meant business. He backed it up with a second strong sector, however, McPhee, Di Giannantonio and Martin were also pushing hard and looking to take pole.
The flag went out and it was a matter of who could pull it out of the bag, McPhee looked like he had it, and Mir slotted in in second. However Martin once again pulled it off, he used the slipstream down the start finish straight to lap 0.148 seconds quicker than McPhee and claimed his fourth pole of the season with a time of 1:57.176. An extraordinary effort from Bulega saw him ooze potential to contend for pole but he crossed the line with a personal best time instead.
Martin claims fourth pole of the season
Martin qualified on pole for the fourth time out of six so far this season; that is dependent however on whether he would be penalised for his earlier antics… but where better a position to be penalised from? He will be joined on the front row by both McPhee and Mir whose amazing efforts secured him third on the grid.
Di Giannantonio leads the second row in fourth on the grid ahead of Bulega whose extraordinary efforts in the closing stages meant he will start from fifth on the grid. Guevara secured sixth completing the second row. Fenati will start from seventh ahead of Marco Ramirez (Platinum Bay Real Estate) and Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo). Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse), Jules Danilo (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) and Niccolo Antonelli (Red Bull KTM Ajo) made up row four.
The results, however, were subject to change as it was rumoured that riders were to be penalised for incidents throughout the day caused by riders dawdling on the track. Although the riders qualified this way, it is highly likely that following appeals and penalties being added, the grid would be completely re-arranged.