What began as a dry weekend of action for the Moto3 class as they met at the Red Bull Ring in Austria for the 11th round of the 2017, saw difficult conditions before race day ended up being suitable for an action packed race amongst the 250cc riders.
Mir returns to the land of his first Moto3 win
Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) won at the Red Bull Ring when it returned to the calendar last year after 19 years, the last rider before him to win in the Moto3 class was nine times world champion, Valentino Rossi. The circuit in Spielberg holds a special place in Mir’s heart as it is the location where he collected his first Moto3 victory and so he returned, leading the championship hoping to retain his title at the Austrian circuit.
Dry opening session at the Red Bull Ring
The track was cool as it was overcast in the mountains where the circuit is laid but still Free Practice 1 meant they were able to complete a full session in the dry which would prove vital come race day. Welcome back in the paddock was inured Spanish rider, Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) who has a broken leg and foot; having missed one round in Brno he was determined to keep up his championship hopes with a swift return in Austria.
Special appearances for round 11
Youngster, Jaume Masia was brought in to replace injured Darryn Binder for the Platinum Bay Real Estate team on what would have been his Moto3 debut. There were also wildcard appearances from Gabriel Martinez-Abrego for the Motomex Team Moto3 and local rider, Maximilian Kofler for the Motorsport Kofler EU team who were both aboard the KTM.
The Red Bull Ring is not only home for the Red Bull sponsored teams, but also for KTM Racing and so there were many riders within that pack that were keen to do well on what was considered home turf for many.
Several contenders for the top spot in Austria
During the first Free Practice session, the likes of Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0), Adam Norrodin (SIC Racing Team), John McPhee (British Talent Team) and Mir all took turns acquiring the top spot on the timesheets in preparation for Qualifying and the race.
Later on in the session, Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was up there at a track he would be extremely familiar with which would have pleased sponsors, and Enea ‘The Beast’ Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0) also had a look in at one point; it was good to see him looking successful again.
Incidents during Free Practice 1
The session saw several incidents but fortunately none of them had a major effect on the riders and teams’ weekend. First Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) narrowly avoided the rear of Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) at turn three. Norrodin was seen heading the wrong way down pit lane which may have led o a penalty for him, and Mir narrowly avoided a crash as he messed up at turn four and ran through the gravel before narrowly missing the air fence.
Unfortunately for wildcard rider, Kofler he experienced his first crash of the weekend but was unhurt. Rookie, Ayumu Sasaki (SIC Racing Team) looked over his left shoulder on track instead of his right and didn’t see Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) on his right which spoiled the Italian’s momentum; and of course he let the rookie know about it. Bastianini also ran wide at the newly narrowed, final turn 10 on his last lap of the session.
Heavy rain fell between sessions
By the time the 250cc class returned for Free Practice 2 on day one, it had rained heavily and so the riders had no choice but to deal with the wet conditions. With the Red Bull Ring being a very popular and used track it was quite smooth in parts and so in the greasy conditions experienced as the track dried, the riders faced many issues.
The drying track saw over a dozen riders take their turn at the top of the timesheets indicating how much the weather mixes things up. Fenati had a big wheelie at turn three which meant he almost lost it. The riders were extra cautious because of the conditions and fortunately no other incidents occurred. Rain at the end of the session forced them to retreat to the pits, and because the Moto3 riders only have one bike there was no time to prepare the wet setup on the bike.
Riders unable to improve on previous times so Mir ends day one on top
The conditions meant that the riders were unable to improve on the times set earlier on in the opening session of the weekend. Although it was Canet who ended the second Free Practice session on top, it was Mir who remained fastest at the end of the opening day.
Combining practice times Mir led the way into day two ahead of Canet, Marcos Ramirez (Platinum Bay Real Estate), Bastianini, and Bendsneyder who were the top five during FP1.
Better weather for day two of practice and Qualifying
After a miserable end to the first day, when the 250cc class returned to the track for the second day, it was dry and sunny for the final Free Practice session and Qualifying. The improvements in the conditions meant that Mir was able to return to his successful ways in Austria and dominated the practice up until eight minutes remained when Philipp Oettl (Sudmetall Schedl GP Racing) took over his reign.
Pushing in good weather leads to mistakes
The fact the riders were able to push harder meant that there were crashes which included when Manuel Pagliani (CIP) suffered a high-side at turn three and was hit by the bike when they came to a halt, Nakarin Atiratphuvapat (Honda Team Asia) entered turn four hard on the brakes causing the rear to lift and he had to bail when they headed into the gravel and he later went wide at turn 10, and Sasaki ran on in the gravel and managed to guide it to the wall.
Mir remained quickest ahead of Qualifying
Going to the top of the timesheets at the end of the final practice session, Bastianini celebrated like he had won as he was delighted with his success but it seems his lap time was cancelled meaning that Mir remained quickest ahead of Oettl and Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Racing Team) heading into Qualifying. Mir had come close to the Circuit Lap Record set by Oettl however in 2016 (1:36.557) but there was still some way to go.
Intense Qualifying session follows in Austria
Come Qualifying it had become cooler as clouds rolled in over the track in Spielberg. The pressure was on and clearly many were hungry for pole position as Rodrigo, Bastianini, Mir, Canet and Bendsneyder all potentially occupied the spot.
Canet almost lost it at turn three of the track, he made several attempts to brake on the approach to the track but ended up having to run through the run-off area at the side. Rookie, Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) was caught out at the first left hander at the track, turn six suffering a high side when he accelerated out of the turn; he appeared to be winded in the gravel.
High-sides on track amongst other incidents
Suzuki also had a highside at the same time shortly after; he too was able to continue. Guevara ran on at turn four of the track and lost control in the gravel but was able to keep the bike running. Mir ran on again at turn three, he was able to stay up and recover and return to the track.
Towards the end of the session Canet got in the way of Bastianini at turn three of the track and the Italian were clearly not happy with his teammate. Canet had spoiled a quick lap and when they returned to their garage after the session, Canet walked straight in and Bastianini threw his arms up in annoyance.
There was also an incident of some sort, presumably a spoiled lap between Fenati and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) as when they pulled up on track with the bunch of riders to d their practice start, the two were spotted having a very Italian argument. Fenati was annoyed by Di Giannantonio who approached him on the track, and in the end Fenati forced him ahead of him to get on with his business.
Rodrigo collects second successive pole
In a great twist of events, RBA BOE Racing Team rider Rodrigo collecting a successive pole position after the intense Qualifying session. With the fastest time of 1:36.503 he beat the Circuit Record Lap, but still was over 0.27 seconds slower than Mir’s records of 1:36.228. To add to the team’s success, he was to be joined on the front row by his Spanish teammate Guevara who was just 0.112 seconds slower and would start from second on the grid.
They were to be joined on the front row by Canet who qualified in third. Canet had just pipped his teammate, Bastianini to the position and instead the Italian got one of his best grid positions of the year so far in fourth. McPhee was fifth and doing what he needed to for his team and sponsors, Bendsneyder was sixth on the grid.
Mir given a grid penalty
Mir had been handed a grid penalty that would see him start from 10th on the grid at the head of row four. Still it was clear that the determination to do well in Austria was still there as on the dry but cool race-day, the Spanish championship leader was quickest after the morning warm-up session; Fenati was second fastest and Bendsneyder third.
Aspar to switch to KTM in 2018
On race-day it was announced that KTM and Aspar would be collaborating from 2018; the future partners using the Austrian round as a time that they saw fit to share the decision.
Fantastic start from pole man, Rodrigo who leads 23 lap race
Using his pole position to his advantage, pole position man had a fantastic start and not only led into the first turn after the whole grid got away cleanly for the 23 lap race, he led for several corners until he come under attack from ‘Sunday man’ McPhee. McPhee’s lead was only brief however as Rodrigo attacked back and he led the whole field over the line at the end of lap one.
But, keen to do well Bendsneyder took over on the following lap after using the start-finish straight to set up a pass at turn one of lap two. Soon enough he built up a small gap and so was able to retain his lead for the whole of the lap.
Fenati makes a mistake that proves costly
It was close, but as the 250cc four stroke engines benefit greatly from the strip-stream especially on the several straight at the track, Fenati decided to try his usual trick of running an outside line, to compensate positions. Unfortunately, after gaining some, he ended up running over the rumble strips and went wide and ended up falling back and joining back around 18th position.
Crashes on lap three
The third lap also saw two incidents as wildcard Martinez-Abrego came off at turn four and Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Aspar Mahindra Moto3) fell at turn 10 of the race. Neither of the riders were able to continue on with the race as a result.
Bendsneyder leads important round for him
Bendsneyder continued to lead as behind him there was a large group of riders battling for second. McPhee in fifth passed Martin but then further back Mir was 0.4 seconds quicker with his pace than Bendsneyder at the front. Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46) in 10th was even quicker.
Martin soon passed McPhee and began his efforts to close the gap that Bendsneyder had pulled out. In doing so he led the massive group of followers with him. On lap five he made his way to the front, and looking to mug Bendsneyder of another place, McPhee looked to take an inside line but ended up staying in third as they fought him off.
Five fighting for the same bit of track
A group of five riders containing Martin, Bendsneyder, McPhee, Mr and Rodrigo broke away slightly from the rest as Oettl looked to close up the gap between him in sixth and those ahead. It was intense as the front five fought for the lead at the hairpin, Mir took the lead but because they all wanted the same track, they essentially tripped each other up and lost time allowing the pack to catch them again.
Unfortunately for Guevara, he ran wide and lost several positions. Initially he dropped down to 16th, but then quickly compensated some by moving back up to 14th.
Mir breaks away at the front of the pack
When out at the front, Mir, who had the pace and rhythm, began to extend a gap at the front between him and the rest. He then gained further advantage when Martin dived up the inside at turn three to try and take second, but ran wide allowing Bendsneyder and McPhee to break away slightly too.
Replacement rider, Masia makes a name for himself
One rider who was making a name for himself was wildcard Masia on his debut who was up to 10th by lap eight and progressing. Oettl in fourth ahead of him worked hard to again break down the space on track, and once caught, he passed McPhee and Bendsneyder and began his attack on Mir.
By lap 11, Oettl who is good at running on the track on his own rather than using a tow from another rider, was able to close down Mir’s lead and was soon slipstreaming the Spaniard in preparation to make a move. Behind, Martin was forced wide by McPhee who swerved in front of him. As Masia set the fastest lap so far on lap 1, Oettl caught Mir but ran wide and so rewarded Mir essentially with a gap again.
Oettl runs wide undoing his hard work
Unfortunately for Oettl he ran wide on the following lap but this time lost positions dropping down to fifth and leaving Martin to take over in the pursuit of race leader, Mir. Migno was in third but then he was passed by McPhee and then Rodrigo as it was incredibly close on track and there was very little room to make any mistakes. McPhee soon was in second and a group of six riders behind Mir travelling in formation formed at the Red Bull Ring.
Loi penalised by race control
Livio Loi (Leopard Racing) was penalised, more than likely for overuse of the track as he would have been seen running on the green painted strips at trackside. He was forced to hand over a position meaning that Canet moved up to eighth.
With 10 laps remaining pole position man Rodrigo managed to work his way back to the front of the chasing group and at this point Mir had a big lead. The Argentinian didn’t remain there for long however as Martin overtook him to take second, and then Masia who had progressed up the ranks made a big lunge at turn three to place fourth stealing the position from Migno. Rodrigo went on to pass Martin for second once again.
Masia continues his entertaining antics on tracks
The young wildcard continued to toy with the Moto3 regulars as he used the start-finish straight to work his way up to second on his debut. Martin passed him at turn three though but he wasnit going to be put off by this.
Antonelli brought down by Suzuki as McPhee is took out by Bendsneyder
Then, a disappointing season so far got worse for Niccolo Antonelli (Red Bull KTM Ajo) as he was taken out of the race at lap four of lap 15 by Suzuki who tagged the back of him and brought them both down in a big way. There was no way that either could recover because of the damage to the bikes, and Antonelli approached Suzuki who needed assistance to let him know what he thought about his antics.
Disaster then struck towards the front of the pack on the following race as McPhee and Bendsneyder fell at turn one of the 16th lap. Bendsneyder hit McPhee from behind bringing him down and out of the race. McPhee was able to get restarted but in the end he was forced to retire from the race in Austria.
Masia continues to make a great debut as Sky Racing Team VR46 riders try to compensate
Clearly a playful character, Masia continued to add make an impression at the front of the Moto3 pack as he powered down the start finish straight with Rodrigo, but looked over at he Argentinian at the same time. Masia remained second after winning the drag race but then Rodrigo passed him, then Migno and Martin.
A difficult round for the Sky Racing Team VR46 team saw the Italians make improvements as by lap 17, Bulega had made his way up to 10th after originally beginning the race around 18th. They had the pace, as Migno was fighting for the front, but then he fell at turn one of lap 18 sliding out from second in the race; he was able to re-join and continue until the end.
The race was drawing to an end
The final five laps of the race continued as those previous but as the end of the race was approaching, everything became much more intense on track. It seemed that Mir had run away with it, but the other two podium positions were yet to be decided and it was going to come down to the flag as those contending continued to fight it out.
The likes of Bastianini and Ramirez ran out wide at turn 13 on the 20th lap and ended up dropping down to around 15th in the pack. Masia was still fighting for a podium on his debut with three laps to go, and again lunged up to second but this time he ran wide at turn three and ended up dropping down to sixth.
Three fallers on the final laps
Atiratphuvapat unfortunately fell off at the first turn of the penultimate lap. He appears to have settled in the Moto3 class and was competitive throughout the build-up over the weekend once again, and so this just added to the disappointment of failing to finish the race. Also on the last lap, Albert Arenas (Aspar Mahindra Moto3) and Marco Bezzecchi (CIP) crashed out and were unable to continue on with the race.
Second to be decided at the finish line
The battle for second came right down to the flag as Oettl led the group of 12 riders to the finish line. A late pass from Martin on Loi placed him third and he just had to hold it until he got to the line.
Mir continues to dominate at the Red Bull Ring
Mir won at the Red Bull Ring in Austria; what a way to celebrate the anniversary of his first Moto3 win, than to continue his success at the track. He won comfortably in Austria, with a lead of over three seconds on the rest of the pack. Mir’s win means that he equals the 2016 Moto3 champion, Brad Binder as the rider with the most Moto3 wins in a single season.
Oettl and Martin complete podium
Oettl, who has deserved results for a good while collected his second podium of his Moto3 career when he finished the Austrian round in second. An emotional Martin, still very much carrying the injuries sustained previous to Austria that saw him miss Brno, also made it onto the podium upon his return; the emotion was clear as the Spaniard could not stop crying throughout the celebrations and interviews.
The remaining results
Loi just missed out finishing fourth in Austria just three places behind his teammate; the Leopard Racing crew would have been delighted with their results having both riders within the top five. Canet was fifth at the Red Bul Ring ahead of Di Giannantonio, Rodrigo, and a highly competitive Norrodin in eighth.
Masia, on his debut as a Moto3 rider finished ninth at the Red Bull Ring. It was a fantastic result for the youngster however it was a disappointing shame that he could not recover from the mistake he made towards the end, and his inexperience meant he was essentially beaten up leaving him ninth; he is hoping to get another ride this year. Bastianini completed the top 10.
Bulega worked hard throughout the race and did well to finish 11th in Austria ahead of Ramirez, Guevara and rookie Toba who finished the race in the points in 15th.
Mir equals Moto3 champion’s record
Mir’s win means that he has extended his championship lead and after 11 rounds he is comfortable in front on 215, with a 64 point gap between him and second place man in the championship, Fenati. Canet is third on 137 points ahead of Martin whose podium means he is fourth on 105 points, and Di Giannantonio is fifth with 95.
There is just a two point cushion between him and McPhee who remains on 93 after his DNF in sixth, one point ahead of Ramirez who is the top KTM rider in the championship in seventh. Migno, Guevara and Bastianini make up the top 10.