Albert Arenas held off a last-turn charge from Britain’s John McPhee to take victory in the opening Moto3 race of the season in Qatar.
The pair opened a small gap over Jaume Masia and the rest of the pack on the final lap and Arenas had to get his final corner just right in order for the KTM to hold off the faster Honda on the run to the line.
Masia thought he had bagged the final podium spot but was penalised one place for exceeding track limits, meaning Aiu Ogura was handed third.
SIC58 Squadra Corse’s Tatsuki Suzuki got the perfect start from pole position and took the holeshot into Turn 1, with lightweight class rookie Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) getting a lightning start from row three of the grid to settle into fourth. The chaos then began to ensue with ten different riders leading throughout the course of the race.
First to steal the lead away from Suzuki was Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo), who slipstreamed his way to the front at the start of lap two, only to run wide at Turn 6 and allow Rivacold Snipers Team’s Tony Arbolino to the front of the pack. Then, CIP Green Power’s Darryn Binder began to muscle his way into the fight and eventually the lead.
The fight for the win included 19 riders at one point with Moto3™ reminding of us what we’ve missed over the winter months. Lap after lap, corner after corner we saw moves flying in left, right and centre but one thing remained constant: Arenas dictating the pace at the front. SKY Racing Team VR46’s Celestino Vietti became the first rider to crash out after contact from rookie Jeremy Alcoba (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3).
Five laps were left and a leading five were just starting to break clear. Arenas was still at the front, with Arbolino, Suzuki, Binder and Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) queuing up behind. The five were unable to break clear though because as they came across the line to make it four laps left, Arenas was shuffled backwards as Arbolino hit the front. Suzuki pounced seconds later though, retaking the lead at Turn 2. McPhee was starting to make his move too, diving under Binder to sit third. The Scotsman wasn’t done there, calmly swooping past Arbolino to move second moments later.
Three laps to go and Suzuki lead over the line but the Japanese rider was swallowed up going into Turn 1 as everyone utilised the slipstream. It was McPhee that appeared out of the scrum in front of everyone else as the fight really began to heat up. The Scotsman held on but Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) decided the time was right to make his move as the final lap began it was the Argentinian leading the way.
Hard on the brakes into Turn 1 for the final time and there was always going to be drama. It involved Binder and Arbolino, with the South African crashing out after the Italian clipped his front wheel. Half a lap remaining and Arenas lead but he had pressure building behind from McPhee. Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing) moved into third ahead of Ai Ogura in the fight for the final podium place but they were a few bike lengths back meaning it came down to Arenas and McPhee in the final sector.
The Scotsman was stuck to the rear wheel of Arenas, seemingly waiting to make his move down the start-finish straight but as the pair exited the final corner, the KTM of Arenas held off the charging Honda of McPhee and the first 25 points of 2020 went the way of the Spaniard. The final podium place was seemingly Masia’s, however, Ogura was gifted third after Masia received a one place penalty for exceeding track limits on the final lap.
Suzuki completed the top five after the Gresini duo of Rodrigo and Alcoba in sixth and seventh were also handed last lap penalties for exceeding track limits. Rivacold Snipers Team’s Filip Salac recovered from a disappointing qualifying to take eighth, ahead of Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) and Fernandez.