2015 Moto3 Season Preview: Opportunity Knocks


Each class in the MotoGP programme has its own identity, its own selling point. Moto3 has many but if there was one word that summed up the junior class better than anything else, it surely must be unpredictability. With the most open season in its short history lying ahead, that word will certainly apply again this year.

Moto3 faced a tall order trying to follow one of Grand Prix racing’s all-time greatest title showdowns in 2013 with Maverick Vinales denying Alex Rins and Luis Salom but as two moved on, up stepped Alex Marquez and Jack Miller to provide a championship battle with its own fair share of drama and controversy. Marquez would hold his nerve to join his brother in the Grand Prix record books but he, Miller and Rins have all departed for bigger and better things.

As the entry class of Grand Prix racing, Moto3 always benefits from a revolving door in terms of talent. For every champion of the future that moves up the ladder, up climbs a hungry rookie to fill the void. Each season, several teenagers march into Moto3 aiming to build their reputation but standing in their way are countless others ready to put theirs on the line. The class of 2015 provides a mouth-watering blend of the two.

Last season’s two dominant teams have each gone down a different route with Estrella Galicia 0,0, Honda’s top outfit, replacing outgoing champion Alex Marquez and perennial bridesmaid Alex Rins with two breathtaking rookies from the Spanish Championship. The latest hotshots to roll off the CEV Repsol production line are Fabio Quartararo and Jorge Navarro, champion and runner-up respectively in Spain’s national Moto3 series.

Not an easy name to say, but Quartararo’s is on the lips of motorcycle racing observers across the world having dominated the CEV Repsol Championship for two consecutive years, yet still falling short of the minimum age required to compete at world level. The FIM have intervened though, tweaking the rule to allow riders aged under 16 to enter a Grand Prix, but only if they have won the Spanish title. As a result, Quartararo qualifies and will take his place on the grid in Qatar and if pre-season testing is any indicator, he is already among the favourites.

After taking the first ever Moto3 crown courtesy of Sandro Cortese, Red Bull KTM Ajo have had to endure the final race heartbreak in each of the last two seasons. Charged with the task of clearing the final hurdle this time are two riders who have yet to stand on the top step of a Grand Prix podium, despite many feeling they should have. Four years ago, Miguel Oliveira was being mentioned in the same breath as Maverick Vinales having matched him wheel-for-wheel in junior categories but his World Championship career is a story of unfulfilled potential and the Portuguese rider knows he will never have a better opportunity to rectify that. Meanwhile, Brad Binder has punched above his weight on Mahindra machinery in recent times and with a factory KTM underneath him, the South African will feel he now has the equipment to show what he’s truly capable of. Karel Hanika joins the two new recruits in a three-man Ajo squad.

A first victory will be first on Oliveira's list of priorities (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)
A first Grand Prix victory will be first on Oliveira’s list of priorities (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

Given their history and quality, you would expect the champion to come from those two squads but if truth be told, nobody stands out as an obvious favourite this season. In fact only four of the 34 entrants have won a single Grand Prix before and two of those made the breakthrough just last season. Alexis Masbou and Efren Vazquez each endured over a century of races before experiencing the sweet taste of victory last summer and both will start 2015 keen to avoid being remembered as one hit wonders. Masbou joins Britain’s John McPhee at Saxoprint-RTG, replacing Vazquez who will represent the returning Kiefer outfit, now running as Leopard Racing.

It is there that we find the other great British hope and if the phrase ‘opportunity knocks’ applies to anyone this season, surely it’s Danny Kent. In two separate spells with the Ajo stable, the 21 year old became an obstacle in the team’s championship challenge after falling out with Sandro Cortese and more recently Jack Miller. The spats came as a result of Kent’s own success in races late in the season, beating his title-chasing teammates, but that alone highlights the problem the Chippenham rider often faces. Too often, Kent comes into his own late in races, and indeed late in seasons, and by the time man and machine are ready to win, the ultimate prize is already out of reach.  Make no mistake, the championship is an achievable goal for Kent in 2015 and in testing so far, he has been a constant threat to Quartararo, but a slow start to the season must be avoided.

Pressure will also weigh heavily on the shoulders of Romano Fenati with Valentino Rossi expecting results from his Sky-backed Moto3 outfit. The Italian burst onto the scene in spectacular fashion three years ago, winning his second ever GP, but any hopes of a world title have been destroyed by his inability to maximise his machinery in qualifying. That must be eradicated this season.

Romano has a queue of compatriots snapping at his heels with 2014’s top rookie Enea Bastianini looking to enter the winner’s circle this year, the 17 year old hoping to profit from Gresini’s switch from KTM to Honda. Niccolo Antonelli, kicked out of Gresini despite a maiden Moto3 pole in Valencia, has filled the vacancy left by Masbou at Ongetta, and will need to eliminate the crashes which became almost inevitable during races last term.

Quartararo and Navarro may have dominated the winter headlines, justifiably so, but they are by no means the only rookies to keep an eye on in 2015. Jorge Martin joins the Grand Prix fraternity on the back of a dominant march to the Red Bull Rookies title last year, the Spaniard joining Aspar who will now run Mahindra’s factory team. Tatsuki Suzuki, Stefano Manzi and Daryn Binder (younger brother of Brad) will also make their debuts on Mahindra machinery while Maria Herrera will partner Isaac Vinales at the Laglisse Husqvarna team, ensuring that two female riders will contest this season’s championship.

Aspar may have discovered another Spanish gem in Jorge Martin (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)
Aspar may have discovered another Spanish gem in Jorge Martin (Photo Credit: MotoGP.com)

In all, 34 riders will slug it out for the right to be crowned the fourth Moto3 world champion and if the three previous editions have taught us anything, it’s that entertainment, intrigue and pure mayhem are guaranteed before the flag falls in Valencia. All-but two race victories in 2014 were decided by less than a second with sixteen riders finishing within a couple of seconds of the winner at Brno. Tactics often go out of the window, and being a street fighter, as opposed to a smooth rider, is sometimes the best route to victory.

For many, 2015 will be a make-or-break season, the chance to prove they are more than just a second-tier talent. Another year of flattering to deceive could spell the end of some riders’ hopes of a future further up the Grand Prix ladder. On the flip side, a group of rapid rookies are preparing to take their first steps up that ladder and there is every indication that they will make a seriously swift ascent. The big question heading into 2015 is if they will overtake the perceived old guard on the way up.

With last year’s big hitters moving on, the top tier of Moto3 needs some new names. Every rider in the field will face questions over their championship credentials but in eighteen races time, one of them will indeed be able to call themselves champion. Opportunity knocks, but which rider will answer the call?

 

2015 Moto3 World Championship – Teams and Riders

ESTRELLA GALICIA 0,0 – HONDA
9 Jorge Navarro 21 Fabio Quartararo
RED BULL KTM AJO – KTM
41 Brad Binder 44 Miguel Oliveira
98 Karel Hanika
SAXOPRINT-RTG – HONDA
10 Alexis Masbou 17 John McPhee
SKY RACING TEAM VR46 – KTM
5 Romano Fenati 16 Andrea Migno
ONGETTA-RIVACOLD – HONDA
23 Niccolo Antonelli 95 Jules Danilo
HUSQVARNA FACTORY LAGLISSE – HUSQVARNA
6 Maria Herrera 32 Isaac Vinales
JUNIOR TEAM GRESINI MOTO3 – HONDA
33 Enea Bastianini 55 Andrea Locatelli
MAPFRE MAHINDRA TEAM – MAHINDRA
21 Francesco Bagnaia 58 Juanfran Guevara
88 Jorge Martin
CIP – MAHINDRA
2 Remy Gardner 24 Tatsuki Suzuki
SAN CARLO TEAM ITALIA – MAHINDRA
12 Matteo Ferrari 29 Stefano Manzi
DRIVE M7 SIC RACING TEAM – KTM
63 Zulfahmi Khairuddin 84 Jakub Kornfeil
LEOPARD RACING – HONDA
7 Efren Vazquez 52 Danny Kent
76 Hiroki Ono
RBA RACING TEAM – KTM
22 Ana Carrasco 31 Niklas Ajo
91 Gabriel Rodrigo
RW RACING GP – HONDA
11 Livio Loi
OUTOX RESET DRINK TEAM – MAHINDRA
19 Alessandro Tonucci 40 Daryn Binder
SCHEDL GP RACING – KTM
65 Philipp Oettl