The junior class of Grand Prix motorcycle racing has a different look to it this year. New riders are guaranteed as the stars of tomorrow enter the arena but for 2012, the championship has a new name. Farewell to the 125s, welcome to Moto3.
It’s more than just a rebranding exercise though as the 125cc two-strokes that have been an ever-present on the Grand Prix programme finally depart. 250cc single cylinder, four-stroke engines are now the name of the game and with the cost of one limited to â‚¬12,000, a full grid is expected. So amongst the 32 hopefuls, which names should we look out for?
Nicolas Terol and Johann Zarco, the two men that pushed each other to the wire in last year’s 125 title race, have both made the jump to Moto2 so many will look to Maverick Vinales, the revelation of the year, to make the running this season. The Blusens team, now under the name Avintia Racing, will run a Honda powered FTR and that brings to light one of the effects of the new format.
Teams can now purchase an engine for a reduced price and under Moto3 rules, can integrate it into the chassis of their choosing as long as it conforms to the regulations. As a result, British-based FTR will be challenged by current Moto2 champions Kalex while Ioda Racing and Mahindra have also thrown their own bikes into the mix. A championship which has been impossible to predict in years gone by has just got even tougher to forecast.
The cost-friendly regulations have also enticed manufacturers back into the class. Last season was virtually an all-Aprilia affair with the odd Derbi up at the front but now, KTM are back. The Finnish manufacturer hasn’t entered a factory team since 2008 but has returned alongside the Ajo Motorsport team, fielding a strong trio of riders to challenge Vinales.
Sandro Cortese will be viewed by many as the expected team leader after a breakthrough season in 2011. At one stage, the German seemed to drinking in the last chance saloon but a maiden victory at Brno transformed him into a genuine frontrunner, and another win followed in Australia. Ajo retain British teenager Danny Kent after he impressed on underpowered machinery and if testing times are anything to go by, Cortese won’t have things all his own way. Australia’s next big thing, Arthur Sissis, completes the line-up after making his debut as a wildcard last season.
Honda have also stepped up their support of the championship and while they don’t have their own works team, they provide either a chassis, an engine, or both for eight others. Besides the Avintia squad, the most competitive is likely to be Estrella Galicia 0,0, an unfamiliar name but don’t let that fool you.
The title sponsorship from a drinks company masks the identity of Monlau Competicion, new to the junior class, but a team which took Marc Marquez to the brink of the Moto2 title last time around. The highly-rated Miguel Oliveira leads the team while CEV Buckler 125 champion Alex Rins partners him. Rins succeeded Maverick Vinales as champion and when you consider the likes of Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo have graduated from the Spanish national championship, Rins is a name to look out for.
The level of competition is so high that the 2011 125cc world champions have almost slipped under the radar. Bankia Aspar may have pulled off a masterstroke by joining forces with Kalex, a chassis which will be powered by a KTM engine. The man with the seemingly impossible task is Alberto Moncayo as the Spaniard faces the prospect of filling the shoes of Nicolas Terol. Hector Faubel’s immense experience should help the team get an understanding of their new machine but the 28 year old was handsomely beaten by Terol in 2011. If anything, he will provide the benchmark which Moncayo will be expected to beat.
Dark horses come in the form of RW Racing’s Luis Salom who took his first podium in 2011 and Jonas Folger who managed to strike a last-minute deal with IodaRacing but the established names are all going to have a selection of whippersnappers chasing them down.
Alex Rins looks best placed to make a name for himself but he could be outshone by the man who beat him to the European Championship in October. Romano Fenati is the boy in question and the 16 year old will race for the Italian federation team, Team Italia FMI, this season. The 16 year old stunned everyone with the third quickest time in the Jerez pre-season test and looks like becoming a familiar figure on the Grand Prix scene. Fenati may be the European Champion but fellow countryman Niccolo Antonelli pipped him to their domestic particular title. Antonelli is also making his GP debut this weekend and with the might of San Carlo Gresini behind him, could upset the established riders.
Sadly, Britain’s presence in this class has been halved since last year following the departure of Taylor Mackenzie and Harry Stafford. Danny Webb has stuck around though as Mahindra’s Moto3 plan is put into action but based on testing times, the Kent rider faces a tough task to score points early on.
The timesheets at Jerez were headed by Maverick Vinales as Avintia Racing and Red Bull KTM Ajo locked horns. Sandro Cortese had led the way earlier in the week but by the time the chequered flag fell on the final day, he’d demoted to fourth by teammate Kent and the impressive Fenati. Zulfahmi Khairuddin, another rider within the Ajo stable, took his KTM to fifth ahead of Antonelli Moncayo and the two Estrella Galicia Hondas. Webb could only manage 23rd, one place ahead of teammate Marcel Schrotter.
In the grand scheme of things, those times mean nothing. No championship points are awarded and grid positions are not at stake but this weekend that all changes. 125cc racing produced many a magical moment right until the end, who will forget the dead heat in Germany, but it has been consigned to the history books. Moto3 has plenty to live up to. Under the Qatar floodlights, a new era begins.
2012 Moto3 World Championship – Teams & Riders
|Bankia Aspar Team Moto3 (Kalex-KTM)|
|23.||Alberto Moncayo||55.||Hector Faubel|
|Avintia Racing Moto3 (FTR-Honda)|
|Red Bull KTM Ajo (KTM)|
|11.||Sandro Cortese||52.||Danny Kent||61.||Arthur Sissis|
|RW Racing GP (Kalex-KTM)|
|39.||Luis Salom||41.||Brad Binder|
|Estrella Galicia 0’0 (Honda)|
|42.||Alex Rins||44.||Miguel Oliveira|
|Team Italia FMI (Ioda)|
|5.||Romano Fenati||19.||Alessandro Tonucci|
|IodaRacing Project (Ioda)|
|Ioda Team Italia (Ioda)|
|San Carlo Gresini Moto3 (Honda)|
|Racing Team Germany (Honda)|
|Mahindra Racing (Mahindra-Oral)|
|77.||Marcel Schrotter||99.||Danny Webb|
|32.||Isaac Vinales||84.||Jakub Kornfeil|
|Ambrogio Next Racing (Aprilia-Oral)|
|15.||Simone Grotzkyj||30.||Giulian Pedone|
|Caretta Technology (KTM)|
|8.||Jack Miller||10.||Alexis Masbou|
|JHK LaGlisse (Honda)|
|7.||Efren Vazquez||21.||Ivan Moreno||26.||Adrian Martin|
|TT Motion Events Racing (KTM)|
|Moto FGR (FGR-Honda)|
|51.||Kenta Fujii||89.||Alan Techer|
|Cresto Guide MZ Racing (MZ-RE Honda)|