Luis Salom converted his maiden Moto3 pole position into victory in the season opener at Losail after escaping from a five-man leading group on the last lap. The Red Bull KTM Ajo rider had his hands full with the Estrella Galicia KTMs of Alex Rins and Alex Marquez with Maverick Vinales and Jonas Folger also in the mix but a blistering final lap secured maximum points for Salom.
The four riders that began the season as title favourites established their superiority from the moment the red light went out but they had a new challenger in the form of Marquez while Miguel Oliveira led the second group involving Red Bull Ajo’s two other KTMs ridden by Arthur Sissis and Zulfahmi Khairuddin.
Polesitter Salom played a cautious game early on as Rins did the pacesetting at the front of the field and while Vinales and Folger stayed out of trouble, the unpredictable Marquez went on the offensive. A mistake from Folger on lap seven promoted him to fourth while a three-bike slipstream down the home straight enabled him to take Vinales for third at the start of lap eleven. It only took the 16 year old two more laps to pull the same move on Salom and with seven laps remaining, the Estrella Galicia KTMs were first and second.
There was no chance of the teammates keeping out of each other’s way though as Marquez dived straight up the inside of Rins into turn one to lead a Grand Prix for the first time in his career, just three from the finish, but the closeness of the pack and the effect of the slipstream saw Vinales hit the front next time around despite crossing the line in fourth. The lead was all too short with Marquez barging back past at turn four, bringing his teammate Rins through with him and the no.42 would become the third different leader in half a lap by putting some manners on his compatriot.
Leading into the home straight at the start of the last lap would prove to be a mistake given the value of a tow and Salom proved it by breezing past Rins into turn one while Vinales repeated his move of two laps earlier to take second. Maverick wouldn’t get any higher than that as Salom put the hammer down and his attention shifted to defending second, which he succeeded in doing by six thousandths of a second on the drag race to the finish line.
Marquez missed out on his first Moto3 podium by a quarter of a second in fourth while Jonas Folger had to settle for fifth after never getting close enough to get amongst the Spanish quartet ahead of him. Zulfahmi Khairuddin’s stronger pace in the second half of the race saw him claim sixth despite the best efforts of Miguel Oliveira with Arthur Sissis fading to eighth. Niklas Ajo made it seven factory KTMs inside the top nine after winning a four way fight for ninth place with Efren Vazquez tenth ahead of Danny Webb. John McPhee had an outside chance of joining his fellow Briton in the points but a crash two laps from home put paid to that.