Pound-for-pound, you will do very well to find a motorsport series that produces as much excitement as Moto3. Pack racing, photo finishes and world class competition come with the territory in Grand Prix’s lightweight class and 2018 looks set to produce more of the same.
Although only one of the six previous Moto3 champions has actually made it to MotoGP since claiming the title (Maverick Vinales in 2013), the series does also give us a glimpse into the future of Grand Prix racing, particularly with so many teams represented across all three classes. Red Bull KTM, Marc VDS and the Angel Nieto Team are three prime examples with Sky VR46 likely to follow suit before too long. Make no mistake, the big hitters of MotoGP are watching and if you can stand out in this class, your career could take off.
That certainly looks like being the fate awaiting 2017 champion Joan Mir who set new standards on his way to the title. The Spaniard claimed ten victories to clinch the championship two races early before closing the season with a brand-new Moto3 points record, averaging just under 19 points per race. Mir mastered all conditions and all scenarios, from his defensive masterclass in Argentina, to the last lap steal in Barcelona, to his solo escape in Austria. Whatever the competition threw at him, Mir was the class of the field by a distance.
But as all five previous champions did before him, Mir has moved on to Moto2 while the man who pushed him closest last year, Romano Fenati, has graduated too. As a result, the most unpredictable class on the Grand Prix programme could well be set for its most open season ever. So, who are the likely contenders?
Last year’s championship-winning Leopard team have moved to replace Mir with another rider with undoubted potential. Enea Bastianini has been a consistent presence at the front of the class for the last three years, finishing championship runner-up in 2016, but the Italian needs to break his recent trend of starting the campaign slowly, only to surge up the order once the title is out of reach. The 20-year-old has also been guilty of lurching from one team to another in search of that winning formula, this is his third different home in three years, and all eyes will be on Enea to deliver this time. 2016 CEV Junior World Champion Lorenzo Dalla Porta will partner him.
As the highest ranked rider from 2017 still in the class, Aron Canet will start the year as many people’s favourite. The Estrella Galicia rider took three victories last year but faded in the closing stages of the campaign, losing touch with Mir and Fenati, but performances such as the one which saw him steal victory at the last bend at Jerez made it absolutely clear how talented he is. Now with two years’ experience, Canet may well be ready to add the much-needed consistency to his undoubted speed.
Del Conca Gresini established themselves as one of the strongest teams in the class last year and predictably, the Italian squad enter 2018 with an unchanged line-up. Jorge Martin, who dominated many a qualifying session last season, finally ended his wait for a maiden victory in Valencia and is surely going to be a championship contender this time, while team-mate Fabio Di Giannantonio will be looking to translate regular podiums into victories, something that continued to elude him last year.
A major pattern throughout 2017 was the dominance of the Honda-powered machines, who won 17 out 18 races, and it will therefore be fascinating to see what happens by way of a response from former champions KTM. The Austrian manufacturer has boosted its ranks for 2018 having picked up most of the teams previously supported by Mahindra who have departed to focus their efforts in Formula E. Chief among those is the Aspar-run Angel Nieto Team who have retained Albert Arenas, partnering him with the talented Andrea Migno, the one rider to take a KTM to the top of the rostrum in Mugello last year.
Red Bull KTM Ajo, for so long the virtual-factory team for the Austrian company, endured a disastrous campaign with Niccolo Antonelli failing to shirk his reputation as a perpetual crasher. The team has halved its operation for 2018, choosing to run just a single rider, but in Darryn Binder they have a rider who may well have race victories in him in the right conditions. Whether he can follow in his older brother Brad’s footsteps as a Moto3 champion with Ajo remains to be seen.
Binder’s 2017 team-mate Marcos Ramirez ended the year as KTM’s leading runner but despite having suitors elsewhere, the 20-year-old has stayed with the re-named Bester Capital Dubai squad. His team-mate will be Jaume Masia who exploded onto the Grand Prix scene with a remarkable debut in Austria when he ran as high as second, setting the lap record on the way.
If Ramirez was the pleasant surprise of 2017, Sky Racing VR46 were surely the most disappointing surprise. Nicolo Bulega was tipped by many as a title favourite but was perhaps the biggest victim of KTM’s loss of ground to Honda. The teenager has the chance to prove that last season was merely an aberration but if he falls short again, he could struggle up against his rapid rookie team-mate. Like Bulega, Dennis Foggia has a Junior World Championship to his name having won the title last year and the Italian looks like another VR46 prospect with a bright future.
Three other rookies join the Grand Prix ladder this season with Alonso Lopez, a double race-winner in the JWC, replacing Bastianini at Estrella Galicia as team-mate to Canet. Reigning Red Bull Rookies champion Kazuki Masaki joins the growing ranks of impressive Japanese talents having signed for RBA, while Makar Yurchenko makes history as Kazakhstan’s first ever Grand Prix rider. He will partner Britain’s John McPhee at CIP.
Another exhilarating season of Moto3 racing is almost upon us, and with only seven Grand Prix winners remaining in the class, the championship could be as open as ever. The opportunity has never been greater for someone to step out of the pack to announce themselves as a MotoGP rider of the future. It’s anybody’s guess who that rider will be, but if history is any indicator, we’re going to have a lot of fun finding out.