The dark clouds of Saturday gave way to nice sunny skies for race day and one man who fully embraced the opportunity to shine in Valencia was Tony Arbolino. The Italian stood on the top spot of the podium for the first time this season after starting 13th on the grid and it brought him closer to the title battle heading into the season finale. Home hero Sergio Garcia was back to the podium in Valencia for the third consecutive time, demoting European GP victor Raul Fernandez to third.
The start painted a different picture, with Kaito Toba taking the lead into turn one but seeing poleman Darryn Binder sweep past soon after. The lead continued to change hands and Fernandez finished lap one at the front of the pack. Albert Arenas gained a couple of positions on the first lap to trail the three leaders, while rival Ai Ogura dropped to 8th and Arbolino made a sensational start to climb into 5th place straight away. The first bit of drama came on lap 2, when Toba high-sided at turn 5 from second position and wiped out compatriot Tatsuki Suzuki as well. The chasers had to take avoiding action and that allowed Fernandez to escape at the front once again, in a déjà vu from one week ago. It was Arbolino who picked up the chase and had the mission of reducing the one second gap to the runaway leader.
With Fernandez pushing to extend his lead, Arbolino was ahead of a sizeable group including the likes of Binder, Arenas and Jaume Masia, although the group lost Celestino Vietti at turn 11 on lap 4 and the Italian lost his title aspirations in the process. Ogura didn’t make much noise in the early stages but the Japanese rider was steadily around 9th position, at the back of the main group. Birthday boy Jeremy Alcoba was leading the next group two seconds down the road.
While Fernandez’s gap hovered around the 1.5 seconds mark for the next few laps, Arbolino struggled to make much progress and was under attack from Garcia, Arenas, Deniz Oncu and Binder, while Andrea Migno, Ogura and Masia seemed to lose touch with the chasing group, the gap up to one second by lap 10. Quite unusually for a Moto3 race, there was not much action at the halfway point of proceedings, most of the airtime going to the battle for 8th place, where Ogura and Masia were swapping paint, earning Masia a track limits warning in the process, all the while their little group led by Migno was losing more time on the podium fight. Ogura eventually picked up the lead of that group with 10 laps left but had nearly three seconds to find to catch up with Binder ahead.
Back at the front, Fernandez’s gap finally dropped to under one second with eight laps to go as Arbolino picked up the pace and took Garcia with him. Arenas didn’t seem to have the pace to go with them and was fending off the feisty duo of Oncu and Binder. However, they had little to worry from behind, as Ogura could not reduce the gap, which continued to grow to over five seconds over the next couple of laps.
With 6 laps remaining, Arbolino and Garcia were glued to the back of Fernandez and it looked like a three-way battle for victory, while Arenas had dropped over a second back and did not look like he would have a say for the podium. Garcia made the first move with 4 laps remaining, getting past Arbolino at turn 2, but the Italian fought back and the duo continued to battle for the next couple of laps, not really bothering Fernandez yet. Arbolino eventually hit the front going into turn 1 with 2 laps remaining and Garcia followed his example one lap later, demoting Fernandez to third but only briefly as the compatriots spent the final lap rubbing elbows and this allowed Arbolino to make an escape and claim the win.
Arbolino took the checkered flag over a second ahead of the battle for second, which went Garcia’s way at turn 12. Arenas fought hard to keep Binder and Oncu behind him to score a crucial fourth place, while Migno claimed seventh place ahead of the photo finish between Ogura and Masia. Three seconds later, Alcoba gifted himself a top ten position on his birthday.
Despite missing out on the podium, Arenas did enough to keep hold of the championship lead by 8 points ahead of Ogura, while Arbolino’s fine victory brings him firmly back into championship contention going into the final round, with an 11 points deficit.
|89||Khairul Idham Pawi||Honda||2 Laps|
|2||Gabriel Rodrigo||Honda||16 Laps|
|21||Alonso Lopez||Husqvarna||16 Laps|
|27||Kaito Toba||KTM||22 Laps|
|24||Tatsuki Suzuki||Honda||22 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|73||Maximilian Kofler||KTM||0 Lap|