2012 Le Mans Moto3 Preview: Young Guns Ready for the French Grand Prix
The first three races in the history of the new Moto3 class have given three different winners and, with round four just around the corner at Le Mans, any one of Sandro Cortese, Maverick Viñales or Romano Fenati could get their second win of the season. Or perhaps Spaniard Luis Salom will find that tiny thing he still needs to become part of the exclusive club of new “quarter litre” category winners.
With an intelligent victory at the first race in Qatar, Viñales started 2012 season as he finished 2011, winning in a very consistent way and becoming the favourite among the fastest contenders for the first Moto3 world championship season. But just as life was not easy in the 125 class, neither is it in Moto3, so Viñales’s sixth place finish in round two at Jerez proved once more the old saying that a winner one week can be mid-pack the next. Back in the front again fighting for victory one week later in Portugal, Viñales and his FTR Honda suffered clear problems of top speed against Sandro Cortese’s KTM on Estoril's main straight. At the end, victory was decided when both riders touched each other while accelerating at the start of the third sector of the track, with advantage for Cortese on the inside line. Viñales was far from happy with the episode, and he even tapped Cortese’s arm after the checkered flag. Maybe Cortese’s move was not such fair play, but Viñales’ action should not have gone unnoticed by Race Direction, but it did. Back on the track Viñales got his first ever win last year at Le Mans, a track with such strong braking points that top speed does not seem to be a crucial issue.
Even if Cortese is the points leader at the moment, there is no doubt the sensation of the start of this 2012 season is the young Italian rider Romano Renati. For the good of the sport, it was nice to see Fenati winning the Spanish Grand Prix flying the Italian Motorcycle Federation colours. Luca Cadalora and Fausto Gresini provided the golden era for this team, with three 125 world titles back in the 80’s, but no rider had won again since Alessandro Gramigni did in Brno back in 1991, a time when the Czech Republic was still Czechoslovakia. Making it even more of an Italian affair, Gramigni’s victory then was also Aprilia’s first in the 125 class. Fenati’s talent looks as strong and natural as Viñales’ and I would almost bet that both riders will eclipse Cortese during this season.
A highly skilled rider with no wins yet is Luis Salom. The temperamental Spaniard has the kind of fighting spirit which Pol Espargaro shows in Moto2, and maybe that’s something that prevents him from achieving the level of perfection he needs to win his first race in Moto3. At the same time, a hard braking track like Le Mans could help Salom to get at the top of the podium.
The Portuguese Grand Prix two weeks ago saw the emergence of a new fast contender for the rostrum in Moto3, Malaysian rider Zulfhami Khairuddin. In a country with no racing tradition but extraordinarily big market to be conquered for any manufacturer, Khairuddin could likely be its first national hero in road racing, taking the world championship back to the years when Japanese riders were the only non-European riders capable of winning in the class.
The start of the season has also brought some disappointing performances, as is the case for Portuguese rider Miguel Oliveira. His obvious riding talent is beyond doubt, but his performance so far makes a clear contrast with his rookie team mate Alex Rins. Bankia Aspar team riders Hector Faubel and Alberto Moncayo are also having problems being competitive on the Kalex KTMs.
The Le Mans round this weekend should give a clearer idea of who is the strongest young rider of Moto3, but we are hoping rather to see a mad fight for victory again, so this question will not be answered yet.