Deniz Oncu has notched up his third victory of the 2023 Moto3 World Championship season after once again dealing out some late heartache for Ayumu Sasaki on the final lap of the Australian Moto3 at a sodden Phillip Island.
The Turkish rider bided his time in tricky wet conditions after breaking away with a lead group of five riders before steadily working his way onto the tail of Sasaki as the race entered its closing stages.
Echoing a similar set piece during the German Moto3 as Oncu reeled Sasaki in before pouncing for victory at the final corner, this time it came at the penultimate bend, the Red Bull KTM Ajo rider controlling a squirming plunge down Lukey Heights to slither past his rival at the MG right-hander.
A missed opportunity for Sasaki on a day when his main title rivals Jaume Masia and Daniel Holgado struggled for pace in the rain, second place nonetheless lifts the Japanese just five points shy of the former with four rounds to go.
With the onset of stormy weather already bringing wet and rain to Phillip Island in time for the start of the Moto3 race, a tentative opening few laps would see pole man Sasaki take an early lead which he’d hold across the line at the first time of asking.
However, he’d quickly cede it at the start of lap two to Adrian Fernandez, the Leopard Racing rider - seeing out the season in place of Tatsuki Suzuki - demonstrating his confidence in the slippery conditions to quickly work his way to the front of the field into a lead he’d control for the majority of the race.
Showing pace reminiscent of Suzuki as he splashed to a dominant victory in similar conditions in Argentina at the top of the year, Fernandez carved out a comfortable lead over the chasing pack to put himself on course for a famous maiden win in Moto3 to emulate his brother, RNF Aprilia MotoGP rider Raul.
However, his victory aspirations would collapse with his Honda after getting it wrong as he tipped into Turn 11 with six laps remaining.
His crash thus opened the door for Sasaki to take control once more, albeit with Kelso and Oncu hot on his heels in second and third. However, while the hardy home fans braving it in the poor weather pinned their hopes on Kelso, it was Oncu that’d position himself as the larger threat once he’d overtaken the CFMoto PruestelGP rider with four laps remaining.
Coming into the final revolution, Oncu was now shadowing Sasaki, the Husqvarna Intact GP brushing off some loose moments to hold his form and the lead around the majority of the lap. However, Oncu remained on his tail coming up and over Lukey Heights before launching his KTM to the inside on the run down to MG.
Getting it stopped just in time to run Sasaki out wide, Oncu squared it off again ahead of the final left-hander, accelerating clear of his rival to take the flag for victory, his third of the year to go with successes at the Sachsenring and Spielberg.
It left Sasaki to make do with second as his wait for a victory this season lingers on, though a ninth podium of the season - coupled with Masia playing it safe en route to eighth - allows him to make in-roads into the Spaniard’s overall lead, with the pair now separated by just five points.
Holgado, meanwhile, could only manage 13th after struggling in the conditions having taken a fall on the sighting lap prior to the start. It means he slips 23 points shy of the overall lead.
Back at the front, Kelso celebrated a memorable first Grand Prix podium, the Australian utilising his local knowledge to protect a large gap behind him and bring it home in third place.
Having diced with the front group for much of the race, Collin Veijer faded back to a distant fourth place to finish as top rookie, while Fernandez consoled himself a fine fifth place result having had time to remount and rejoin following his crash out of the lead.
More than half-a-minute adrift of the win, Riccardo Rossi prevailed in a busy battle for sixth place on the SIC58 Squadra Corse Honda, ahead of seventh place Taiyo Furusato, the Japanese rider sparing some blushes at Honda Team Asia after Mario Aji’s impressive rise into the top six ended with a crash on lap 13.
Despite making strong gains from 13th on the grid initially, Masia spent much of his morning outside of the top ten before making the most of crashes up ahead to bring his Leopard bike home in eighth place and hold onto his points’ lead.
Matteo Bertelle and Lorenzo Fellon completed the top ten, the latter scoring his first points of the year, as does Nicola Carraro in 11th, with front row starter Stefano Nepa and Holgado following in 12th and 13th.
Despite only one VisionTrack bike making the grid, Joshua Whatley made the most of the conditions to crack the points for only the second time this season, the British rider leading home final point scorer Ryusei Yamanaka.
Among the many retirements were David Alonso, who fell early on to deal a blow to his fledgling title aspirations, Diogo Moreira following a fall on the sighting lap too and David Munoz, who crashed out of a top ten position despite having to serve two long lap penalties.
|2023 Australian Moto3 | Phillip Island Circuit | Race Results | Round 16 of 20|
|1||Deniz Oncu||🇹🇷||Red Bull KTM Ajo||KTM||21 Laps|
|2||Ayumu Sasaki||🇯🇵||Husqvarna IntactGP||Husqvarna||+0.407|
|3||Joel Kelso||🇦🇺||CFMoto PruestelGP||CFMoto||+4.392|
|4||Collin Veijer||🇳🇱||Husqvarna IntactGP||Husqvarna||+23.062|
|5||Adrian Fernandez||🇪🇦||Leopard Racing||Honda||+31.661|
|6||Riccardo Rossi||🇮🇹||SIC58 Squadra Corse||Honda||+31.702|
|7||Taiyo Furusato||🇯🇵||Honda Team Asia||Honda||+32.236|
|8||Jaume Masia||🇪🇦||Leopard Racing||Honda||+32.923|
|9||Matteo Bertelle||🇮🇹||Rivacold Snipers Team||Honda||+33.379|
|10||Lorenzo Fellon||🇫🇷||CIP Green Power||KTM||+335.375|
|11||Nicola Fabio Carraro||🇮🇹||Rivacold Snipers Team||Honda||+46.470|
|12||Stefano Nepa||🇮🇹||Angeluss MTA Team||KTM||+53.566|
|13||Daniel Holgado||🇪🇦||Red Bull KTM Tech3||KTM||+1m >|
|14||Joshua Whatley||🇬🇧||VisionTrack Racing||Honda||+1m >|
|15||Ryusei Yamanaka||🇯🇵||GASGAS Aspar M3||GasGas||+1m >|
|16||Xavier Artigas||🇪🇦||CFMoto PruestelGP||CFMoto||+1m >|
|17||Kaito Toba||🇯🇵||SIC58 Squadra Corse||Honda||+1m >|
|18||Jose Antonio Rueda||🇪🇦||Red Bull KTM Ajo||KTM||+1m >|
|DNF||Vicente Perez||🇪🇦||BOE Motorsports||KTM|
|DNF||Syarifuddin Azman||🇲🇾||MT Helmets - MSI||KTM|
|DNF||David Salvador||🇪🇦||CIP Green Power||CFMoto|
|DNF||Mario Suryo Aji||🇮🇩||Honda Team Asia||Honda|
|DNF||David Alonso||🇨🇴||GASGAS Aspar M3||GasGas|
|DNF||David Munoz||🇪🇦||BOE Motorsports||KTM|
|DNF||Ivan Ortola||🇪🇦||Angeluss MTA Team||KTM|
|DNF||Filippo Farioli||🇮🇹||Red Bull KTM Tech3||KTM|
|DNF||Diogo Moreira||🇧🇷||MT Helmets - MSI||KTM|
|W?||Scott Ogden||🇬🇧||VisionTrack Racing||Honda|