Red Bull KTM Tech3’s Daniel Holgado celebrated his and his team’s maiden Moto3 victory in the opening race of 2023 at Portimao on Sunday.
Last season’s impressive rookies maintained their front running prowess as the new year kicked off, BOE’s David Muñoz and MT Helmets MSI’s Diogo Moreira completing the podium less than two tenths of a second adrift of the winner with Red Bull KTM rookie Jose Antonio Rueda a mere three hundredths behind.
Liqui Moly Husqvarna’s Ayumu Sasaki lined up on pole for the first Moto3 race of the 2023 season. 19 laps around the Algarve International Circuit awaiting the lightweight class with reigning JuniorGP Champion Rueda and CFMoto’s Joel Kelso alongside on the front row. British hopefuls Scott Ogden and Josh Whatley preparing to launch their VisionTrack Hondas from 20th and 24th respectively.
The warm up lap saw drama for Deniz Öncü as his KTM Ajo was wheeled off the grid and facing a pitlane start, Kelso taking control as the lights went out. Holgado was up to second as the opening lap unfolded, Rueda slow off the line and attempting to regroup from sixth. Further disappointment found CIP Green Power’s Lorenzo Fellon failing to start with Ogden down and out at turn four.
Back at the front Holgado was in the lead from Kelso, Sasaki and the second CFMoto of Xavi Artigas. MTA’s Ivan Ortola and Stefano Nepa circulated together from fifth and sixth before Muñoz launched to better the pair from seventh. The BOE rider continuing to climb as lap three played out.
Kelso was back in charge at the start of lap four. David Alonso crashing the Aspar out of his maiden Moto3 GP from the leading pack after contact with Ortola with Tech3’s Filippo Farioli the next to fall moments later.
Sasaki and Holgado bickered for command on lap five as Muñoz arrived to third. Leopard’s Jaume Masia joining the frontrunners in a move from sixth to fourth as Ryusei Yamanaka, Ortola, Rueda and Moreira swapped positions behind.
Six laps done and Ortola faced a double long lap penalty after his part in the Alonso fall. Holgado back in control, this time from Muñoz and Masia as Sasaki ran adrift of podium contention. The BOE rider briefly holding court before the KTM dispatched him once again.
Moreira’s patience paid off at the halfway stage as the MSI rider found his way to the leading group. Muñoz elbowed down to seventh as the top ten riders ran abreast down the start-finish straight.
Holgado maintained his advantage with ten to go as Moreira and Artigas muscled into position behind, Sasaki and Muñoz back in contention seconds later as the action continued to shift. Ortola attempting to regroup and pushing red sector pace from 15th after dispatching his penalty.
A mistake at turn five allowed Sasaki through before Holgado hit back. Muñoz on the wheels of his fellow KTM rider with Masia waiting in the wings to strike.
Seven to go and Kaito Toba arrived to joined the fight. The Sic58 rider running sixth with Artigas and Moreira for company either side as the intense top eleven battle played out. Last year’s rookie of the year launching from seventh to the lead two laps later as Moreira took charge in the closing stages.
Another shuffle and Rueda was in the lead, having spent the majority of the race outside the top ten. Sasaki making similar strides having been relegated to ninth before Holgado returned to command. Rivacold Snipers’ Romano Fenati picking up a long lap penalty with three to go.
The closing stages found Öncü on the edge of the top ten after an impressive comeback from his disastrous start. A near ten-second deficit slashed to just two with as many laps left to run.
A last lap tussle found Rueda back in the hunt as he dispatched Moreira for the final podium position, Holgado holding out as the final corner approached to take his first ever victory in the first race of 2023. Muñoz and Moreira completed the podium celebrations much to the frustrations of the pursuing rookie, 0.031s behind.
Masia, Sasaki, Nepa and Artigas trailed Rueda from fourth to eighth. A distracted Kelso dramatically down after crossing the line and hitting the back of the celebrating Holgado.
Öncü recovered to tenth at the flag, Toba, Husqvarna rookie Colin Veijer, CIP’s David Salvador, Leopard’s Tatsuki Suzuki and Sic58’s Riccardo Rossi completing the points finishers while Yamanaka, Matteo Bertelle, Mario Aji, Fenati and Whatley rounded out the top 20.