The second half of the Moto3 season kicked off at Spielberg as Petronas STR’s Darryn Binder and John McPhee locked out Friday’s standings in preparation for the StyrianGP.
A late-session threat of rain failed to dent the South African’s charge, heading the opening day with his 1’36.809 penultimate lap. Sergio Garcia denied Romano Fenati for third in the closing stages after the Husqvarna rider had held court from his fourth lap.
An almost full Moto3 class resumed action under cool but sunny skies as the first of two Austrian weekends got underway - David Salvador the only replacement rider, in for Alberto Surra at Rivacold Snipers.
Championship leader, Pedro Acosta led the way as the initial laps began to register, Binder challenging with his third attempt as the pair circulated on 1’39.4 pace. Jaume Masia and Fenati joined the party as the session bedded in, the second KTM advancing the times to 1’37.873 before returning to the pits, with Niccolò Antonelli and Tatsuki Suzuki sitting on the fringes of the top-five.
The halfway stage saw Antonelli in charge, thanks to a 1’37.756, Garcia back in the box to a repair a damaged fairing with McPhee building on a steady start from 14th.
Antonelli maintained his lead by a mere 0.010s as the clock counted down in the morning session, the KTM pair of Masia and Acosta battling a tenth apart for runner-up honours with Fenati and Garcia heading Suzuki and McPhee in the top-seven.
The final push with three minutes to go saw Garcia top on a 1’37.192, Antonelli fighting back with an equally impressive effort, before the Italian crashed out at turn six on his next P1-worthy lap. The Petronas pair of Binder and McPhee entered the top-four-fight in the closing stages before the Scot topped the times by just 0.003s, Garcia ultimately denying the number-17 to take the opening session with a 1’37.143 in the dying seconds.
McPhee initially sat second from Acosta, before the impressive rookie leapfrogged with his final lap, a rejuvenated Ayumu Sasaki and Fenati holding fourth and fifth with Binder heading Antonelli, Masia, Andrea Migno and Gabriel Rodrigo in the top-10.
The afternoon saw a seven degree rise in temperatures as the 4.3km track enjoyed mid-20℃ conditions for the second practice. Binder took charge with a 1’37.397 in the opening laps as the pace quickly crept close to the morning’s best after just five minutes of action before Fenati broke the barrier with a 1’36.934. Binder followed suit, just 0.022s off the Italian, with McPhee circulating in third, a further four-tenths back. Antonelli was back in the mix as he made his return to the top-three on his sixth lap, Filip Salac and Migno sitting fifth and sixth with 10-minutes gone. The PruestelGP rider losing his lap shortly after due to track limits.
Six of the overall top-14 had yet to improve on their morning times by the halfway stage. New recruit Salvador holding the provisional gateway time into Q2 with a 1’37.663 and Suzuki the first outside as the final 20-minutes fired up.
The closing 15-minutes found Dennis Foggia up to fourth, Sasaki sixth with Masia, Garcia and Rodrigo in hot pursuit. Migno and Deniz Öncü captured the final top-10 positions two-minutes later before the pack hit the pits ahead of the final push and the rain began to make its presence felt.
With the light rain abating, the riders were back out for the closing five minutes. Garcia taking his shot at the standings with a 1’36.866 as Foggia moved to third and Carlos Tatay found eighth.
The times began to tumble as the clock counted down. Binder taking charge from teammate McPhee as the Petronas pair bettered the GasGas rider, with Foggia losing out on a red lap in the final sector.
The flag flew with Binder 0.04s ahead of the Scot, Garcia, Fenati and Foggia completing the top-five with Sasaki, Migno, Antonelli, Masia and Salac rounding out the top-10. Izan Guevara, Acosta, Adrian Fernandez and Tatay took the final, albeit provisional, Q2 places as the rain finally arrived in force.