Jaume Masia has been crowned the 2023 Moto3 World Champion with one round to spare after muscling his way to a hard fought victory in the Qatar Moto3.
The Spaniard came into the race armed with a modest 13 point margin over Ayumu Sasaki but while the Japanese spent much of the race in contention for the lead, repeated aggressive lunges from rivals in the closing stages would bully him to the bottom end of the top ten.
While Sasaki valiantly fought his way back to sixth place - almost flinging himself off the Husqvarna IntactGP bike in the process on the final lap - Masia’s steadfast defence of the lead coming over the line would see him secure the points he needed to clinch title glory.
In a typically frenetic race under the floodlights, the combination of a long home straight and fast sweeping corners ensured there would be no consistent thread as several riders slipstreamed through into provisional podium positions over the course of the 15 laps.
Even so, it was all eyes on Masia and Sasaki, the two leading contenders of four riders - along with distant title hopefuls Daniel Holgado and David Alonso - to see whether the Leopard Racing rider could get the job done in advance of next weekend’s Valencia finale.
With the stakes proving high, so was the drama between them, Masia quickly getting in among the leaders despite qualifying tenth, while Sasaki - who has sustained his title aspirations despite having not yet won a race - looking noticeably more aggressive than usual as he fought to keep his dreams alive.
It was perhaps no surprise then that both riders would come to blows on more than one occasion over the course of the race, with Masia twice suspiciously offending with two loose attempts at overtaking around Turn 6, only to run himself wide with Sasaki caught on the outside.
Each time dropping Sasaki to the bottom end of the top ten, the Japanese rider quickly fought his way back into contention, ironically drawing the ire of Masia with four laps to go with a firm pass that led to a wave of frustration from his rival.
However, Sasaki’s challenge would come undone at the start of Lap 12 when he held back on slinking back up the inside of a wide Masia at Turn 1, the hesitation allowing rivals behind to swamp him down to fifth place on the run to Turn 2.
Worse was to follow when Masia’s team-mate Adrian Fernandez did his fellow Leopard Racing rider a huge favour by planting a solid lunge on Sasaki at Turn 6, demoting him down to tenth place.
With Masia out front with two laps remaining and Sasaki circulating well adrift of the fourth place he needed to keep the title alive to Valencia should his rival win, it would come down to some luck for him to reverse his fortunes.
To his credit, Sasaki did close down the gap to the lead group on the final lap but a wild exit onto the kerbs out of Turn 11 would remind him of the limit as he bucked out of the seat, fortunate to stay on his bike.
However, it signalled the end of his challenge and with Masia holding his nerve out front, the Spaniard coming across the line for his fourth win of the season and with it, the title.
A long time coming for Masia, who made his grand prix debut in Moto3 back in 2017, the success also represents a fourth Moto3 World Championship title for the Luxembourg-Italian Leopard Racing team following on from Danny Kent (2015), Joan Mir (2017), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (2019) and now Masia.
With less than five seconds covering the top sixteen riders at the flag, Alonso came through the frenzied fight for second despite being forced down to fourth with a wide moment at Turn 1 coming into the final lap.
He led Deniz Oncu across the line, the Turkish man putting in a superb fight back from outside the top twenty after being handed a double long lap penalty for jumping the start.
In fourth, Riccardo Rossi scored his best result of the season on the SIC58 Honda, the Italian hauling himself into contention late on having spent much of the race on the fringes of the top ten, while Vicente Perez - in only his fifth outing this season - was a superb fifth on the BOE Motorsports bike, just a second off victory.
Sasaki recovered to sixth, though his bucking bronco recovery did cause issues for Daniel Holgado, who was forced down to ninth in avoidance. The Spaniard - who led the standings for much of the season before a mid-year lull - ran with the leaders early on from pole position, but was being cut adrift from the lead battle when he was caught up in Sasaki’s moment.
As such, Matteo Bertelle and Kaito Toba - from 20th on the grid - filled the spots between them in seventh and eighth, while Collin Veijer completed the top ten after, like Sasaki, getting somewhat beaten up by rivals in the closing stages.
Romano Fenati couldn’t manage better than 11th having started on the second row, while David Munoz was forced down to 12th having run with the front pack early on. Joel Kelso too looked in good shape before a wide moment at Turn 1 forced him to the bottom end of the top 20 en route to 13th.
Of the final points’ scorers, Taiyo Furusato crossed the line 14th with Ivan Ortola 15th, the Angeluss MTA Team rider being denied a shot at glory after being handed a double long lap penalty for contact that forced Diogo Moreira down and out of the race.
Of the Brits, Scott Ogden brought it home safely in 19th, but Joshua Whatley failed to finish after crashing on the opening lap.
Qatar Moto3, Lusail International Circuit - Race Results
|2023 Qatar Moto3 - Lusail International Circuit - Race Results - Round 19 of 20|
|1||Jaume Masia||🇪🇦||Leopard Racing||Honda||15 Laps|
|2||David Alonso||🇨🇴||GASGAS Aspar M3||GasGas||+0.068|
|3||Deniz Oncu||🇹🇷||Red Bull KTM Ajo||KTM||+0.163|
|4||Riccardo Rossi||🇮🇹||SIC58 Squadra Corse||Honda||+0.285|
|5||Vicente Perez||🇪🇦||BOE Motorsports||KTM||+1.553|
|6||Ayumu Sasaki||🇯🇵||Husqvarna IntactGP||Husqvarna||+1.566|
|7||Matteo Bertelle||🇮🇹||Rivacold Snipers Team||Honda||+1.725|
|8||Kaito Toba||🇯🇵||SIC58 Squadra Corse||Honda||+1.846|
|9||Daniel Holgado||🇪🇦||Red Bull KTM Tech3||KTM||+1.943|
|10||Collin Veijer||🇳🇱||Husqvarna IntactGP||Husqvarna||+2.019|
|11||Romano Fenati||🇮🇹||Rivacold Snipers Team||Honda||+3.634|
|12||David Munoz||🇪🇦||BOE Motorsports||KTM||+4.003|
|13||Joel Kelso||🇦🇺||CFMoto PruestelGP||CFMoto||+4.060|
|14||Taiyo Furusato||🇯🇵||Honda Team Asia||Honda||+4.166|
|15||Ivan Ortola||🇪🇦||Angeluss MTA Team||KTM||+4.228|
|16||Jose Antonio Rueda||🇪🇦||Red Bull KTM Ajo||KTM||+4.707|
|17||Adrian Fernandez||🇪🇦||Leopard Racing||Honda||+5.139|
|18||Stefano Nepa||🇮🇹||Angeluss MTA Team||KTM||+5.221|
|19||Scott Ogden||🇬🇧||VisionTrack Racing||Honda||+5.589|
|20||Xavier Artigas||🇪🇦||CFMoto PruestelGP||CFMoto||+7.394|
|21||Ryusei Yamanaka||🇯🇵||GASGAS Aspar M3||GasGas||+8.140|
|22||Syarifuddin Azman||🇲🇾||MT Helmets - MSI||KTM||+22.445|
|23||David Salvador||🇪🇦||CIP Green Power||CFMoto||+22.622|
|24||Lorenzo Fellon||🇫🇷||CIP Green Power||KTM||+33.718|
|25||Mario Suryo Aji||🇮🇩||Honda Team Asia||Honda||+34.010|
|26||Diogo Moreira||🇧🇷||MT Helmets - MSI||KTM||+41.722|
|DNF||Filippo Farioli||🇮🇹||Red Bull KTM Tech3||KTM|
|DNF||Joshua Whatley||🇬🇧||VisionTrack Racing||Honda|