Championship favourite Marc Marquez won the opening Moto2 race of the season after a thrilling race that went right to the wire.
The Spaniard was made to work exceptionally hard for the 18th win of his Grand Prix career after a race long battle with Thomas Luthi, Andrea Iannone, Pol Esapargaro and Esteve Rabat.
Luthi converted his pole position into an early lead before falling back to sixth at the start of the third lap. The Swiss rider dominated the weekend but couldn’t shake off the attentions of the leading group and ultimately he was unable to maintain his practice and qualifying form in the race.
With Luthi falling to the back of the lead pack Pol Espargaro was charging and the Spaniard, who had a trying debut season in the intermediate class last year, moved to the front.
The Pons rider looked poised and confident throughout the race and led a total of eight laps as he proved that he will be a threat throughout the year. Iannone was another rider eager to move on from a subpar 2011 season that saw him unable to consistently qualify well. This caused him to race in the middle of the pack for much of the season.
When he is in the hunt for a win there are very few riders as good as Iannone. The aggressive Italian showed however that he has brains to go with his brawn. Throughout the race he was one of the most consistent riders with his pace barely changing for the entire race distance. The same could not be said for Luthi who moved back and forth through the pack throughout the race before taking the lead with six laps to go.
Luthi moved past Espargaro and had Marquez hot on his heels for the closing laps. The pair looked to have more pace in hand than their rivals and started to open a slender lead from their pursuers.
Unable to open a significant lead however any mistake would likely be punished by falling to the back of the leading group of riders.
On the final lap of the race Luthi was punished for a mistake. Marquez slipstreamed past and moved across to take the racing line before he was completely ahead of Luthi.
Whereas most riders would sit up slightly to fall behind Marquez and try and battle back past into the corner Luthi stood his ground and was run wide by Marquez.
That was enough for Iannone, Espargaro andRabatto overtake him. Marquez came under fire for the incident following the race but it was little more than typical rough and tumble in this competitive class with Marquez commenting that “many riders passsed me quite aggressively” during the race as well.
The incident cost Marquez time also and coming into the final corner he trailed Iannone. The Spaniard however rode to the limit and was on the throttle incredibly early in the right hander leading onto the pit straight and within 50 metres of the corner exit it was clear that the race would be won by Marquez.
He eased past Iannone on the way to the line to start his title assault in perfect fashion.
Espargaro managed to hold off his teammateRabatand Luthi to take the final step on the rostrum and was clearly elated afterwards with an unexpected third Moto2 podium of his career.
“When I saw Luthi, Marquez and Iannone go away [I thought there would be no podium,]” said the Spaniard. “To start with a podium here is so good to my team and my people and we will work more for the next step inJerez
With Marquez having missed most of winter testing it was expected that he would ease himself into the season and look for solid finishes before he returned to full race fitness.Qatarshowed however that he is more than capable of beating his rivals even with minimal running prior to the season opener.
For Luthi the result will be most disappointing. The Swiss rider dominated the weekend and needed to get his campaign off to a quick start and build a cushion to Marquez in the championship standings. Instead his mistake cost him the win and his strong weekend counts for little.