Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Miguel Oliveira of Portugal on Sunday rode yet another masterly tactical race at the MotoGP Moto3 penultimate race at the Sepang Circuit Malaysia not only to take his third victory in five races but also to keep the championship alive going into the final round. Oliveira has not finished less that second place in those five races.
Red Bull KTM Ajo teammate Brad Binder of South Africa finished second and Jorge Navarro was third. Two other KTM riders, Romano Fenati of Italy (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Czech rider Jakub Kornfeil (Drive M7 SIC) finished 5-6 to register another good Moto3 day out for the Austrian brand.
Oliveira went into the race with a 40-point deficit on championship leader Danny Kent with 50 points still up for grabs. He knew that if he won the race Kent only had to finish top five to take the title. Kent crossed the line in seventh place but still has a 24-point advantage going to the final round in Valencia with a tantalizing 25-points still on the table.
Oliveira has been the dominant rider in the competition since KTM introduced the 2016 chassis to the KTM RC 250 GP machine. He was a major player all weekend, picking up his seventh consecutive front row qualification and was the fastest off the grid in the 18-lap race. He stayed out in front for the first five laps but was momentarily edged wide in the sixth before quickly recovering the lead. Aware that there were a number of slipstream opportunities on the sweeping Malaysia circuit, he continually tested out the possibilities, knowing that position in the final laps would be vital.
Miguel Oliveira: “I didn’t know anything about Danny (Kent) from my pit board, so I just forgot about him and went for the victory. In the last lap I didn’t want to be first on the final straight and luckily it was Brad, because he could push me down the straight. Like me, he also has a very fast bike. I’m really happy with the win and that championship is still alive. I know its quite hard but I will fight till the end. Before beginning these three rounds I never thought that I could take the championship to Valencia. In the end I am very happy with the job the team has done. They have given me a great bike to be on the podium consistently, and to have taken a fifth win of the season is very important.”
Oliveira’s main challenger in the first half of the race was Fenati but in the last four laps Binder was also a constant contender. The South African came back from a fifth row start to move into podium contention by Lap 15 and was the race leader going into the penultimate lap.
Brad Binder: “I am really happy, even though I didn’t get the win that I was obviously hoping for. But I just felt strong the whole race. One good thing is that my fitness is very good, so it didn’t affect me in this long race. This is my first second of the season and I feel stronger in every race. I gave 110 percent throughout the race and I was leading into the last corner. I was trying to save myself for the end, not wearing out my tires and staying out of battles. I did what I could, overtaking when possible and staying in the group. I stayed in the front until the end, trying to push as much as possible but Miguel did an extraordinary job. He kept the championship alive and that's always good, so I’m happy about that. I feel very good on the bike and I look forward to going to Valencia and to see what happens.”
Karel Hanika, the third Red Bull KTM Ajo rider crashed out in the eighth lap while in a top 10 position.
While forecast haze did not materialize to affect rider visibility at Sepang, temperatures of around 45 degrees Celsius and the extremely high humidity in Malaysia made the 18-lap also an endurance test for riders and bikes.
The 2015 World Championship wraps up in Round 18 with the traditional final in Valencia, Spain in two week’s time.
Moto3 Results Round 17 (of 18)
1. Miguel Oliveira (POR), KTM, 40 min 33.277 (Takes the championship fight to the final round in Valencia)
2. Brad Binder (RSA), KTM, 40:33.366
3. Jorge Navarro (ESP), Honda, 40:33.550
4. Niccolo Antonelli (ITA), Honda, 40:33.582
5. Romano Fenati (ITA), KTM, 40:33.693
6. Jakub Kornfeil (CZE), KTM, 40:33.807
7. Danny Kent (GBR), Honda, 40:33.867
8. Enea Bastianini (ITA), Honda, 40:37.267
9. Alexis Masbou (FRA), Honda, 40:40.267
10. John McPhee (GBR), Honda, 40:43.307
14. Isaac Viñales (ESP), KTM, 40:52.406
15. Philipp Oettl (GER), KTM, 40.52.430
23. Ana Carrasco (ESP) KTM, 41:30.839
24. Andrea Migno (ITA), KTM, 42:19.567
Gabriel Rodrigo (ARG), KTM
Karel Hanika (CZE), KTM
Zulfahmi Khairuddin (MAL), KTM
Moto3 Standings after Round 17 (of 18)
1. Kent, 253
2. Oliveira, 229
3. Bastianini, 196
4. Fenati, 176
5. Antonelli, 174
6. Vazquez, 155
7, B. Binder, 146
8. Navarro, 137
9. Viñales, 105
10. Fabio Quartararo (FRA), Honda, 92
13. Kornfeil, 73
15. Oettl, 67
16. Kornfeil, 49
17. Hanika, 43
20, Migno, 30
23. Khairuddin, 19
Moto3 Manufacturers Standings after Round 15
1. Honda, 391
2. KTM, 316
3. Mahindra, 117