By Neil Morrison
The inaugural Moto3 World Championship received plaudits across the board, with seven different race winners, fourteen different riders on the podium and, at times, a compelling championship battle between three riders.
Fans saw epic battles in Assen, Mugello and Motegi with notable mentions going to the races in Aragon, Sepang and Valencia.
With reigning champion Sandro Cortese graduating to the Moto2 class and a raft of exciting rookies moving up from the Spanish and European championships (see separate story
) 2013 promises to be just as exciting.
Here, we preview the likely contenders for the second Moto3 crown...#25 Maverick Viñales – Spain - JHK Laglisse KTM
Spanish sensation Maverick Viñales scared himself when he hit the ground hard at the vicious Crivillé curve on the penultimate day of testing at Jerez. He lost the tip of a finger and needed a skin graft operation to correct it, but has recently been cleared to race in Qatar.
Before that, Vinales had enjoyed a highly successful off-season. He has quickly adapted to the factory backed KTM and only lost the top spot at the final test after he had injured himself. Still only 18, Vinales will look to put the chaotic end to 2012 behind him and will be very much focused on taking his 1st world title.Official pre-season Test Results:
Valencia – 1st
Jerez I – 1st
Jerez II – 2nd Gap from 1st place at above tests:
+0.229secLast year's championship placing: 3rdHe said:
“On the one hand I'm happy because we have great pace and we have worked hard and well. Every day I feel more comfortable on the bike and the connection with the team is very good. But on the other it was a shame about the fall. Now it's time for calm and to recover to give it gas in Qatar.”#39 Luis Salom – Spain - Red Bull Ajo KTM
Luis Salom moves to the official KTM squad on the bike vacated by the 2012 champion after maturing into a strong title contender last year. He has adapted well to the new KTM chassis and feels he has improved his riding when by himself, rather than relying on a tow from others. Question marks still remain over his slight inconsistencies and occasional rash judgements (see Motegi last year), but Salom will line up in Qatar as the main man to challenge Viñales.Official pre-season Test Results:
Valencia – 3rd
Jerez I – 3rd
Jerez II – 1st Gap from 1st place at above tests:
+0secLast year's championship placing: 2ndHe said:
“The tests this year have been fruitful. I am riding against myself. In the test at Valencia and Jerez I was just two tenths of a second off the best time, which is nothing. I am learning a lot and I am very happy with the tests that I have had – and also the job that we've done with the team.”#42 Alex Rins – Spain - Estrella Galicia KTM
Perhaps the greatest surprise of preseason testing has been 2012 Moto 3 Rookie of the year Alex Rins. Like fellow countryman Viñales he swapped Honda for KTM power for 2013 and has consistently been inside the top three ever since.
He reckons his new motor is superior in cornering, acceleration and top speed, reflecting his fast, consistent performances. He claims he has been learning a lot following the likes of Viñales and Salom and, under the watchful eye of team manager Emilio Alzamora, he'll be gunning for a championship push in 2013. Official pre-season Test Results:
Valencia – 2nd
Jerez I – 2nd
Jerez II – 3rdGap from 1st place at above tests:
+0.236secLast year's championship placing: 5th He said:
“I'm very happy, because I'm part of a strong team. We've also made a good choice with KTM, as the tests that we have had so far in preseason have gone really well. I've adapted quickly to the bike, although we need a few improvements with the chassis still.”#94 Jonas Folger – Germany - Mapfre Aspar Kalex KTM
The young German managed to salvage something from what had been a disastrous 2012 by joining up with Aspar's Moto 3 effort after Mugello. He subsequently finished on the podium at the next race, then won in Brno after that.
He was very much a model of consistency in the second half of the season, finishing on the podium two more times, and was arguably robbed of further success by a wayward Salom at Motegi and bike troubles at Valencia. He has been in the ballpark all winter, claiming it to be “the best testing I've ever had.” This is the young German's best chance of a world championship push to date.Official pre-season Test Results:
Valencia – 4th
Jerez I – 4th
Jerez II – 5th Gap from 1st place at above tests:
+0.636secLast year's championship placing: 9thHe said:
“I would like to be crowned World Champion with the Mapfre Aspar Team. I have never started a year as intense as this. It is tough but all this preparation will be crucial for pre-season and for the season itself.”#5 Romano Fenati – Italy - San Carlo Team Italia FTR Honda
Many would have been forgiven for choosing Italy's great young hope as a potential title contender at the close of last year. However the off-season has seen his Honda easily outpaced by the faster KTMs (and at times, Mahindras).
Hopes were pinned on the new Honda engine that they tried at the second Jerez test but he was still languishing back in 18th. The 17 year old was however very consistent while sampling several different settings throughout the four days and the number of laps he completed show his slow pace isn't from lack of trying. The question is can his exceptional talent cover the machine deficit while Honda works to find a solution.Official pre-season Test Results:
Valencia – 6th
Jerez I – 13th
Jerez II – 18thGap from 1st place at above tests:
+1.840secLast year's championship placing: 6thHe said:
“I cannot be satisfied with the results of these tests, but we remain focused on the championship. Here we have tried so many things [on the] Honda-FTR, and we still have much work to do. We agree the team is very good and I'm sure we'll improve.”#63 Zulfahmi Khairuddin – Malaysia – Red Bull Ajo KTM
Arguably 2012's most improved rider, the Malaysian hotshot faces a tough task to replicate last year's form which saw him take 2 podium finishes and narrowly miss out on what would have been a famous home win.
Although his KTM boasts a new, lighter chassis he has struggled to be near the front at the Jerez tests. His aims for 2013 are modest, stating he hopes to find greater consistency and improve on his overall championship position. That said, he's surely hoping this is the year we'll see a Malaysian on the top step of a grand prix podium for the first time.Official pre-season Test Results:
Valencia – 12th
Jerez I – 20th
Jerez II – 17th Gap from 1st place at above tests:
+1.817secLast year's championship placing: 7thHe said:
“I can't wait to start. To be honest, this year the bike has quite surprised me, because it has improved a lot compared to last year. I hope to finish all the races this year and fight for a final position that is better than last year's.”#61 Arthur Sissis – Australia – Red Bull Ajo KTM
The 2011 Red Bull Rookie runner-up enters his second full season aboard the KTM, looking to improve upon a consistent 2012 that saw several flashes of speed and a spectacular home podium. He admitted qualifying was a weakness in the past and will hope to rectify that this year. On the basis of his preseason performances, he could improve upon his excellent 7th at the opening round in Qatar last year. He has already set his sights on out-manoeuvring one of his teammates come Valencia.Official pre-season Test Results:
Valencia – 15th
Jerez I – 24th
Jerez II – 11th Gap from 1st place at above tests:
+1.487secLast year's championship placing: 12thHe said:
“I just want to be as fast as possible and do much better than last season. A few more podiums would be good, I got one last year and I want more. A few top-three finishes and top six overall is my aim. If I can stay with Zulfahmi in most races I will be happy, maybe I can beat him and then I won't be the third placed Red Bull KTM rider every week!”#12 Alex Marquez – Spain – Estrella Galicia KTM
The younger of the precociously talented Marquez brothers starts his first full season on the world stage on the back of several competitive rides, first as a wild card, then as a replacement for Simone Grotzkyj, last year. He split his time between this and the Spanish CEV Championship, which he eventually won. His improvement over the off-season has been steady, culminating in an impressive 4th at the second Jerez test. We can expect him to be competing for podiums at the Spanish rounds and top 6s elsewhere.Official pre-season Test Results:
Valencia – 7th
Jerez I – 15th
Jerez II – 4th Gap from 1st place at above tests:
+0.612secLast year's championship placing: 20thHe said:
“This season I mainly expect to learn and work hard. So the results will come. However, one of the goals is to be rookie of the year and, why not, you also have to dream of making a podium in any race.”#44 Miguel Oliveira – Portugal – Mahindra Racing
The Mahindra factory has surprised everybody with their pace in the three preseason tests, completely reversing their fortunes from last year. The new bike, developed between their new Swiss base and the Indian factory, has proved to be both reliable and quick. Oliveira is impressed by the engine and is confident the team has found a solid base setting for most tracks. He's been comfortably inside the top ten in all tests and will look to add a first podium for the Indian marquee in 2013.Official pre-season Test Results:
Valencia – 10th
Jerez I – 5th
Jerez II – 6th Gap from 1st place at above tests:
+1.174secLast year's championship placing: 8th He said:
“We have created a good, solid base to start the season. This has been a really good start with no problems with the engine and we have not finished developing the bike yet, so I am sure we can make more improvements. I can't wait until Qatar, as racing is different from testing and so only then will we have a true indication of where we are.”#99 Danny Webb – Great Britain – Ambrogio Racing Suter Honda
Danny Webb is at the forefront of British hopes in the junior category this year as he looks to put two troubled years with the Mahindra bike behind him. His preseason form has been good, impressing in the wet and finishing the final test as the 2nd fastest Honda. A fall during the final test aggravated an old hand injury, but he'll ride through the pain in Qatar in a bid to finish inside the top ten.Official pre-season Test Results:
Valencia – 20th
Jerez I – 9th
Jerez II – 12th Gap from 1st place at above tests:
+1.585secLast year's championship placing: Did Not ScoreHe said:
"I was really fast but unfortunately I fell and I hit my hand just above an old injury. Before that, whenever we went out on the track, we placed among the best, and often among the five fastest. We have a good working basis for Qatar - there are still some things to fix, but I believe we can get a really good result."Also watch out for:#7 Efren Vasquez
– The battle-hardened Basque rider has been pleasantly surprised by the consistency and reliability of the Mahindra engine. His testing performances suggest Oliveira won't be the only Mahindra challenging the top 6 on occasions this year.#41 Brad Binder
– Danny Webb's South African teammate followed his strong end of season showing at Valencia with a CEV championship win the following week. He's carried that form into the off-season and was the fastest Honda at the second Jerez test.#23 Nico Antonelli
– Like countryman Fenati, Italy has pinned a lot of hope on the diminutive 17 year old. Like Fenati, he struggled to get his Honda on a par with the KTMs but he should trouble the higher positions, when Honda's engines have been more finely tuned.