Aspar Mahindra rider Pecco Bagnaia toughed it out for a brilliant third place under the floodlights in the opening round of the 2016 Moto3 World Championship at the Losail Circuit in Qatar.
The 19-year-old Italian fought every inch of the way in an eight-strong pack, and the new white-liveried Mahindra racer was just 0.148 of a second adrift of winner Niccolo Antonelli’s Honda, with Brad Binder’s KTM sandwiched between them.
Bagnaia had started the race from the fourth row of the grid, and finished the opening lap in seventh place. But from there to the end, it was an action-packed 38 minutes, with eight riders exchanging blows at every corner, and swerving in and out of one another’s slipstreams down the kilometre-long start-finish straight.
Bagnaia held his own throughout, sometimes losing ground on the straight but then taking it back in the corners. At the finish, the first seven riders were still within three quarters of a second of the leader.
It was a superb debut for the all-new Mahindra Moto3 machine, completely redesigned during the winter break; and justification also for a tactical change of bodywork during the weekend, after it was found that a different version of the fairing gave better results at the desert circuit.
With the agreement of its customer teams, the only Indian constructor in international racing made the one bodywork change allowed for the season even before the first race. The podium finish was the pay-off; in future races all eight Mahindra riders will have the choice of two different versions of the fairing.