Niccolo Antonelli to start French GP from second row


Italian rider will take off from sixth on the grid at Le Mans, with teammates Bo Bendsneyder and Danny Kent ninth and tenth, respectively.

Following frustrating conditions on Friday and on Saturday morning, the Moto3 riders were finally able to get sustained dry track time in qualifying for the French GP. The session was a positive one for the Red Bull KTM Ajo riders, as Niccolo Antonelli fought for pole position until the last lap of the afternoon. In a tight final timesheet, with the Top 10 separated by just 3 tenths of a second, the Italian finished sixth, Bo Bendsneyder ninth and Danny Kent tenth. All three have the pace and positions to aspire to good results in tomorrow’s race.

The Le Mans Circuit again provided completely wet asphalt on Saturday morning, forcing the Moto3 riders to use wet tyres for FP3. Antonelli, Bendsneyder and Kent were first, third and sixth, respectively, in the first 20 minutes. Antonelli’s good feeling meant that he did not go back on track after his only stop in the pits, to avoid unnecessary risk. He was sixth -1:50.684-, followed by Kent in seventh -1:50.705- and Bendsneyder in fifteenth -1:51.806.

The Red Bull KTM Ajo team riders finally enjoyed their first dry session of the weekend in qualifying. They took advantage to provide a repeat of their good results from Friday, and all three were inside the Top 10. Antonelli was among the fastest riders from the get-go, putting in a long first stint in which he occupied the top spot. Fine rain began to fall with 15 minutes remaining, although the Red Bull KTM Ajo riders went back out to improve their times once more in the final 5 minutes. Antonelli finished sixth -1:43.051- two tenths off pole. Bendsneyder took ninth with a 1:43.086 lap, and wildcard Kent rounded off the Top 10 with a 1:43.186 best time.

Tomorrow’s Moto3 World Championship race will get underway at 11:00am local time. The winner at Le Mans last year was Brad Binder, riding for the Red Bull KTM Ajo team.

Results (Qualifying Practice)
1. Jorge Martin (Honda) 1:42.813
2. Nicolo Bulega (KTM) 1:42.844 +0.031
3. Juanfran Guevara (KTM) 1:42.961 +0.148
4. Romano Fenati (Honda) 1:42.999 +0.186
5. Albert Arenas (Mahindra) 1:43.038 +0.225
6. Niccolo Antonelli (Red Bull KTM Ajo) 1:43.051 +0.238
9. Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) 1:43.086 +0.273
10. Danny Kent (Red Bull KTM Ajo) 1:43.186 +0.373

“It was a positive session in dry conditions. I’m happy with the work we’ve done and also with our pace. It was a shame about the last lap, because I felt very strong and I was going very fast, but I encounter a lot of other riders on a corner and had to back off. When I got on the gas again, they had waved the flag and I missed out on getting in another lap by a second. Starting sixth is very good; tomorrow we will have one more dry session in which to finish preparing for the race. The goal is to be in the lead group and complete a good race. I’m going to do my best and be stronger than ever.”

“I think we should be pretty happy. At the beginning of the qualifying session I had a lot of difficulty finding a good pace, but after making a change to the front we made a lot of progress. We could still find something to improve more, but I’m satisfied. After starting from 23rd at Jerez, ninth place is a step forward -because beginning the race from so far back makes it very tough. Tomorrow I think that there might be a large group at the start, although it is probable that some riders will end up escaping. It’s hard to predict, since we’ve only had one session in the dry. I’m very motivated and looking forward to the start of the race.”

“I knew that qualifying would be somewhat difficult, because since returning from Moto2 I have not enjoyed much time on this bike in the dry. All the previous sessions had been in the wet, so during QP I was learning and improving with each lap. I have to thank the team because they gave me a bike with a very good setup, allowing me to qualify only 0.3s off pole. Tenth position is not the best, but being so close to the first placed rider is very positive. We have to take into account that in the first dry session of the weekend we have all ridden very fast. I feel good with the bike and there are only a few places where I have to work on my riding. We have analysed the telemetry and we know clearly what to change for tomorrow. I’m looking forward to the race, and I’m confident I can do well.”