John McPhee and Ayumu Sasaki get season started in Qatar

PETRONAS Sprinta Racing riders complete opening free practice sessions at Losail International Circuit.

The 2019 Moto3 World Championship got underway on Friday evening with the first free practice sessions for the Grand Prix of Qatar, with the PETRONAS Sprinta Racing team returning to action with their new rider line-up. New signing John McPhee finished 16th fastest with Ayumu Sasaki in 19th, as the action officially got underway under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit.

Sasaki started the day in good form, finishing fifth fastest in the opening session after setting a best lap of 2’06.683 in the closing stages. McPhee, meanwhile, continued with his adaptation to a new motorcycle and finished his first official session as a PETRONAS Sprinta Racing rider in 20th position with a best effort of 2’07.595.

Both riders were then able to step up their pace in FP2, although not quite enough to secure a position that would give them direct access to Q2. Even so, McPhee took a big step forward as he knocked two seconds off his lap time from FP1, missing the cut-off point by less than a tenth as a best lap of 2’05.618 left him in 16th. Sasaki also improved to a 2’05.881, enough for 19th position as he continued to get to grips with the Qatari track.

Tomorrow the PETRONAS Sprinta Racing pair will have another opportunity to improve in FP3 before, for the first time, the Moto3 class enjoy a Q1 qualifying session that gets underway at 17:30 local time, followed by Q2 from 17:55h.



1. ARON CANET / KTM 2:04.561
2. ROMANO FENATI / Honda 2:05.156
3. NICCOLO ANTONELLI / Honda 2:05.240
4. ANDREA MIGNO / KTM 2:05.375
5. GABRIEL RODRIGO / Honda 2:05.385
16. JOHN MCPHEE / PETRONAS Sprinta Racing 2:05.618
19. AYUMU SASAKI / PETRONAS Sprinta Racing 2:05.881


#71 Ayumu Sasaki 

“We started really well in FP1 and finished in fifth position. My pace was consistent, maybe not particularly fast, but given the track conditions it was positive. In FP2, however, I wasn’t able to get into the same rhythm even though the feeling with the bike and the medium tyre was good. Then on the soft tyre when the other riders pushed for a lap time I wasn’t able to get the best out of it due to some issues. We need to work on this for qualifying and we know what we need to do, I’m just worried about the conditions tomorrow. We will have to wait and see what the wind and the temperatures are like. In FP3 it will be difficult to go faster than FP2 so it will be hard to break into that top 14 and move through to Q2, but we will try our best and see what happens. The new qualifying format makes it more difficult because you have to keep a constant eye on the lap times. I have found it difficult to adapt but plenty of other riders are in the same situation and I need to adapt as quickly as possible. It hasn’t been a great first day but I am sure we can turn the situation around tomorrow.”

#17 John Mcphee 

“It is nice to be competing here in Qatar, it is always a pleasure to go racing again. In the first session we wanted to try some configurations that we didn’t have time to test here last week, and in the second session we went back to what we had and got back to the performance we showed in the test. Honestly, everybody has been going really fast today and I am really close to them in terms of the lap time. I am only a tenth off the top six but we have work to do to find that little extra. Obviously, the race will be different to free practice but I need to try some more things in FP3 and take as big a step forward as we can, because the lap times are so close and we need a good grid position. This is the first day of three here at the opening Grand Prix of the season, we have two more days ahead of us and I am sure we can do well in the race.”