A rapid period of pre-season preparation and testing led into the Grand Prix of Qatar and the first round of 21 in 2022 for the Sterilgarda Max Racing Team with their FR 250 GP machinery. The Lusail International Circuit was the traditional launch stage for MotoGP once more and has been the staple venue to kick-off the world’s fastest and most-watched motorcycle racing series for almost two decades.
The Husqvarna Motorcycles team knew they would need a delicate blend of settings to master the 16 corners – most of which are right-handers – the kilometre straight and the warm and windy mid-afternoon conditions. Sterilgarda Max Racing Team were also embracing two new riders into the pitbox with the experience of John McPhee and Ayumu Sasaki giving the crew potentially their most competitive line-up for the last three years.
Qualification saw Sasaki as one of the star performers. The Japanese couldn’t record a lap to enter Q2 directly but once he’d emerged from Q1 was able to vie for Pole Position and use his guile to secure a front row spot. He set off for the race from 2nd on the grid, only eight hundredths of a second from 1st. McPhee was less than a second away and lined-up in 7th, heading row three.
The Grand Prix was formed of 18 laps on Sunday afternoon. Both Husqvarna Motorcycles riders slipped into the large lead group as 12 participants swapped positions and slipstreams in the fight but Sasaki swiftly leapt ahead by the second lap. He set a tremendous speed and soon built up an advantage of more than three seconds as McPhee battled hard in the mid top-ten. Sasaki seemed to be coasting to victory but a mistake into Turn 6 saw him become unseated and the impact broke his left fairing bracket. He then lost time with a technical issue and was eventually forced to retire. McPhee pushed on and was just outside the four-rider tussle for the podium. The Scot crossed the line in 5th for some decent championship points.
The final race results constitute the young world championship standings (McPhee 5th and Sasaki 23rd) and now the Husqvarna Motorcycles crew head to Indonesia for their first encounter with the Pertamina Mandalika Circuit on the island of Lombok in a fortnight’s time.
John McPhee: “P5 is a really solid way to start the year. I didn’t know how strong my pace would be across the race distance but we managed to compose ourselves well. It would have been perfect if I could have attacked a little bit more but I was feeling a bit on the limited. It was important to get these points on the board. A big thanks to the team because they worked so hard all weekend to help me adapt to the FR 250 GP and to understand the way to ride it. We’ll hope for better now in Indonesia.”
Ayumu Sasaki: “I’m very disappointed. The team did a fantastic job and I rode well. I felt good on the bike and was really enjoying the race. The first ten laps went so quick. I was steady and calm but I had an issue on the bike. It was some bad luck. We will keep a positive mindset and still plenty of races to go.
Max Biaggi, Team Principal: “We could have wished for a better end to the race but it was still a great performance from Ayumu and also by John. We have to investigate the issues but today was good proof and motivation that we are ready to win again. We will be looking for a very good result next time.”
Results – 2022 Moto3 World Championship, Round 1
1. Andrea Migno (Honda) 37:59.522, 2. Sergio Garcia (GASGAS) +0.037. 3. Kaito Toba (KTM) +0.573. 5. John McPhee (Husqvarna) +1.064, DNF. Ayumu Sasaki (Husqvarna)
Moto3 world championship standings
1. Andrea Migno (Honda) 25pts, 2. Sergio Garcia (GASGAS) 20. 3. Kaito Toba (KTM) 16. 5. John McPhee (Husqvarna) 11, 23. Ayumu Sasaki (Husqvarna) 0