Portuguese rider Miguel Oliveira made history for India's first and only motorcycle constructor in international motorcycle racing today, fighting back from a weak start to claim a first-ever top-three podium finish for Mahindra's MGP3O Moto3 racer.
The 18-year-old from Pragal qualified on the second row, but bogged down off the line, near the back of 32 riders into the first turn, and finished the first lap in 14th place. But he was already cutting his way through, and by lap five was with the big leading group and still gaining places.
On lap three, he set a new lap record, for the third time this year. By the mid-point of the 18-lap, 99.864-km race at the Sepang circuit outside the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, Miguel was moving to fourth in a fearsome close group, and then to third.
But positions were changing from corner to corner as the top championship contenders fought tooth and nail.
There were still six in contention as they started a thrilling last lap. Oliveira fought like a tiger to retain third place, the first rostrum for the MGP3O in its first season of racing.
The 250cc single-cylinder machine, still in its first year of development, was designed and built in record time over the winter, and has threatened the top machines ever since its debut.
Miguel was just 0.408 seconds behind winner Luis Salom (KTM). The first six crossed the line within just over one second. The podium has been tantalising the team all season. Oliveira has qualified on pole position at earlier races, and has been fourth on three occasions.
Teammate Efren Vazquez made a flying start from eighth on the grid, and was holding his own in the leading pack, and fighting for position when he slipped off on a slow corner, remounting only to retire.
The result is a historic achievement for Mahindra and for India, and a valuable boost for the championship. Miguel has closed to within six points of a top-five position. Mahindra has also gained ground on second place in the Constructors’ championship, just five points off second place.
The next race, the second of three in a row, is the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island next Sunday.
Photograph: Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images