MotoGP Reports: All The Action At Motegi, Japan

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The Australian flag flew last weekend in Japan for the Motegi round of MotoGP. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) took a scintillating win at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, hitting the front and never looking back.

Jack Miller set the pace in a Ducati Lenovo Team one-two in an extended opening practice session at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, but it could hardly have been closer at the top as Miller headed the three closest in the title fight: Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) – and all four were split by just 0.068.  Aragon GP winner Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), on the other hand, was just 14th-fastest after a late crash and he’ll be looking for more on Saturday.

With a special timetable in place for the Japanese GP, the premier class’s sole Friday practice session was an extended, 75-minute affair. While that gave teams and riders plenty of flexibility to work on race runs, the threat of rain in Saturday morning’s FP2 session, the only other running before the starting order for Q1 is set, meant that there was always going to be a big emphasis on single-lap pace. Even the appearance of the rain flag, 30 minutes in, for some very light showers was not enough to dissuade anyone, with riders coming on for fresh Michelin slicks at regular intervals.



Miller had a very brief spell at the top inside the first quarter-hour of the session, but it was not until his final run that he really laid down a marker. The ‘Thriller’ leapt from 17th to first with a 1:44.660 as he lapped Motegi with a brand-new soft front tyre and soft rear. Then, despite seemingly being held up by Team Suzuki Ecstar replacement Takuya Tsuda through the Hairpin, he went quicker again with the 1:44.509 which would not be beaten. Just for good measure, Miller clocked a 1:44.549 next time through which would be bettered only by Bagnaia.

By the time everyone had completed their time attacks, Miller was back on top, Bagnaia just behind, and Quartararo moved up with a 1:44.558. Aleix Espargaro, who was only 14th with a minute to go before the chequered flag came out, then pulled out a great lap to end the session fourth and just 0.068 seconds off the very best pace.

Fifth was also a fair bit to write home about as Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), who has never ridden around Motegi on a MotoGP™ bike before, rounded out the top five on a 1:44.645 and was top Independent Team rider to boot.

Then comes Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). At Honda’s home track, the number 93 claimed sixth with a 1:44.656 after also proving the initial pace-setter very early in the session. It was an encouraging result for the eight-time World Champion despite displaying obvious shoulder soreness when he got off his RC213V at the end of one run, in what is his second round back following surgery on his right arm. There was one mishap for MM93 though, when he got his leathers snagged on the onboard camera as a crew member wheeled his bike back into the Honda box. Teammate Pol Espargaro finished seventh with a time of 1:44.678.



Red Bull KTM Factory Racing duo Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira took eighth and ninth, respectively, while Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) rounded out the top 10.

Those who will be hoping weather forecasts of rain on Saturday morning don’t come true include Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) in 11th and Bastianini in 14th. Both had late crashes, Zarco at Turn 7 after Bastianini had gone down at Turn 5, and for the latter it could prove to be a big blow to the title hopes which he had breathed life back into with his win just five days ago at Aragon. Splitting them in 13th was Alex Rins, who debuted some eye-catching new aerodynamic pieces (pictured below) on the tail unit of his Team Suzuki Ecstar entry.

 


MotoGP Motegi Friday Top Three (Full Results Here)

1 Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) – Ducati – 1’44.509
2 Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) – Ducati – +0.028
3 Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) – Yamaha – +0.049


Saturday
1071 days is a little less than three years; it’s 50 MotoGP™ races and 25 starts for Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). It’s also the time that’s passed since the eight-time World Champion started from pole and what a stage to do it on: the very same Mobility Resort Motegi. After a tough, tough run for Honda, the number 93 gave the factory plenty of reasons to smile on home turf as he danced through the rain to head the grid with a couple of tenths in hand. What will a likely dry race on Sunday bring? We don’t know yet, and Marquez says he doesn’t either. But Saturday was a statement.

The headlines overflowed behind the number 93, too. The highest starting title challenger is Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) on the outside of the second row. Points leader Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) starts ninth, on the edge of the third. And completing the perfect straight line of the top three title hopefuls all hurrying into Turn 1 in a row comes Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) down in 12th.

Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), meanwhile, crashed on Friday to dent his place on the combined timesheets and then slid out in Q1, so he’ll start P15. One may need to buckle up for quite a Sunday afternoon…



It was certainly a dramatic Saturday. After FP3 was cancelled due to adverse weather and limited daylight time, qualifying got underway for the premier class a little later than scheduled, but the show did not disappoint as the rain abated just enough. Marquez’ display was a stunner, and the last challenger keeping the fight going to the flag was Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) as he put in a couple of red sectors. In the end, the South African couldn’t quite complete the deposition and he lines up in P3, but he takes his first MotoGP™ front row. Given the charge we saw only seven days ago, that promises much once the lights go out.

Between Marquez’ goosebump-inducer and BB33’s little piece of history made in third, Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) went from Q1 to second on the grid and ensures Ducati’s roll of 36 races in a row with a bike on the front row keeps going.



Aprilia Racing emerged as the factory team with the best positions on aggregate, with Maverick Viñales in P4 ahead of Q1 graduate Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) and Aleix Espargaro in P6. Viñales was another whose first couple of sectors looked to be on to ruin Marquez’ Honda fairytale, but it just came up short.

Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) had an uncharacteristic run in Q2 to end up P7, aiming higher on race day, and the man of the wet weather masterclass in Lombok, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), had a tip off that stopped his pace converting into more than P8 on the grid. Then comes Quartararo, who is top Yamaha but will want to remain top title contender by the flag – and with his closest rivals in a straight line right behind.

Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) completes the top ten, ahead of Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), who has taken a step forward this weekend, and Bagnaia in that lowly 12th. In the dry, however, what’s the biggest bet anyone would make against Pecco of late…?


MotoGP Motegi Front Row (Full Results Here)

1 Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) – Honda – 1’55.214
2 Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) – Ducati –  +0.208
3 Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – KTM – +0.323



Motegi Sunday
Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) took a scintillating win at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, hitting the front and never looking back. Behind him, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Brad Binder came home in a stunning second after a last lap attack on Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing), with the former taking a second podium of the season from his first ever premier class front row and the latter back on the box for the first time since Barcelona.

Elsewhere for the title contenders there was drama of differing measures, leaving the top three to take home only eight points between them – and they were all scored by Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) despite the fact that he could only manage eighth. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) suffered the first drama as he found his first machine stuck in fuel saving mode and dived into the pits after the Sighting Lap to change, only able to make it up to P16 thereafter, and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) created the second as he made a last lap blunder in the battle with Quartararo and Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) – taking home nil points in the process as he slid out.



The duel into Turn 1 saw Binder move into the lead courtesy of the inside line, as Martin passed Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) for second through Turn 3. Miller’s charge started early though, and he made a forceful move for fifth on Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) at Turn 5 and then passed both Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Marc Marquez in one fell swoop at the 90 Degree Corner. He then dispatched Binder at the same place before also pinching the lead from Martin not long after, free in the lead and the hammer immediately down. From there, he didn’t look back and only extended the gap – crossing the line three and a half seconds clear for a stunning Thriller of a win.



In classic Binder style, the South African was chipping away at the gap to Martin ahead of him and by the last few laps was within striking distance. But he waited, and Binder vs Martin was decided on the last lap as the KTM rider chose his moment, making it stick and able to pull out a few tenths. Marquez vs Oliveira vs Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) was similarly decided late, with Marquez dispatching the Portuguese rider late on and the number 88 then left to defend against Marini. That he did, repelling an attack on the final lap.



Marquez’ fourth place from pole is another step in the right direction as the number 93 begins to remind the grid, if they needed it, that he really is back, and Oliveira’s fifth wasn’t quite a podium but it makes two KTMs in the top five. Marini, meanwhile, continues his impressive consistency and points hauls in sixth.

Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) took seventh, and the number 12 was just to the front of a title fight in miniature: Quartararo, Bagnaia and Bastianini, all in a row and battling for eighth. Bagnaia snatched ninth back from Bastianini through Turn 12/Turn 13 on Lap 20 after an earlier shuffle, and that gave him a clear shot at Quartararo. Could he or even would he? The three were incredibly close together and Pecco misjudged it as the front tyre said no more, and he slid out. Quartararo continued to take those eight points, Bagnaia took a 0 after his overambitious move – his words, to accompany his sarcastic applause at himself as he walked away – and Bastianini inherited ninth. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) rounded out the top 10.

So what of Aleix Espargaro? The Aprilia rider had a different tyre than his race choice on the second bike, and that hampered an already difficult comeback task. He took P16, finishing but just missing out on points.



That’s a wrap on the paddock’s return to Japan. After mayhem in Motegi, Quartararo’s World Championship lead has grown to 18 over Bagnaia, while Aleix Espargaro is another seven behind, but there are still four rounds to go. The next is already on the horizon as the OR Thailand Grand Prix beckons and the paddock returns to Chang International Circuit, with action back underway on Friday!


Jack Miller: “I can ride a motorcycle sometimes. [Laughs] I mean, I felt amazing all weekend, to be honest, since I rolled out in the first Free Practice. It feels so awesome to be back racing on this side of the world and the Japanese fans have been incredible all weekend, sitting there through the miserable rain yesterday. These guys are some of the best fans we have, so thank you to them, thank you to the team. What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we’ve got a home Grand Prix coming up shortly, wedding coming up in a couple of weeks, it’s amazing points. So, over the moon, can’t thank everybody enough.

“It was an emotional one that’s for certain, as it always is with me, I don’t know why. I was crying like a baby on the in lap. It was awesome, I didn’t know I had that in me, it was amazing to lead from almost start to finish. When you’re riding or racing like that, the biggest opponent you’ve got is the man inside your head – so I was just trying to not listen to him too much, and it was relatively easy to not listen to him today when the bike’s working as well as it was, it was just a case of hitting my marks and not making any silly mistakes, which is quite easy to do here, to outbrake yourself or whatever – it can cost you a lot of time.”



MotoGP Motegi Podium (Full Results Here)

1 Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) – Ducati – 42’29.174
2 Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory) – KTM – +3.409
3 Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) – Ducati – +4.136


Moto2 Motegi
Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) became the first Japanese rider to win on home turf since 2006 at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, holding off key Championship rival Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) to the flag after both had to pick their way through from outside the top ten on the grid. Alonso Lopez (Beta Tools SpeedUp) made life difficult at times for both with another stellar ride, ultimately forced to settle for third but taking another impressive podium finish in his rookie season.

With Ogura’s historic win in front of the home crowd, he cuts the gap in the Championship to just two points behind Fernandez with four races to go. Polesitter Aron Canet (Flexbox HP 40), meanwhile, crashed out and falls to 57 points off the top in third overall. Celestino Vietti (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) also crashed out, now 72 behind and facing a last stand to stay in it at Buriram.

Jake Dixon (Inde GASGAS Aspar Team) made a late run at the podium but couldn’t get close enough to Lopez to attack, but he came home ahead of early race leader Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) as the Thai rider ultimately took home a top five ahead of his home round next time out.

Tony Arbolino (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) made an early challenge for the podium before going wide and slotting back in just behind, taking sixth with a few tenths in hand over Aragon winner Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo). Albert Arenas (Inde GASGAS Aspar Team), Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) and Filip Salač (Gresini Racing Moto2™) completed the top ten.

Next up it’s Buriram as the intermediate class arrives with just two points in it between what looks like it could be the last two riders standing in the title fight. Will there be a twist in Thailand? We’ll find out next weekend.


Moto2 Motegi Podium (Full Results Here)

1 Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) – Kalex – 40’56.269
2 Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) – Kalex – +1.192
3 Alonso Lopez (Beta Tools SpedUp) – Boscoscuro- +7.168


Moto3 Motegi
Izan Guevara (Autosolar GASGAS Aspar Team) has done it again! Despite never riding at the Mobility Resort Motegi before, the number 28 took another impressive win as he was able to hold off Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) and Ayumu Sasaki (Sterilgarda Husqvarna Max) at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan. The last lap was a showcase in precision and pushing to the limit for all three, with no one quite able to make a decisive move before the flag flew.

The win for Guevara puts him a whopping 45 points clear of teammate Sergio Garcia in the standings. Foggia closes to within 18 points of the second place held by Garcia for the moment, with Sasaki still fourth but also gaining ground on the number 11.

Garcia started well before fading from the podium fight, eventually beating David Muñoz (BOE Motorsports), Diogo Moreira (MT Helmets – MSI) and John McPhee (Sterilgarda Husqvarna Max) to fourth place.

Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) had been in the battle for the win before a late highside out of second place, putting a dent in his place in the standings, and polesitter Tatsuki Suzuki (Leopard Racing) fought at the front in the early stages before his race came to an early end with a crash.

Now the title fight goes down to the OR Thailand Grand Prix, with Guevara not yet able to take his first shot at the crown but getting ever closer to it. What will Buriram bring? We’ll find out next weekend!


Moto3 Motegi Podium (Full Results Here)

1 Izan Guevara (Autosolar GASGAS Aspar Team) – GASGAS – 39:26.526
2 Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) – Honda –  +0.593
3 Ayumu Sasaki (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) – Husqvarna – +1.741


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