Japanese Grand Prix, Motegi: Race day roundup – MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez has taken the 2016 MotoGP™ World Championship at the home of Honda – with the hand dealt by the Japanese venue seeing the cards fall perfectly for the Spaniard as Movistar Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo crashed out of contention. First was Rossi, into the gravel early – before Lorenzo’s ride through the pain barrier after a highside on Saturday was cut short; sliding out of P2 in the last few laps. Marquez, clear at the front, kept it on the road to take his third premier class title in four years, and his fifth victory of the year.
With a slow start for polesitter Rossi, it was Championship leader Marquez who got the holeshot into Turn 1 – before reigning Champion Lorenzo quickly took the lead at Turn 2. With Rossi getting past Marquez soon after, Aleix Espargaro (Team Suzuki Ecstar) then took advantage to take the Italian legend. The rider from Tavullia fought back, before a duel between the Movistar Yamaha of Rossi and the Repsol Honda of Marquez saw the two switching positions in an early battle for honour.
A crash for Eugene Laverty (Pull&Bear Aspar Team) then saw the Irishman out the race early on, as the top three of Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi held station at the front and Motegi prepared the coming twists in the tale.
Rossi was first to fold, as the 9-time World Champion made a mistake and lost the front end of his Yamaha – leaving teammate Lorenzo as the last man standing in between Marquez and the crown. The status quo between the two remained, with Marquez in a clear lead, as battle raged behind.
Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) broke away from an early fight with LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow to get on the hunt back towards the podium, with teammate Espargaro falling back into his clutches as Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) began to hunt down Lorenzo.
‘DesmoDovi’ made some inroads, with Lorenzo getting closer and closer, before an uncharacteristic error from the reigning World Champion saw him follow teammate Rossi in crashing out – a painful trip through the gravel after a highside in FP3 had left the Mallorcan bruised and riding through the pain barrier. Marquez’ pit board informed the number 93 of the unbelievable situation he now found himself in: a handful of laps, a third crown, and glory once again at the home of Honda.
Dovizioso followed the new Champion over the line for a P2 finish, with Viñales completing the podium in another impressive ride – just pipping teammate Espargaro after winning the inter-team Suzuki battle.
Cal Crutchlow came home in fifth as top Independent Team rider once again, with rival for that title, Monster Tech 3’s Pol Espargaro, just behind in sixth. Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) impressed with seventh for another great result for the Noale factory, with teammate Stefan Bradl compounding the joy for Aprilia as he completed a double top ten finish in P10. Octo Pramac Yakhnich pairing Danilo Petrucci and Scott Redding were the remaining puzzle pieces in that top ten, in P8 and P9 and only three tenths apart over the line.
Marquez’ third MotoGP™ title is his third in four years in the premier class, and his fifth World Championship after becoming 125 World Champion in 2010 and Moto2™ World Champion in 2012. The plan from the start of the season remained the same until it proved its worth: control, calm and consistency – a new MO that has seen the mistakes of the past craft the success of the present, and a new MotoGP™ World Champion emerge from the ashes of a tough 2015.
Next up, MotoGP™ returns to the scene of the Island Battle last season – Phillip Island. With the Championship decided, maybe the new Marquez will be revealed as a mask – and the Champion of the world will cut loose and set his sights firmly on a magnificent win number six.
Tom Lüthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) took an impressive lights-to-flag win at the Twin Ring Motegi, taking the holeshot off the line from the middle of the front row and unleashing his ominous race pace – just as the former 125 World Champion did in 2014. Reigning Champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) took an important second place after holding station on a tempting charge over the limit to chase down his Swiss rival, and Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS rider Franco Morbidelli converted his P3 start into an impressive third on race day after an incredible duel with home hero Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) to just stay on the rostrum. Further back, the Moto2™ race in Motegi shook the title fight.
The drama was quick to begin, as title contender Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) crashed on Lap 1 when trying to make up places from P22 on the grid. The Spaniard, who had closed in on title leader Zarco and trailed by only one point ahead of the weekend, had a crash on Friday that left him riding through the pain barrier once again. P14 in Warm Up was an improvement, before disaster saw him slide out early. Rins remounted, but failed to score.
It wasn’t long before another title contender took a tumble – Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) – who lost the front end and slid into the gravel. 40 points adrift of P1 before the Japanese GP, the Brit’s title hopes took a serious dent as he slipped down to fourth in the standings with another DNF, after his stunning win in Aragon. Second in Aragon, Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), was another crasher at the same corner just after the incident.
Lüthi was away at the front, with Morbidelli on his tail until the Italian began to suffer grip isssues. As the EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider slipped back into the clutches of Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) and Zarco, the Frenchman took advantage of the Japanese rider running wide and begin his hunt for Lüthi – cutting the gap little by little until a four tenth advantage kept breath held in the Garage Plus Interwetten box on the final lap. The Swiss rider held firm however, taking a victory that seemed to have his name penciled next to it since the Moto2™ field showed their hand in race pace in practice.
The last lap battle wasn’t over as the win was decided, as Morbidelli and Nakagami staged a battle royale over the final few kilometres; the Japanese rider desperate to get past. Trying a number of moves but with Morbidelli hitting back, the Italian just held on to take another podium finish as he enjoys a run of impressive form.
Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP) had a solid ride to a good top five finish in his 200th GP start, with Italtrans Racing Team’s Mattia Pasini taking sixth ahead of compatriot Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing). Julian Simon (QMMF Racing Team) had an impressive ride to P8 after good pace in Warm Up, with AGR Team’s Marcel Schrotter dropping back slightly by the end of the race to end the Japanese GP in ninth. Xavier Simeon completed a double top ten finish for the QMMF squad in P10.
Moto2™ head for Australia with the title completely shaken – Zarco now with a 21 point lead ahead of Rins, and Tom Lüthi’s 25 point haul from victory in Motegi seeing him take over in P3 in the standings – 43 points back with 75 on the table in the final three races.
Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3) has taken an incredible photo-finish victory at the Twin Ring Motegi, with a last lap move on newly crowned Moto3™ World Champion Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) that saw the two then cross the line almost neck and neck. The Italian also takes back second in the Championship standings with the 25 point haul, as EG 0,0 rider Jorge Navarro failed to score. Hiroki Ono (Honda Team Asia) seemed to take his first career podium and Japan’s first rostrum finish at Motegi since Hiroshi Aoyama in 2009 with a controlled ride to P3 as he fought off Italian duo Andrea Migno and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) – but was later disqualified for being above the minimum weight for bike and rider. Bulega therefore was promoted to third.
Despite a wheelie off the line, Migno managed to stay ahead from pole position as the lights went out – with new World Champion Binder and the South African’s key 2016 rival Bastianini on the chase behind. An incident through Turn 1 then saw Jorge Navarro clip Leopard Racing’s Joan Mir and lose control, with Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA Racing) and John McPhee (Peugeot MC Saxoprint) caught in the crossfire as Navarro slid out. With the three in the gravel trap, the Valencian’s push to secure second in the Championship took a serious hit as key rival Bastianini disappeared in the front group and went on to take the win.
Attrition rates were high in the early stages of the race, with front end washouts causing some casualties. After the Turn 1 drama, one incident saw second EG 0,0 bike Aron Canet also slide out with 15 laps to go at Turn 9 – with Leopard Racing’s Andrea Locatelli crashing just behind the Spaniard in a separate but simultaneous incident.
Binder was the leader of the front freight train, with Bastianini, Migno, Francesco Bagnaia (Pull&Bear Aspar Mahindra), Bulega and home hero Ono for company as the six riders made a break for it. After some more difficult races, Bagnaia was the superstar of Lap 1 as the Italian Mahindra rider moved up nine places from his starting position, putting himself right in contention.
Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing Moto3) was the man on the chase at the head of the second group, with key rivals for the title Rookie of the Year Bulega ahead, and Joan Mir further back in P12. As the laps began to count down, Bagnaia ahead began to lose traction and move back slightly into the second group, as Bulega started to struggle keeping the pace of the frontrunners. Philipp Oettl (Schedl GP Racing) emerged from the mid pack to eventually lead that second group, as Bulega found some pace again to close back in and get out of the clutches of the German rider.
Binder seemed to have escaped at the front before Bastianini started to fight back with only a handful of laps to go, the two clear at the head of the race as Ono and Migno squabbled over the final spot on the podium. The pressure was on for the South African, with the Gresini machine behind getting closer and closer until the two were locked together on the final lap.
Drama on that final lap saw Migno attack Ono for the last place on the podium as the Japanese rider fought to stay ahead – and the Italian clipped the rear of the Honda Team Asia machine, then getting flipped over the highside. Ono escaped to take the P3 finish at home, with Bulega crossing the line fourth but then promoted to third. Migno was able to restart and crossed the line P25.
Ahead on track, a patient and measured Bastianini waited for Turn 11 to make a move on Binder and made it stick, just keeping it on the track through the tunnel – the final drag to the line seeing both bikes on the limit. Side-by-side, the Italian took the victory by millimetres, denying the South African his sixth win of the year and taking his second career victory, after Misano 2015.
Phillip Oettl took P5 over the line to head the second group, with Di Giannantonio in sixth to score good Championship points once again. Bagnaia, after his early race heroics, held on the take P7 – ahead of RW Racing GP BV rider Livio Loi, who had also been third fastest on Friday in a good weekend for the Belgian. Frenchman Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) took a solid top ten finish in P9, ahead of teammate and rookie Mir.
Wheel-to-wheel and high octane as always, Moto3™ will return at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit next weekend – with Bastianini now the man to beat as he sets his sights on keeping P2 in the standings.