Espargaro 5th in chaotic #JapaneseGP, Viñales 19th after first corner crash
The Sunday Motegi MotoGP race was certainly not easy on the nerves for fans, teams, and riders. After the rainfall in the morning, the out lap to set up the starting grid was done on a dry track, but under alarming dark clouds covering the Japanese skies. In fact, the rain arrived just after the start, forcing all the riders (some earlier, some later) to return to pit lane for a bike change.
The perfect timing of Aleix, who was already recovering positions, actually shot him into the race lead, backed by a tyre choice which ensured traction and confidence. Only the diminishing water on the track caused him to lose ground, which he promptly recovered when the next rainfall came. The track conditions worsened gradually, especially in terms of visibility, until the red flag came out during the twelfth lap. At the second start, the riders were only able to do their out lap before the conditions of both water on the track and visibility determined the final suspension of the race with Aleix classified in fifth place.
Maverick’s race was substantially compromised on the first corner. After starting well, Viñales was forced to go wide, ending up crashing in the gravel on the escape lane. Back in the saddle – obviously in last place and more than a lap behind – he changed bikes and drew attention in the wet for his decidedly fast pace. The cancellation of the second start, where he would have been starting from pit lane, put an end to any ambitions he may have had of a comeback ride, leaving him understandably frustrated.
All told, a positive day with perhaps my best performance in the wet. After the bike change, we had chosen the soft rear tyre, counting on the fact that when it rains it pours here in Motegi. Instead, on the first laps it was difficult. With not much water on the track, the soft tyre overheated and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish the race. However, when the rain increased, I began to feel increasingly better. I was making up ground on the riders ahead of me and could have aimed for something higher than fifth place. Unfortunately, visibility was really low and it got even worse after the red flag and the restart. The decisions taken by Race Direction today were impeccable.
My race was over on the first corner when I was forced wide into the gravel, crashing and restarting last with a huge gap. After the bike change, to be honest, my pace in the wet was extremely good, but with so much distance to make up, it would not have been an easy race. I was hopeful for the restart after the red flag. Even though I would have started from pit lane, at least I would have had another chance.