#MalaysianGP Sepang, Sunday roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
Pecco vs Martin: it’s official. The fight for the 2023 FIM MotoGP™ World Championship is now a duel, and it’s a duel split by just 14 points as we head into the final two race weekends. It was also an early race duel at Sepang as the two went toe-to-toe in the fight for the podium, with Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) defending with everything he had against now sole challenger, Jorge Martin(Prima Pramac Racing). But that was the fight for third!
Up ahead, Enea Bastianini’s (Ducati Lenovo Team) fantastic return to form continued as the number 23 moved through to the lead, set some absolutely searing pace, and wasn’t to be seen again. Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) kept him honest enough, however, with the number 73 following up his Sprint win with another Grand Prix podium.
It was almost three abreast into Turn 1 once the lights went out, with the front row side-by-side. Bastianini played it safe, Bagnaia was on the outside, and it was Martin who let the brakes off – diving up the inside to very briefly take the holeshot. But he was deep and Bagnaia took the chance to try and cut back in, but the #1 wasn’t in the postcode of the apex either. He got back past Martin but Bastianini was already through, as was Alex Marquez.
Pecco held on to third against Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) but Martin wasn’t so lucky, getting shuffled back behind the Italian and left with a little more work to do from fifth.
And so Bastianini led Alex Marquez, with a small but increasing gap back to some stunning early race fireworks. Once Martin was able to get back past Bezzecchi, he was right on the tail of Bagnaia and the teams, factory and grandstands held their breath as the show began.
The number 89 was all over the number 1 but he attacked and was denied, attacked and was denied as the two scythed round Sepang near side-by-side. It was stunning, and it could prove important in terms of more than just points. On Sundays when they’ve both seen the flag, the reigning Champion has only finished ahead of Martin once since the Red Bull Ring – on the day of Johann Zarco’s history-making win in Australia. Bagnaia hasn’t beaten Martin in a Sprint since Catalunya. But at Sepang, the reigning Champion also turned the tables in qualifying, nabbing pole from Martin and outqualifying the number 89 for the first time since Barcelona.
From that huge shot of adrenaline though, it became an ebb of tension as the laps ticked down. Bastianini led Alex Marquez, both in some clear air. Bagnaia was in a “safe” third, and Martin a “safe fourth” as the battle behind was the next.
By five laps to go, Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) had arrived at Bezzecchi, and this time the Yamaha rider struck quickly, slicing through almost immediately. The he was left trying to hold off the mighty power of the Ducati out the final corner and down the main straight into Turn 1, but it was mission accomplished – Quartararo was up into the top five as Bezzecchi officially dropped out on title contention.
At the front, Bastianini pounded on. With just over a second in hand, sometimes up to 1.5, the Beast was keeping very calm as he carried on – and very, very fast. He crossed the line for his first win since Aragon last year with a second and a half in hand, becoming the seventh different winner this season. Alex Marquez returned to the Grand Prix podium in second, Bagnaia took that vital third, and Martin was forced to settle for fourth to end the PETRONAS Grand Prix of Malaysia 14 points adrift. Still, there are 74 left in play.
Quartararo took fifth from Bezzecchi, with Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™’s Franco Morbidelli putting on a charge into seventh and Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) P8. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) was hot on the heels on the Australian, and they had Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) for company too as he completed the top ten.
Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing), Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing), Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Augusto Fernandez (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3) and his teammate Pol Espargaro completed the points – with one notable name missing out on some being Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) as he crashed out of the battle with Miller and Diggia, rider ok.
Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is the 2023 Moto2™ World Champion thanks to a P2 finish at the PETRONAS Grand Prix of Malaysia. The Spaniard becomes the youngest Moto2™ title winner – taking that accolade off Marc Marquez – as Fermin Aldeguer (Beta Tools Speed Up) strode to a commanding third win of the campaign. Marcos Ramirez (OnlyFans American Racing) kept his composure to secure a hard-earned debut Moto2™ rostrum in P3.
There was drama from the off as polesitter Aldeguer and Manuel Gonzalez (Correos Prepago Yamaha VR46 Team) made contact on the exit of Turn 1 which saw the latter crash out. Thankfully everyone managed to avoid the Spaniard but one rider who had to take evading action was Arbolino. The Italian lost ground and was down to P7, with Acosta capitalising on Gonzalez’s misfortunes to climb up to P2.
On Lap 2, desperate to pick off the riders ahead of him, Arbolino’s slim title hopes then all but vanished. The #14 made small contact with Ai Ogura’s (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) rear wheel at Turn 9, then made more contact with Aron Canet (Pons Wegow Los40), as Arbolino ran onto the grass. That dropped him outside the top 20.
Back at the front, Aldeguer was operating on another level. By Lap 4, the Spaniard was over two seconds clear of Acosta, who in turn was over a second up the road from third place Ramirez. Alonso Lopez (Beta Tools Speed Up) was P4 and had Ogura and Jake Dixon (Inde GASGAS Aspar Team) for company, with Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) and Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) just slightly adrift of the fight for P4.
Aldeguer’s lead kept growing and with seven laps left, six seconds split him and Acosta. Ramirez was holding Lopez, Ogura and Dixon a second behind him, with Ogura beginning to climb all over the back of Lopez’s rear wheel. With six to go, Ogura was through and then set about chasing Ramirez for the final spot on the podium.
With three to go, Ramirez was coming under increasing pressure. Ogura was taking two or three tenths a second a lap out of the Spaniard’s advantage but up the road, there were no issues whatsoever for Aldeguer and the Champion elect Acosta.
Aldeguer took the chequered flag a sensational 7.1s clear of anyone to claim a dominant victory, but it was all eyes on the rider in P2 as Acosta crossed the line to become the 2023 Moto2™ World Champion and a two-time Grand Prix Champion after his 2021 Moto3™ success. Take a bow Pedro, what a season!
Just behind, Ramirez did manage to fend off Ogura to claim a first Moto2™ podium, with the latter coming from P13 on the grid to challenge for a podium, as Dixon rounded out the top five. Chantra and Lowes take home P6 and P7, with Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team), Albert Arenas (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and the recovering Arbolino rounding out the top 10. A disappointing day for the #14 sees his title hopes disappear for 2023, but he’ll be back stronger in 2024
Barry Baltus (Fieten Olie Racing GP), Jeremy Alcoba (QJMOTOR Gresini Moto2™), Alex Escrig (Forward Team), Filip Salac (QJMOTOR Gresini Moto2™) and Dennis Foggia (Italtrans Racing Team) were the final points scorers in Malaysia.
The Netherlands has a new Grand Prix winner, and the first since 1990 as Collin Veijer (Liqui Moly Husqvarna Intact GP) defeated teammate – and title challenger – Ayumu Sasaki in the PETRONAS Grand Prix of Malaysia. Championship leaderJaume Masia (Leopard Racing) completed the podium in a close race to the finish that went right to the final corner. It’s now likely a two-horse race for the crown too, with some big drama for three of the five contenders on the way into the weekend at Sepang.
Ivan Ortola (Angeluss MTA Team) got the best start from Row 2 and looked like he was going to take the holeshot before Veijer shot through and somehow kept it nicely in line, with Masia then able to grab second too. It didn’t take long for the Leopard rider to grab the lead though, and the number 5 then started to seriously push. Who could go with him?
Initially the answer was Sasaki, Veijer and Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Ajo), but the small group couldn’t break away. It quickly became a freight train once again, but there was drama coming.
After a dramatic weekend before the lights went out, with the Buriram winner suffering some crashes including in qualifying, David Alonso (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) started well down the order. By 13 laps to go, he was already into the top ten. But then came the drama as he suddenly crashed out in the group, taking, among others, fellow contender Dani Holgado (Red Bull KTM Tech3) out of the race – all riders ok, but the group split and two key members of the Championship fight out of the race.
The group became Masia, Sasaki, Veijer, Öncü, Jose Antonio Rueda (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Matteo Bertelle (Rivacold Snipers Team). As the laps ticked down the tension was high but no one was able to make a difference – until a difference was made for some. Rueda got it wrong at the final corner when going for a move on Bertelle, making contact with the Italian then unable to save it and going down – in a nightmare, also tagging and taking down his teammate Öncü just ahead. Again, all riders ok – Bertelle staying upright and Öncü getting back in it, but that left a trio fighting for victory: Masia, Sasaki… and Sasaki’s teammate, Veijer.
This wasn’t a team game though. Veijer passed Sasaki for the lead as the final lap began, and he then got the hammer very much down as he gunned for his first Grand Prix win to follow up his maiden podium. But still, it all went down to the final corner.
Sasaki looked for a way through and it looked like he couldn’t find one, but Veijer was wider than his teammate – leaving them gassing it away from the apex almost in unison and the number 71 very close behind. But the drag to the line wasn’t enough and Veijer kept it, taking his first win and first Grand Prix victory for the Netherlands since the 1990 Czech GP!
Sasaki took second on a day that saw so many contenders find bad fortune, but Masia also took a valuable podium and 16 points. The Spaniard is therefore now 13 clear of Sasaki in the title fight, with Alonso and Holgado both now at a deficit of 41 points.
Ortola ultimately came home fourth ahead of David Muñoz (BOE Motorsports), with Adrian Fernandez (Leopard Racing), Xavier Artigas (CFMoto Racing PrüstelGP) and Joel Kelso completing the second group down to P8. Filippo Farioli (Red Bull KTM Tech3) beat Ryusei Yamanaka (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) to ninth, with Bertelle ending up P11 after his involuntary excursion. Öncü impressively got back on and took P12. But not so, with a time penalty equivalent to a Ride Through later given to Muñoz for causing a crash, moving all up a position behind where he’d crossed the line and that just enough to technically keep Öncü in the fight for the crown.