until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Martin within three points of Bagnaia after Japanese GP win

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
3 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Pramac Ducati rider Jorge Martin won a half-distance wet Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi to cut Pecco Bagnaia's MotoGP championship lead even further.

With full points awarded as the race had reached halfway point when it was suspended (and subsequently called), Martin has taken another five points out of championship leader Bagnaia - who did limit the damage by finishing second.

Honda rider Marc Marquez scored his first Sunday podium of the season in third.

Though light rain had arrived minutes before the opening lap and turned slightly heavier in time for the scheduled start, the race got going as planned with everyone on slicks - and most diving into the pits after tiptoeing through the latter half of the first lap.

Martin had lost the lead by then. Despite a great start, while main title rival Bagnaia bogged down again and was overtaken by the two works KTMs and found himself hounded by Marquez and then Aleix Espargaro, Martin would be overtaken by first Jack Miller on the back straight, and then by a resurgent Bagnaia at Turn 12.

Bagnaia was then first exiting the pits after the mass bike swaps - yet he was surprisingly slow getting off the pit limiter, allowing Martin, Espargaro, Marquez and Miller through.

With the rain still relatively light at that point, it was Espargaro, on the soft wet rear versus the majority choice of medium, who thrived in the early going, pulling out a lead of several tenths of a second.

But Espargaro's burst was shortlived and he was soon going backwards, with Martin the first rider to get back past him on lap six - having himself very swiftly recovered from a big moment braking for Turn 3 that had cost him several positions.

Though Bagnaia then also rapidly got through on Espargaro, Martin succeeded in building a bit of a buffer over the championship leader - who had Marquez bearing down on him - as rain had really intensified.

And at the end of the 13th lap of the planned 24, just as Johann Zarco had a fast crash coming through the Turn 12 right-hander, the race was red-flagged.

The way the track had looked at that point, it appeared as if the race may well be declared complete there and then, yet race control saw enough of an improvement in the conditions to initiate the restart procedure 20 minutes later.

The field got through a sighting lap but found rain lashing down again during the formation lap, forcing another red flag - which this time concluded the proceedings.

Behind the podium of Martin, Bagnaia and Marquez was VR46 Ducati rider Marco Bezzecchi, now 54 points off the championship lead.

Espargaro ended up with fifth place for Aprilia, followed by Miller - who had struggled with the soft wet rear after the bike swaps but kept it together to score what would be an eventual sixth - and Tech3 Gas Gas rookie Augusto Fernandez.

Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Ducati), Raul Fernandez (RNF Aprilia) and Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) completed the top 10.

Quartararo was among the five riders who had elected not to pit on the opening lap, each of them having to eventually abandon their strategic gamble - although it did allow Ducati tester Michele Pirro to lead several laps as he vastly outperformed his fellow slick-tyre runners in the rain.

Yamaha tester Cal Crutchlow, also among the slick-tyre gamblers, scored a 13th place in his first grand prix start of the season, while Pirro ultimately did pay the price for trying to go far on slicks and would finish out of the points.

Zarco, challenging for the top five when he crashed in the original race, had brought his bike back into the pits despite the front end being effectively torn off - but was declared ineligible to take the restart because he'd used a service road to get to pitlane.

It meant that, even though the restart never really happened, he was declared not classified.

There were also painful non-scores for Miguel Oliveira (RNF Aprilia), who had pulled into the pits from within the top 10 just before the race was originally red-flagged, and Maverick Vinales (Aprilia), in a lonely and fruitless ride after he had a Turn 1 run-in with Bezzecchi and Zarco at the start and fell in the gravel.

Brad Binder (KTM) couldn't follow up on his second place in the sprint, his bike falling sharply on entry on Turn 3 as he was fighting through to recover from a slow bike swap.

Leading finishers

1 Jorge Martin (Pramac Ducati)
2 Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati)
3 Marc Marquez (Honda)
4 Marco Bezzecchi (VR46 Ducati)
5 Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia)
6 Jack Miller (KTM)
7 Augusto Fernandez (Tech3 Gas Gas)
8 Fabio di Giannantonio (Gresini Ducati)
9 Raul Fernandez (RNF Aprilia)
10 Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha)

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