MotoGP title hopeful Jorge Martin won the sprint race of the final round of 2023 at Valencia, keeping the championship battle open into Sunday's grand prix.
Martin had qualified only sixth, four places behind Bagnaia, yet was already past his rival on the opening lap and powered through to win the 13-lapper - while Bagnaia finished fifth.
Bagnaia actually took the lead off the line, immediately clearing the pole-sitting Aprilia of Maverick Vinales - yet Vinales threw his RS-GP down the inside of the Ducati at Turn 2 to reclaim the lead.
Martin, for his part, cleared Pramac team-mate Johann Zarco into Turn 1 and, though their compromised corner entry briefly allowed KTM's Brad Binder through, Binder then went wide almost immediately to allow Martin back ahead.
This put Martin in a position to attack Bagnaia, which he duly did with a lunge into Turn 11 that slowed them both - with Binder and Marc Marquez sneaking past.
By then Vinales was nearly a second clear in the lead, but the race came back towards Martin as the Aprilia, equipped with a medium rear tyre versus the softs on the bikes of his main rivals, fell back towards the chasers.
After re-overtaking Marquez on lap two and then shrugging off a sideways moment on the third lap, Martin followed Binder in reeling in Vinales.
On the sixth lap, Binder lunged at Vinales at Turn 4, only for Vinales to return the favour at Turn 5. A lap later, however, a Turn 4 move was enough to get the move done for good.
Martin then breezed past Vinales on the main straight at the start of the eighth lap and, with Binder still in his sights, a Turn 11 error by the South African opened the door for Martin to take the lead.
Binder kept Martin under pressure over the rest of the race - but was ultimately powerless to stop Martin from winning by 0.190s.
Marquez, in the final round of his ultra-successful MotoGP stint with Honda, picked off Vinales to secure a sprint podium.
Bagnaia's race proved as low-key as the opening lap suggested, defined by defensive riding while running in fifth place.
At one point, Fabio Quartararo lunged at him at Turn 6 and immediately tucked the front, coming not that far off collecting the championship leader as he crashed.
Bagnaia's other challengers for fifth were Ducati satellite riders Marco Bezzecchi (VR46 Ducati) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Ducati), but both looked unwilling to take a big risk to overtake their fellow Ducati rider at a circuit where making a clean pass is famously not easy.
Di Giannantonio ultimately ended up sixth, followed by Bezzecchi and two more Ducati satellite riders in Alex Marquez (Gresini) and Zarco.
One notable absence from the points was Jack Miller, who was fourth on the grid but got a horrific start that made his race a non-event.
A fifth-place finish for Bagnaia means there are now 14 points in the standings between him and Martin, which means that another fifth place for Bagnaia on Sunday would ensure his successive title.
However, should Bagnaia non-score, a podium will give Martin a maiden premier-class title.
|Fabio Di Giannantonio