MotoGP: World Championship Continues Next Weekend At Motegi
Closer than ever: the Championship fight touches down at Motegi!
Hard braking, hard racing, home glory and much more is on the line at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan
Tuesday, 26 September 2023
After a headline-packed Indian GP, we’re heading east for another clash of the titans as the Mobility Resort Motegi welcomes MotoGP. The gap at the top is the closest the Championship has been for some time, with a shock crash for leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) at Buddh leaving the door open for his closest rivals to capitalize – and that they did. Pecco will be gunning for some redemption and he’s no stranger to rising to that occasion in style, but there’s everything to play for.
Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) and Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) arrive with the momentum. Martin from another Tissot Sprint win, equaling Bagnaia’s count this year, and then a hard-fought second place on Sunday. The Spaniard is now just 13 points off Bagnaia’s lead as he digs in and keeps pulling back that gap. But Bezzecchi? On paper he may not have done the double, but he was, without a doubt, the fastest rider in India.
His comeback on Saturday after that unfortunate Turn 1 contact from teammate Luca Marini – who will miss this weekend and won’t be replaced – was an absolute barnstormer, and in only 10 laps. Cat out the bag and his pace proven, there was some pressure on Sunday to deliver the win that speed promised, but deliver he did. With Pecco’s crash behind him opening the door to a real gain in the standings too, it’s now a 44-point deficit for the Mooney VR46 rider. Can he cut that again this weekend?
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), meanwhile, delivered some big points again too. The South African had a bit of a nightmare end to Practice AND Q1 as yellow flags scrubbed off his best efforts, but despite starting outside the top ten, he took off like a shot to make it P4 in both the Sprint and Grand Prix. He’s now 100 points off the top, but there’s still more than double that on the table, and he took a podium last season at Motegi. He and teammate Jack Miller, aka the 2022 winner at the track, as well as GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3 duo Pol Espargaro and Augusto Fernandez, have a last stand of their own this weekend already though: the constructors’ crown is in play for the first time.
Ducati’s impressive and growing form over the past few seasons has seen them wrap up the constructors’ title even when the riders’ crown went begging, with so many fast faces in play at once. But this season that ten-year journey to the top could pay off even earlier as they arrive at Motegi with a 200-point lead over KTM. Yes, you read that correctly. With 222 still in play and 37 available over a weekend, the top Ducati needs to outscore the top KTM by 22 or more. This time they’re riding out with six bikes as three-time Motegi winner Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP) joins Marini on the sidelines, not replaced, but there’s Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing), Michele Pirro (Ducati Lenovo Team) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP) alongside the Championship top three on track.
Aprilia are now out that constructors’ fight, and they weren’t able to make much hay in the fight at the front in India either, so they’ll want a lot more at Motegi. It could be a tougher one for the agile RS-GP with such hard braking and acceleration, but a little more luck would help as well. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) had a crash in the Sprint and then a DNF in the GP, and teammate Maverick Viñales took some points on Saturday before his Grand Prix race was very much dampened by being sent well wide at Turn 1. Still, he recovered to eighth. Miguel Oliveira (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP Team) had a tough weekend overall too, whereas teammate Raul Fernandez managed to keep making those steps forward with a best qualifying yet, a Sprint point and top ten on Sunday.
Speaking of steps forward, however, means speaking about Honda and Yamaha, and as both arrive on hallowed home turf at the Mobility Resort Motegi. LCR Honda Castrol’s stand-in Stefan Bradl had a tougher one in India but did take a point, and now-home hero Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) took P11. He’ll be gunning for a lot more at Motegi but there were some great signs.
In India, the Repsol Honda team were back in the postcode they made their own over an incredible few decades in the sport, with podiums more than plausible and one bagged. Can they keep it going? Joan Mir just pipped Marc Marquez to fifth in qualifying before the two delivered some top performances once the lights went out: Mir had a slow slide out in the Sprint but then hounded Binder in a duel for fourth on Sunday. Marquez dug in behind the Ducati duo to take his second Sprint podium of the season, and on Sunday, the number 93 then had an agonizingly slow tip off at Turn 1. He was back on in record time and sliced his way back up the order to a top ten finish, but he lost ten seconds in the crash. And THAT would have dropped him in right on the back of the duel for second…
Last but by no means least, that duel for second may not have seen Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) come out on top, but it did see the Frenchman give it one hell of a shot. Teammate Franco Morbidelli took some solid points in India but Quartararo was able to wring a serious charge at the front out of his Sunday, stalking Martin before getting more than stuck in. The two were locked together over the last lap and it was a flash of what we’re missing as Yamaha look to move forward. A podium ahead of their home round, where they’ll also welcome a wildcard appearance for test rider Cal Crutchlow, is a good preface. Can we see a few more flashes of glory at Motegi? Tune in to find out!
Pedro Acosta (37) extended his Moto2 World Championship point lead with a race victory in India. Photo courtesy Dorna.
Can anyone catch Acosta at Motegi?
Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is on a serious roll. Another dominant performance in India extended his advantage once more, but at least for Tony Arbolino (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) it was only a five-point swing, all things considered. After a tougher run, the Italian has been right back in the front fight over the last two rounds too, so he’ll want to repeat that in Japan… and more.
Jake Dixon (Inde GASGAS Aspar Team), meanwhile, had an eye on victory before his clash with Alonso Lopez (Beta Tools Speed Up), which also gained the latter two Long Laps for his trouble. That’ll be a hurdle for Lopez, and the deficit to the top is a bigger hurdle for Dixon as both arrive looking to bounce back.
After a return to the rostrum for the first time this year, Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) will want to keep that going at Motegi too, and the rider he just got the better of in that spectacular last lap duel, Sergio Garcia (Pons Wegow Los40), will be gunning for another bite of that top five cherry as his rookie momentum in the intermediate class keeps impressing.
All that said, Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) will be stealing plenty of the spotlight. As the home hero, but also as the winner in 2022 after a truly impressive weekend. Can he go back to back on home turf? We’ll find out on Sunday at 13:15 (GMT +9) as the intermediate class take on the Mobility Resort Motegi!
Jaume Masia (5) leads the Moto3 field at the start of the race in India. Photo courtesy Dorna.
Moto3 vs Motegi: three riders, one point, and a home hero
The Moto3 Championship has been closing up for a while, but it’s rarely been closer than this. Daniel Holgado (Red Bull KTM Tech3) remains the leader by virtue of his three wins to Jaume Masia’s (Leopard Racing) two, but they’re now equal on points after Masia’s win in India. And Ayumu Sasaki (Liqui Moly Husqvarna Intact GP) is now just one single point behind, right as the paddock touches down on his home turf at Motegi… where he was also on the podium last year. He’s the highest finisher from 2022 who returns to race the track in the class this year, too.
David Alonso (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team), meanwhile, is now fourth overall after he took another top five, coming home just behind Holgado at Buddh. The rider for whom India was an expensive weekend in the standings was instead veteran Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Ajo), whose adventurous Saturday morning gained him a back of the grid start and Long Lap, had a mountain that was just that little too high to climb on Sunday. Öncü will be going all out to gain that ground back and get his elbows out in the process at Motegi. Finally, Kaito Toba (SIC58 Squadra Corse) arrives from a first podium of the season just in time for home turf as well, so he’ll want to stay in that postcode.
We’re straight back in action this weekend, so will there be a change of leader for the first time this year? Or has Holgado got more in his pocket after some good damage limitation in India? Tune in for Moto3’s return to Motegi, with lights out at 12:00 (GMT +9) on Sunday!