Quartararo struggles to eighth, Bagnaia makes a last lap blunder and Aleix Espargaro suffers a disastrous start as Miller, Binder and Martin steal the spotlight.
Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) took a scintillating win at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, hitting the front and never looking back. Behind him, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Brad Binder came home in a stunning second after a last lap attack on Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing), with the former taking a second podium of the season from his first ever premier class front row and the latter back on the box for the first time since Barcelona.
Elsewhere for the title contenders there was drama of differing measures, leaving the top three to take home only eight points between them – and they were all scored by Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) despite the fact that he could only manage eighth. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) suffered the first drama as he found his first machine stuck in fuel saving mode and dived into the pits after the Sighting Lap to change, only able to make it up to P16 thereafter, and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) created the second as he made a last lap blunder in the battle with Quartararo and Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) – taking home nil points in the process as he slid out.
The duel into Turn 1 saw Binder move into the lead courtesy of the inside line, as Martin passed Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) for second through Turn 3. Miller’s charge started early though, and he made a forceful move for fifth on Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) at Turn 5 and then passed both Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Marc Marquez in one fell swoop at the 90 Degree Corner. He then dispatched Binder at the same place before also pinching the lead from Martin not long after, free in the lead and the hammer immediately down. From there, he didn’t look back and only extended the gap – crossing the line three and a half seconds clear for a stunning Thriller of a win.
In classic Binder style, the South African was chipping away at the gap to Martin ahead of him and by the last few laps was within striking distance. But he waited, and Binder vs Martin was decided on the last lap as the KTM rider chose his moment, making it stick and able to pull out a few tenths. Marquez vs Oliveira vs Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) was similarly decided late, with Marquez dispatching the Portuguese rider late on and the number 88 then left to defend against Marini. That he did, repelling a last lap attack.
Marquez’ fourth place from pole is another step in the right direction as the number 93 begins to remind the grid, if they needed it, that he really is back, and Oliveira’s fifth wasn’t quite a podium but it makes two KTMs in the top five. Marini, meanwhile, continues his impressive consistency and points hauls in sixth.
Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) took seventh, and the number 12 was just to the front of a title fight in miniature: Quartararo, Bagnaia and Bastianini, all in a row and battling for eighth. Bagnaia snatched ninth back from Bastianini through Turn 12/Turn 13 on Lap 20 after an earlier shuffle, and that gave him a clear shot at Quartararo. Could he or even would he? The three were incredibly close together and Pecco misjudged it as the front tyre said no more, and he slid out. Quartararo continued to take those eight points, Bagnaia took a 0 after his overambitious move – his words, to accompany his sarcastic applause at himself as he walked away – and Bastianini inherited ninth. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) rounded out the top 10.
So what of Aleix Espargaro? The Aprilia rider had a different tyre than his race choice on the second bike, and that hampered an already difficult comeback task. He took P16, finishing but just missing out on points.
That’s a wrap on the paddock’s return to Japan. After mayhem in Motegi, Quartararo’s World Championship lead has grown to 18 over Bagnaia, while Aleix Espargaro is another seven behind, but there are still four rounds to go. The next is already on the horizon as the OR Thailand Grand Prix beckons and the paddock returns to Chang International Circuit, with action back underway on Friday!
1 Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) – Ducati – 42’29.174
2 Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory) – KTM – +3.409
3 Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) – Ducati – +4.136
Jack Miller: “I can ride a motorcycle sometimes. [Laughs] I mean, I felt amazing all weekend, to be honest, since I rolled out in the first Free Practice. It feels so awesome to be back racing on this side of the world and the Japanese fans have been incredible all weekend, sitting there through the miserable rain yesterday. These guys are some of the best fans we have, so thank you to them, thank you to the team. What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we’ve got a home Grand Prix coming up shortly, wedding coming up in a couple of weeks, it’s amazing points. So, over the moon, can’t thank everybody enough.
“It was an emotional one that’s for certain, as it always is with me, I don’t know why. I was crying like a baby on the in lap. It was awesome, I didn’t know I had that in me, it was amazing to lead from almost start to finish. When you’re riding or racing like that, the biggest opponent you’ve got is the man inside your head – so I was just trying to not listen to him too much, and it was relatively easy to not listen to him today when the bike’s working as well as it was, it was just a case of hitting my marks and not making any silly mistakes, which is quite easy to do here, to outbrake yourself or whatever – it can cost you a lot of time.”
Brad Binder: “It was a fantastic weekend for myself and the team, you know we’ve been working so hard this season and we haven’t got many good results so to be standing back on the podium is an amazing feeling. It was tough out there today, at the beginning of the race I was really struggling a little bit to understand how hard I could push with the rear because it was the first time I’d done laps on the H. Clearly I understood really well following Jorge and Jack at the beginning where we were losing time and where I was strong, so I was able to do laps behind them and really figure out where I needed to improve and use my strong points to my advantage.
“As the race went on I felt like I got better and better, and I need to say a massive thank you to my team for giving me the confidence to go with the H rear considering we’d never used it. To walk away today with a podium is fantastic, I pushed hard and fought hard from lap one but like I said, hats off to my team. They fought so hard, we needed this podium desperately and this is the start of many more.
“Congrats to Jack, he was on another level today. When he passed me, he literally disappeared in about three or four laps. I could see he was on a roll and knowing Jack I thought he’d have the Hard tyre too. By about Lap 10 I knew we weren’t gonna see him again. Hats off to Jack and it’s gonna be awesome having him in the team next year.”
Jorge Martin: “It was a great race in general, for sure a pity I didn’t try the Hard tyre in the Warm Up because I think it was the key today to being a bit more competitive. I made a great start, I was managing the rear a bit on the exit but I saw straight away after six laps when I was behind Jack that I was asking too much to try and keep the pace so I slowed a bit and tried to keep a constant pace to keep some tyre for the end. It was difficult, when I saw 14 laps to go I was a bit on the limit and thought I was a bit in trouble for the end. I tried to keep the distance with Brad but when he arrived with two or three to go it was a shame as second would have been even better but I’m happy with this podium, to be back for the first time since Barcelona so a lot of races, and I have the confidence back I was missing in the front and starting to brake a bit harder. I’m getting used to this bike, that for the moment is difficult to understand a base setup for.”
QUOTES: TITLE CONTENDERS
Fabio Quartararo: “I didn’t enjoy a single moment of the race. You always have to take the positives from a race and the positive was that we extended our lead but it wasn’t a fun race for me. I couldn’t overtake at all, the only overtake I could do was on Marini and it was on the limit, we touched. But for me the difference in acceleration and everything, it was impossible to try anything.
“From the beginning I knew Aleix was out as he wasn’t there on the grid, and I heard straight away the sound when Pecco crashed so it was easy to know. We were lucky to not get hit but the important thing is we finished the race. Now, it’s the same. We need to push at the maximum, it’s still four races and 100 points, so we will have to push to the maximum and it’ll be super important.”
Francesco Bagnaia: “First of all, I want to say thanks to my team because my mistake was too huge. I didn’t do a good manoeuvre, and fortunately I didn’t touch Fabio and he was safe, he finished the race. I was too ambitious.
“I knew I was strong in that braking point, but I was a bit far and in acceleration today I was slow, I was losing compared to other bikes. But I have to think about my mistakes and what to do in the next races.”
“I had a strange feeling in my bike today during the race, this morning in warm Up everything went well and was ok, but this afternoon I struggled too much. In any case, it’s like this, we are lucky Fabio only got eighth, and we didn’t lose too many points, Aleix finished but with no points, so the only sweet taste today is from Jack – I’m happy he won the race. But I have to stay focused fo the next race, a good track for us, and that’s the main objective.”
Aleix Espargaro: “I’m very disappointed, today was a shame. we made a mistake and the electronics guys forget to remove the eco ma for fuel saving, there was nothing I could do. The bike was very slow onto the sighting lap, I went into the pits to change the bike but the second bike didn’t have the right tyre so it was very difficult.
“I knew from the beginning that the bike wasn’t going, so I knew there was a mistake and on the second bike I tried everything, but starting from the pits it’s impossible. I also didn’t have the right rear because we had no more mediums. I tried to stay on track in case there was a Red Flag, but we lost the race on the grid.
“They didn’t achieve a lot of points but I’m even more disappointed because today I could have beaten them, so it’s a shame to lose the opportunity but this is racing.”
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