Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is right back in the title fight after defeating Ayumu Sasaki (Liqui Moly Husqvarna Intact GP) in a very wet duel Down Under, with the Turkish rider taking those valuable 25 points after a stunning last lap lunge.
Sasaki’s second place sees him close back in on Championship leader Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing), however, as the Spaniard had a tougher one to come home in P8. Third, meanwhile, was a very first podium for Joel Kelso (CFMoto Racing PrüstelGP) as the home hero converted a dry front row to a soaked P3, impressive all weekend.
There was drama on the sighting lap for a number of riders as Championship contender Daniel Holgado (Red Bull KTM Tech3), winner in Indonesia Diogo Moreira (MT Helmets – MSI), Matteo Bertelle (Rivacold Snipers Team) and replacement rider Vicente Perez (BOE Motorsports) all crashed out. They were all able to start, but for Moreira it was from pitlane and the Brazilian then later retired from the race.
Once the lights went out though, it was a nervy but clean start for the field as they made their way through Turn 1, with no dramas early on but Adrian Fernandez (Leopard Racing) immediately got the hammer down as Öncü charged up into second.
The first and sole crasher in the early stages was David Alonso (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) and he rejoined, pitted and then rejoined again, with plenty of laps still to go. But the Colombian then later pulled back into pitlane again, forced to watch from the sidelines as some key title rivals rode on in the front.
Fernandez led Öncü, Kelso, and the two Liqui Moly Husqvarna Intact GP machines of Sasaki and Collin Veijer. The Leopard in the lead was unthreatened lap after lap, with Fernandez putting in a seriously impressive performance as the front gaggle pulled out a mountain of time on the rest of the field. But with five laps to go, heartbreak hit at Turn 11 and the number 31 slid out. With the unbelievable margin the front group had pulled out, however, he was able to rejoin in fifth.
By the latter stages, Veijer had dropped off the leaders and with Fernandez’ crash, it became a three-rider fight for the win: Sasaki, Kelso and Öncü. But as the metres ticked down, Sasaki and Öncü started to pull the pin and Kelso got dropped, left to race himself for his very first Grand Prix podium, with the conditions tricky but some time in hand behind him.
And so it was a duel, and a familiar one: Sasaki vs Öncü. The duo were locked together in a private battle for 25 points, with the Japanese rider ahead as they crossed the line for the final lap. Sasaki played defense to perfection over the first part of the lap, but at Turn 10 Öncü went for it – and pulled it off. All that was left to do was keep it tidy to the line, and the Turkish rider had no trouble doing just that, taking a stunning victory and those valuable 25 points to take him back to within 25 of the top.
For Sasaki, second place may have been a little too familiar in 2023, but he also needed those 20 points – bringing his deficit to Masia back down to just four. Kelso, meanwhile, celebrates a first visit to the rostrum and on home turf too.
Veijer kept a solid fourth place after dropping off the podium battle, with Fernandez holding on to an incredible fifth place despite that crash. But not by much! The group led by Riccardo Rossi (SIC58 Squadra Corse) was right on his tail but the Italian had to settle for sixth ahead of Taiyo Furusato (Honda Team Asia), Championship leader Masia, Bertelle and Lorenzo Fellon (SIC58 Squadra Corse).
That’s a wrap on Phillip Island, now it’s next stop Buriram and that awesome final corner. Tune in for more next Sunday!
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