Jorge Martin has slashed Pecco Bagnaia’s lead in the 2023 MotoGP World Championship standings to three points after being awarded victory in a truncated Japanese MotoGP at a rain-lashed Motegi.
A fifth victory in six MotoGP races for the Spaniard, while success in Sunday’s main MotoGP feature race is a continuation of the fine form that has seen Martin take chunks out of Bagnaia’s now scant lead, the plot of this win came from a very different script.
Indeed, with spots of rain beginning to fall as the riders lined up on the grid for the 24-lap encounter, the majority of the field wouldn’t even make it to the end of the first lap before deciding to pit for a wet-shod change of bikes.
For Martin, the Spaniard overcame an eventful opening few laps during which he led much of the opening revolution as the conditions worsened, grabbed the initiative in the melee upon the mass exodus from the pit-lane, only to then out-brake himself and plummet to a low of tenth on lap three.
However, once he had found his rhythm, Martin carved his way back up the order, taking just three laps to check off Bagnaia and Aleix Espargaro to reclaim the lead by lap seven. It was a position he’d protect until Lap 13 when the race was red flagged due to track conditions.
While officials attempted to initiate a quick restart around 30mins later, objections from the riders on the warm-up lap would prompt a second red flag, this time with confirmation of a declared result.
With just over 50 per cent of the race completed, it means Martin was announced as the winner with a full 25 points, ahead of Bagnaia in second, while Marc Marquez notched up his first Sunday podium of the season in third place.
Even Mother Nature can’t trip Martin’s MotoGP title momentum
If there were questions being asked of whether Martin’s mental resolve ahead of the Japanese MotoGP could withstand his elevated status as genuine threat for the 2023 MotoGP title, Sunday’s short but significant 12 Lap truncated feature held in torrid conditions not only delivered an answer, but arguably exceeded expectations.
Indeed, having already dealt a blow to Bagnaia’s title defence by winning the Sprint Race at a canter on Saturday, it seemed Mother Nature had a trick up her sleeve to derail the rhythm in Martin’s rapidly growing title momentum.
With the race getting underway just as the skies began to open, it didn’t take long for conditions to dwindle rapidly with the drizzle quickly turning into rain before that then too became a heavy downpour, all before the riders had reached the tricky downhill braking zone for Turn 11.
Up to this point Martin had held firm from pole position, though it was Jack Miller scurrying past him at the right-hander after a daring - perhaps unintentional - lunge from third to first. However, with all but four riders heading for the pit-lane anyway to swap bikes, it wasn’t so much ‘fastest lap’ as ‘most agile human’ that would win the race back onto track.
From the five going abreast out of the pit-lane, Martin was quickest to disengage the pit limiter, surging back into a de facto lead, trailed by Aleix Espargaro - who’d make great gains from ninth on the grid - Marquez, Bagnaia and Miller.
The actual lead on the road at this stage belonged to Michele Pirro who, along with Stefan Bradl, Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli, took a gamble on staying out, only to quickly realise going all-in on slicks was futile, forcing each to then go all-into the pit-lane and back down the order.
Before that, however, Martin had already lost his ‘lead’ after getting it wrong into Turn 2 on lap three, the Spaniard clumsily finding the long lap penalty loop while ceding positions down to tenth place.
As such, once Pirro et al. had admitted defeat, it was Espargaro who took up the lead for Aprilia, chased by Marquez and Bagnaia, the defending champion no doubt seeking a big pay day after watching Martin venture stage right ahead of him.
However, once up to speed it was Martin that had a better understanding of the conditions, which varied at different points on the circuit, allowing him to quickly carve his way back up the order. Picking off Marco Bezzecchi for fourth and then Marquez for third by the end of lap five, Martin quickly set his sights on Bagnaia in front of him.
Once onto the factory Ducati’s tail, Martin made light work of his title rival, getting the job done through Turn 9, before carrying his momentum past Espargaro for the lead on the sprint down to Turn 11.
Back in front, Martin made the most of a spray-free track ahead to quickly build up his advantage, no doubt keen to get round to the end of Lap 12 to meet the half-way mark in the race, thus ensuring a result could be declared with full points awarded as per the regulations.
As it turns out, he wasn’t the only one with this train of thought, because no sooner had Martin flashed across the line to start Lap 13, officials deployed the red flags to call a halt to proceedings due to the worsening track conditions and build up of standing water.
After a brief hiatus, officials went on to announce the race would be restarted, despite bursts of rain being interspersed with a break in the downpours. The bikes headed back on track for a quick restart, but when disgruntled riders showed their disapproval with a show of hands as they rounded the warm-up lap, the red flag was shown again, this time to signal the end of the race with results to be taken from the end of Lap 12.
As such, Martin was awarded the win with a full 25 points as his reward, a handful that lifts him right into the shadow of Bagnaia in the overall standings with six rounds remaining.
Though the Italian avoided being demoted behind Martin by overtaking Espargaro for second prior to the red flag, just three points now separates the stablemates at the top of the table.
Marc Marquez back on a proper MotoGP podium
With Espargaro losing his water wings as the race progressed, Marquez got the better of the Aprilia rider too, the six-time MotoGP World Champion - having made do with two top three results in Sprint Races - stepping foot on a proper podium for the first time this season.
Bezzecchi picked up fourth by the red flag, ahead of Espargaro, who was lucky not to finish lower than fifth having also been overtaken by Miguel Oliveira and Johann Zarco, only for the former to suffer a late technical drama and the latter to have a high-speed off at Turn 12 just as the red flags were thrown.
Jack Miller took sixth on a less than favourable day for the KTM Factory squad after Brad Binder - second in the Sprint - crashed out on lap six, though Augusto Fernandez on the sister GasGas Tech3 machine made late gains for a strong seventh.
Fabio di Giannantonio, Raul Fernandez and Quartararo completed the top ten, with home hope Takaaki Nakagami having to make do with 11th.
Joan Mir was an unhappy 12th, the Spaniard suffering an off just before the race was stopped while he was battling it out for a potential podium, while Cal Crutchlow scored points on his wildcard comeback in 13th despite a long lap penalty for an incorrect bike swap.
Stefan Bradl and Pol Espargaro picked up the final points in 14th and 15th, ahead of Maverick Vinales, the Spaniard ending up out of the points and a lap down after a scuffle with Zarco at Turn 1 on the opening lap led to him coming down in the gravel trap before remounting.
|2023 Japanese MotoGP | Twin Ring Motegi, Japan | RACE Results | Round 14 of 20|
|1||Jorge Martin||🇪🇦||Prima Pramac Racing||Ducati GP23||12 Laps|
|2||Pecco Bagnaia||🇮🇹||Ducati Lenovo Team||Ducati GP23||+1.413|
|3||Marc Marquez||🇪🇦||Repsol Honda Team||Honda RC213V||+2.013|
|4||Marco Bezzecchi||🇮🇹||Mooney VR46 Racing||Ducati GP22||+2.943|
|5||Aleix Espargaro||🇪🇦||Aprilia Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||+3.181|
|6||Jack Miller||🇦🇺||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16||+6.837|
|7||Augusto Fernandez||🇪🇦||GasGas Factory Racing Tech3||KTM RC16||+7.587|
|8||Fabio di Giannantonio||🇮🇹||Gresini Racing MotoGP||Ducati GP22||+8.602|
|9||Raul Fernandez||🇪🇦||CryptoData RNF Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||+11.229|
|10||Fabio Quartararo||🇨🇵||Monster Energy Yamaha||Yamaha M1||+12.244|
|11||Takaaki Nakagami||🇯🇵||LCR Honda IDEMITSU||Honda RC213V||+14.714|
|12||Joan Mir||🇪🇦||Repsol Honda Team||Honda RC213V||+14.924|
|13||Cal Crutchlow||🇬🇧||YAMALUBE RS4GP||Yamaha M1||+16.057|
|14||Stefan Bradl||🇩🇪||LCR Honda Castrol||Honda RC213V||+17.253|
|15||Pol Espargaro||🇪🇦||GasGas Factory Racing Tech3||KTM RC16||+24.921|
|16||Michele Pirro||🇮🇹||Ducati Lenovo Team||Ducati GP23||+33.962|
|17||Franco Morbidelli||🇮🇹||Monster Energy Yamaha||Yamaha M1||+1m 14.934|
|18||Miguel Oliveira||🇵🇹||CryptoData RNF Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||+1 Lap|
|19||Maverick Vinales||🇪🇦||Aprilia Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||+1 Lap|
|DNF||Johann Zarco||🇨🇵||Prima Pramac Racing||Ducati GP23|
|DNF||Brad Binder||🇿🇦||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16|
|W||Alex Rins||🇪🇦||LCR Honda Castrol||Honda RC213V|
|Red flag due to weather after 12 Laps - Red flagged again just prior to restart - Full points awarded, Result declared at end of Lap 12|