Pedro Acosta proved once more why he is being tipped for greatness by cooly grabbing victory in the Moto2 Grand Prix of The Americas from title rival Tony Arbolino on the final lap at Circuit of The Americas.
Having stalked the Italian for almost the entire race, Acosta left it late to make his victory pitch with a pass into Turn 12 at the final time of asking, before resisting Arbolino in a sprint to the line.
While it was a display of quality up front from arguably Moto2's top title tips, it was relative mayhem behind as a brewing battle for the final podium position burst on the final lap with multiple changes for position among six riders.
In the end, it was Bo Bendsneyder who'd prevail in third place, the Dutchman climbing from sixth to third on the last lap to score his first podium in what is his sixth season in the intermediate class.
Among the Brits, Jake Dixon's title hopes took a major blow when he crashed on the warm-up lap and failed to take the start, while Sam Lowes could only recover to 13th from 18th on the grid. Rory Skinner, meanwhile, notched up his first top twenty finish in Moto2 with a run to 19th.
Indeed, the tone for the 16 laps to follow was set before the lights had even gone out as Dixon - who was tipped as a contender for his first Moto2 win from sixth on the grid - threw it all away at Turn 9 on the warm-up lap, cold tyres snapping him off his GasGas Aspar to leave a big hole at the front of the starting pack.
From the lights, it was second place starter Acosta who got the hole-shot into Turn 1 before Alonso Lopez - up from fifth - dived through on the plunge into Turn 2. The pair continued to jostle over the opening lap, swapping position repeatedly before Acosta got his nose in front by the time they returned to the home straight.
Behind him, Arbolino's strong start from eighth had him up to second place after Lopez ran wide at the final turn, though the Spaniard fought back on lap two, the duo getting their heads down to chase the KTM Ajo rider out front.
Having briefly looked capable to stringing the pack though, Acosta got his braking wrong into Turn 12 on lap three, demoting himself to fourth and promoting Lopez back into the lead.
While Acosta began to make progress back up the order, Arbolino got the better of Lopez for the lead on lap five with a pass at Turn 11, in so doing triggering a bizarre stretch of the race for the SpeedUp rider involving several wide and out-of-the-seat moments.
His issues meant Acosta was back up to second on lap five too, the Spaniard immediately latching onto Arbolino's Marc VDS Kalex, the subsequent switch up in pace allowing the duo to gap a busy battle for third behind them.
With several seconds in hand over their rivals, Acosta could afford to shadow Arbolino over the ensuing laps, the 2021 Moto3 World Champion never allowing his rival to get a margin on him, while his close quarters suggested he was holding something in reserve until the final stages.
In the end, it almost didn't matter when Arbolino - having held firm out front for nine laps - out-braked himself into Turn 1 with three laps remaining to let Acosta through. Not to be out-done, Acosta then did exactly the same further round the lap at Turn 12.
As such, Arbolino led into the final lap but Acosta's wily tactics soon told as he tucked into the slipstream down the back straight before holding his nerve with a firm out-braking pass into the left-hander.
Leaving Arbolino with minimal options to respond, though he got the better run out of the final corner, there wasn't enough asphalt for him to snatch it back, Acosta getting to the flag by just +0.146s.
His second win of the season, the victory emboldens Acosta's title favourite status, though it is Arbolino that remains up top in the standings, three points ahead of his rival.
Behind them, the fight for third came to a dramatic crescendo on the final lap after a dust up between Fermin Aldeguer and Aron Canet led to them being bumped down the order.
The SpeedUp rider looked on course for a monumental maiden Moto2 podium after working his way through the chasing pack, despite carrying injuries from a nasty crash in P3. However, the advancing Canet - who lost third earlier in the race with a mistake - instead resulted in contact, forcing Aldeguer down to sixth and Canet to eighth.
Their scuffle briefly promoted Jeremy Alcoba into third, the Spaniard on course for his own personal best after a strong performance all race, but he too would miss out in the final moments when he was passed by Bendsneyder.
The Dutchman - a relative Moto2 veteran with 90 starts and a best finish of fifth to his name - enjoyed a topsy-turvy race that began with him slipping from fourth on the grid to outside the top ten on the opening lap. Despite working his way to the front of his pack to run seventh, he was several seconds behind the battle for third coming into the latter stages.
But with the physical action up ahead slowing the train of riders, Bendsneyder was able to catch up in the closing stages. Even then, he was only sixth coming into the final lap but managed to dodge the drama and emerge third at the flag.
Alcoba settled for fourth in what remains his best Moto2 finish to date, with his Gresini team-mate Filip Salac following him in fifth. Aldeguer ended up in sixth, just ahead of Lopez, whose evident pace was being strangled by a clearly problematic Boscoscuro, while Canet ended up eighth.
Pole sitter Celestino Vietti quickly went backwards from the start, the Fantic rider ending the opening lap in seventh en route to an eventual ninth, while Manuel Gonzalez completed the top ten.
Somkiat Chantra recovered to 11th, ahead of Albert Arenas, while Sam Lowes flew the flag for the UK entries in 13th having started 18th. Dennis Foggia was 14th, with 2022 Moto2 runner-up Ai Ogura collecting his first point of the year in 15th as he continues his recovery from injury.
Beyond Dixon, there was bitter disappointment for Barry Baltus, who reeled off a series of fastest laps to put himself on course for a best Moto2 finish, only to tumble out of fifth place.
Meanwhile, Rory Skinner scored his first top twenty finish in Moto2 with a solid run to 19th place.
Moto2 Race Results - Grand Prix of The Americas
|Grand Prix of the Americas, USA Moto2 | RACE Results | Circuit of The Americas | Round 3 / 21|
|1||Pedro Acosta||ESP||Red Bull KTM Ajo||Kalex||16 Laps|
|2||Tony Arbolino||ITA||Elf Marc VDS Racing||Kalex||+0.146|
|3||Bo Bendsneyder||NED||Pertamina Mandalika SAG||Kalex||+5.581|
|4||Jeremy Alcoba||ESP||QJmotor Gresini||Kalex||+6.049|
|5||Filip Salac||CZE||QJmotor Gresini||Kalex||+7.462|
|6||Fermin Aldeguar||ESP||Speed Up Racing||Boscoscuro||+7.668|
|7||Alonso Lopez||ESP||Speed Up Racing||Boscoscuro||+7.715|
|8||Aron Canet||ESP||Pons Wegow Los40||Kalex||+8.078|
|9||Celestino Vietti||ITA||Fantic Racing||Kalex||+11.114|
|10||Manuel Gonzalez||ESP||Yamaha VR46 Master Camp||Kalex||+12.561|
|11||Somkiat Chantra||THA||Idemitsu Honda Team Asia||Kalex||+13.607|
|12||Albert Arenas||ESP||Red Bull KTM Ajo||Kalex||+14.001|
|13||Sam Lowes||GBR||Elf Marc VDS Racing||Kalex||+20.054|
|14||Dennis Foggia||ITA||Italtrans Racing Team||Kalex||+22.990|
|15||Ai Ogura||JPN||Idemitsu Honda Team Asia||Kalex||+28.820|
|16||Joe Roberts||USA||Italtrans Racing Team||Kalex||+31.893|
|17||Zonta vd Goorbergh||NED||Fieten Olie Racing GP||Kalex||+34.734|
|18||Sean Dylan Kelly||USA||American Racing||Kalex||+34.934|
|19||Rory Skinner||GBR||American Racing||Kalex||+42.450|
|20||Borja Gomez||ESP||Fantic Racing||Kalex||+49.973|
|21||Izan Guevara||ESP||GasGas Aspar Team||Kalex||+51.470|
|22||David Sanchis||ESP||Forward Team||Forward||+1m 05.224|
|23||Soichiro Minamimoto||JPN||Yamaha VR46 Master Camp||Kalex||+1m 44.447|
|DNF||Sergio Garcia||ESP||Pons Wegow Los40||Kalex|
|DNF||Marcos Ramirez||ESP||Forward Team||Forward|
|DNF||Barry Baltus||BEL||Fieten Olie Racing GP||Kalex|
|DNF||Lorenzo Dalla Porta||ITA||Pertamina Mandalika SAG||Kalex|
|DNF||Lukas Tulovic||GER||Husqvarna Intact GP||Kalex|
|DNS||Jake Dixon||GBR||GasGas Aspar Team||Kalex|
|W||Darryn Binder||RSA||Husqvarna Intact GP||Kalex|