Jack Miller has dominated the Motul Grand Prix of Japan but fellow Ducati Lenovo Team rider Francesco Bagnaia’s MotoGP™ World Championship hopes have taken a big blow with a final-lap crash.
‘Pecco’ was locked in battle with Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) over eighth position when he hit the deck, while Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) also failed to score points after a technical problem before the start at the Mobility Resort Motegi.
Second on the day went to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Brad Binder and third to Prima Pramac Racing’s Jorge Martin, while the Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez turned his first pole position in almost three years into fourth at the chequered flag after 24 frenetic laps.
Espargaro’s race takes a turn for the worse straight away
There was high drama even before lights out when Aleix Espargaro pitted at the end of the sighting lap. Instead of starting from sixth, first of the title contenders, he was headed straight for the Aprilia Racing box to switch to his second RS-GP after seeing an alarm on his first bike.
As he took the start from pit lane, Brad Binder moved into the lead courtesy of the inside line into the first corner, and Martin passed Marc Marquez for second through Turn 3.
Miller had qualified seventh but 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 (Turn 1).
Meanwhile, Martin had gone under Binder at Turn 7 and he led at the end of Lap 1 from the South African, then Miller, Oliveira, Marc Marquez, Viñales, and Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing), who had dropped five positions from the middle of the front row. Quartararo was ninth, Bagnaia 12th, and Aleix Espargaro 25th in the 25-strong field.
Miller on a charge
Miller continued to pick them off at the 90 Degree Corner, passing Brad Binder for second on Lap 2, then getting into the lead of the race when he overtook Ducati stablemate Martin at the same location on Lap 3. As the #43 and #89 Desmosedicis started to disappear up the road, Quartararo found himself in an elbows-out battle for eighth with Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing team) and Bagnaia was duelling with future teammate Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) again, but this time for 11th rather than first.
Oliveira passed teammate Brad Binder for third on Lap 5 at the V Corner (Turn 9), but the South African reclaimed the position four laps later at Turn 1. Meanwhile, Zarco had dropped from seventh to 13th with a ragged fifth lap of the contest, as Miller stretched his gap over Martin. It was past a full second on Lap 8 and growing, with ‘Thriller’ on the hard Michelin rear and hence able to push, while ‘The Martinator’ had chosen the medium compound for the back of his own Ducati.
Up in flames for Tsuda
Miller was three seconds to the good when Joan Mir’s injury replacement, Takuya Tsuda, saw his race come to a spectacular end on Lap 12. A fire had broken out within his Team Suzuki Ecstar entry and he was forced to pull off the race track at Turn 5 but, fortunately for the runaway race leader, there was no need for a red flag and the contest continued. By then, Marini had taken advantage of a slight Quartararo error at Turn 1 to pass ‘El Diablo’, then moved up to sixth when Viñales did much the same on Lap 14. Quartararo was therefore back to eighth, with Bastianini ninth after putting a bold move on Bagnaia at the Hairpin corner (Turn 10) back on Lap 9, and ‘Pecco’ running 10th.
Up in flames: Tsuda escapes GSX-RR fireball
Brad Binder had been multiple seconds behind Martin before halfway but had closed the gap back to less than one second inside the final five laps. On Lap 22, Marc Marquez squeezed past Oliveira and into fourth position at the V Corner, as Brad Binder applied the blowtorch to Martin. The KTM pilot finally made the pass at Turn 1 on the 24th and final lap, but Miller was already five seconds clear.
Miller makes it four
The Australian cruised to the fourth victory of his MotoGP™ career by an official margin of 3.409 seconds, from Brad Binder, Martin, and Marc Marquez. Fifth position was only decided right at the end, with Marini looking like he had made the move on Oliveira at the 90 Degree Corner, only for the Portuguese rider to snatch the spot back in the last few turns. Marini was therefore sixth, with Viñales another 1.5 seconds back in seventh.
Then there was the literal World Championship battle for eighth! Bagnaia had snatched ninth position back from Bastianini through Turn 12/Turn 13 on Lap 20 and that gave him a clear shot at Quartararo. He put the pressure on the Yamaha rider and appeared to be trying to fashion a pass as they braked for Turn 3 on the final lap, but asked too much of his front tyre and hit the deck. ‘El Diablo’ therefore hung on to eighth, Bastianini inherited ninth, and Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) rounded out the top 10. Zarco got home in 11th, with the rest of the points finishers being Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol), Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™), and Cal Crutchlow (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP™ Team).
Bagnaia blunders last lap Quartararo overtake
No reward for Espargaro
Aleix Espargaro finished 16th, more than six seconds away from the points, and therefore leaves Motegi emptyhanded after a trying Sunday. In a miserable afternoon for Team Suzuki Ecstar, Alex Rins also had to retire due to a technical problem – far less dramatic than Tsuda’s, mind you – while Darryn Binder (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP™ Team) and Tetsuta Nagashima (HRC Team) joined Bagnaia in crashing out.
After mayhem in Motegi, Quartararo’s World Championship lead has grown to 18 over Bagnaia, while Aleix Espargaro is another seven behind, and there are still four rounds to go in a topsy-turvy title fight! Even better, the next event, the OR Thailand Grand Prix at the Chang International Circuit, is just a few short days away on September 30-October 2.
MotoGP™ Race Top 10:
1. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team)
2. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 3.409
3. Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) + 4.136
4. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) + 7.784
5. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 8.185
6. Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) + 8.348
7. Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) + 9.879
8. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) + 10.193
9. Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) + 10.318
10. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) + 16.419