A hat-trick of Tissot Sprints means just eight points separate the top two in the title race ahead of Sunday’s race.
Jorge Martin is fast becoming the king of MotoGP™ Saturdays. The Prima Pramac rider has been on another planet in Japan as he followed up his record-breaking pole position with a third consecutive Tissot Sprint victory. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) did his level best to keep tabs on the #89, but in the end crossed the line 1.3s behind the GP23, while Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) secured third.
The launch from the line
Martin has led every lap in the past two Tissot Sprints, and he went about keeping up that proud record with a superb launch from the line that gave him the holeshot going into Turn 1. He wasn’t the only one to get off the line well, with the factory KTMs of Jack Miller and Binder swallowing up Bagnaia in the lead up to the opening corner.
Slotting in behind Bagnaia was Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) capitalizing on a less than ideal start from Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team). Back out front, an aggressive but fair move from Binder at Turn 11 relegated Miller to third.
As we crossed the line for the first lap, it was Martin who led again in a Tissot Sprint race, this time against the impressive KTMs.
How the race played out
Martin began to open up a gap of 0.338s to Binder in second as they crossed the line again, but more importantly, he was out to 1.7s on title rival Bagnaia who sat in fourth behind Miller. It was beginning to heat up, with a series of personal bests coming in, but yet again, nobody could match the pace of ‘The Martinator’. Binder was doing his best to keep up with the Spanish rider, remaining around the three tenths mark, and the front two were opening a gap to the rest of the field.
At the halfway mark, it seemed the KTMs were beginning to fade slightly. Binder dropped to six tenths behind the runaway race leader, while Miller had former Ducati teammate Bagnaia eyeing up a move behind him. Further trouble was brewing for Binder, as he received a track limits warning at the beginning of the seventh lap, but fortunately for the South African, he kept it squeaky clean until the chequered flag.
Speaking of trouble brewing, back in the battle for fifth, Marc Marquez had Zarco and Bezzecchi queuing up behind him. Zarco didn’t make a move, and paid for it as Bez demoted him to seventh, before a few corners later he had his first look up the inside of the #93. He went again then where he had taken Zarco, but both went wide and the Frenchman pounced for fifth!
Back out front, Martin was in a world of his own with just three laps to go. His gap was out to 1.3s with Binder enjoying a three second cushion in second. In the battle for third, Bagnaia made his first move down the back straight on Miller, but the Aussie wouldn’t give up the place without a fight and bit back. In a cracking watch, the #43 was a demon on the brakes and refused to buckle as Bagnaia tried and tried again to take third place off of his hands. However, eventually Miller’s resistance was broken on the penultimate lap, Pecco pushing himself onto the podium with a move at T11.
Onto the last lap, and once again Martin led every lap of the Tissot Sprint in a truly dominant performance to take victory, and more importantly, close the gap to just eight points to Bagnaia in the Championship, despite the reigning World Champion’s podium. Binder came home between the two with Miller settling for fourth.
Who took home points?
Bezzecchi managed to get back through on Marquez at Turn 7, but by the time had done so, Zarco was out of sight in fifth. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) and Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing), whose teammate Aleix Espargaro failed to take the chequered flag, were removed from the battle ahead of them, but complete the point scoring places.
Magic from Martin in Motegi then, as he makes it three Sprint wins in a row and five in total.The Championship is as close as it has been since Day 1 in Portimao, and it means Sunday’s Grand Prix race will be unmissable viewing. Lights out is at 15:00 local time (GMT +9)!