2 days ago
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Ai Ogura has closed the gap to two points at the top of the Moto2™ World Championship after becoming the first Japanese rider to win a Grand Prix on home soil since Hiroshi Aoyama in 2006. The Idemitsu Honda Team Asia pilot beat Championship leader Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) to victory by just over a second after 22 laps around the Mobility Resort Motegi. Alonso Lopez (Beta Tools Speed Up) took the chequered flag in third, meaning all of the podium finishers started outside the top 10.
When the lights went out, Fermin Aldeguer (Beta Tools Speed Up) made a good start but ran wide at the first corner and pole-sitter Aron Canet (Flexbox HP40) emerged with the lead as they exited Turn 2. From only 13th on the grid, two positions behind Fernandez, Ogura was making rapid progress as he passed Cameron Beaubier (American Racing) at the 90 Degree Corner (Turn 11) on Lap 1 to take up fifth, behind Canet, Aldeguer, Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda team Asia), and Tony Arbolino (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team). The top two quickly gapped the rest to the tune of one second as Fernandez ran in 10th at the end of the standing lap.
Ogura passed Arbolino for fourth on Lap 2 at the 90 Degree Corner and that became third position when Aldeguer crashed out of second place at Turn 5 on Lap 3. The Speed Up rider’s spill had given Canet a margin of almost two seconds over the rest, but then he threw that away on Lap 4 when he crashed at the V Corner (Turn 9), meaning Chantra inherited first position. By then, Arbolino had regained the upper hand in his battle with Ogura and the local was in fact back to fourth after being passed by Lopez, who had progressed all the way from 12th on the grid. Behind Ogura sat Jake Dixon (Shimoku GASGAS Aspar Team) in fifth while Fernandez had by then risen to sixth.
Lopez was not done, either. On Lap 5, he overtook Arbolino for second place at the V Corner, then Ogura was through on ‘Tiger Tony’ and back into the podium positions at the 90 Degree Corner. Lopez was first, and Ogura second, after an apparent error on Lap 7 saw Chantra drop to third, before Fernandez passed Dixon for fifth at the start of Lap 8. Arbolino reclaimed third when he went under Chantra two corners later at Turn 3, then Fernandez put a move on the Thai rider on Lap 9 at the Hairpin corner (Turn 10).
That was a crucial pass in the context of the title race because it drew him and Ogura level again in the live standings after the Japanese rider had gained the ascendancy, although Fernandez still faced a one-second deficit to the top three on the race track. He wasted little time catching Arbolino before outbraking the Italian into the V Corner on Lap 12, but once again the gap up the road ahead of him was one second.
Ogura had pace on Lopez but the young Spaniard was going to make him work to snatch the lead, and that was helping his countryman Fernandez. The future GASGAS MotoGP™ rider had caught the top two as they traded the lead multiple times on Lap 13, but Ogura decisively hit the front at the 90 Degree Corner. Next time around, on Lap 14, he reset the fastest lap and put seven tenths of a second between himself and Lopez, who had Fernandez growing impatient behind him.
The lead was out to 1.2 seconds at the end of Lap 15 before Fernandez prised second place from Lopez at Turn 3/Turn 4. The San Marino GP winner had another crack at the slow Turn 5 right-hander but could not make the move stick, and it was eyes forward for Fernandez then. Unfortunately for him, the deficit had blown out even further to 1.7 seconds and while he too started setting red sectors, Ogura responded.
The Japanese rider was still 1.5 seconds to the good as they started the final lap, then cruised home for one of the most significant wins of his career so far. Fernandez finished second by an official margin of 1.192 seconds and Lopez got home almost another six seconds further back.
Dixon claimed fourth, the Briton benefiting when Chantra was out of the seat in a big moment at the V Corner on Lap 12, then inheriting another position when Arbolino ran well wide at the Victory Corner (Turn 14) moments later. Chantra passed Arbolino on Lap 13 and they would remain fifth and sixth respectively for the duration. Completing the top 10 were Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Albert Arenas (Shimoku GASGAS Aspar Team), Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team), and Filip Salac (Gresini Racing Moto2™). Also in the points were Beaubier in 11th, from Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP), Barry Baltus (RW Racing GP), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Italtrans Racing Team), and Zonta van den Goorbergh (RW Racing GP).
Canet remounted but was eventually a DNF after crashing a second time in the closing stages of the race, at Turn 1, and Celestino Vietti (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) also saw his slim title hopes surely extinguished when he too had a spill at the first corner. The other retirements were Jeremy Alcoba (Liqui Moly Intact GP), Jorge Navarro (Flexbox HP40), Niccolo Antonelli (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) – who also crashed twice – Simone Corsi (MV Agusta Forward Racing), Alessandro Zaccone (Gresini Racing Moto2™), and Aldeguer.
So, Ogura now trails Fernandez by just two points with four rounds remaining, and the fight for Moto2™ glory is well and truly on! The OR Thailand Grand Prix unfolds at the Chang International Circuit on September 30-October 2.
Moto2™ Race Top 10:
1. Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia)
2. Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) + 1.192
3. Alonso Lopez (Beta Tools Speed Up) + 7.168
4. Jake Dixon (Shimoku GASGAS Aspar Team) + 7.597
5. Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) + 12.255
6. Tony Arbolino (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) + 14.189
7. Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) + 14.520
8. Albert Arenas (Shimoku GASGAS Aspar Team) + 18.410
9. Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) + 20.398
10. Filip Salac (Gresini Racing Moto2) + 23.140
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