The Tissot Sprint at the Gran Premio d'Italia Oakley kept MotoGP™ fans on the edge of their seats as a freight train of riders hurtled under the looming clouds threatening Saturday's perfect dry running. With all the 2023 big hitters in the mix it was a tall order for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) to take victory as closest challenger Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) was right on the tail of the #1 to the flag. The battle for 3rd went down to the wire as well as Prima Pramac Racing had their own duel, Jorge Martin just fending off his teammate Johann Zarco.
To push or not to push?
Rain clouds loomed over Mugello ahead of the first-ever Tissot Sprint at the iconic Italian venue. The lights went out, and Bagnaia took the holeshot as Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) flew his way into P2. Miller didn't hold onto it though as Bagnaia led Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Martin on the first lap.
There was drama from the off as Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was eager to carve through the field. The South African saw a small gap left open by Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), but as the door naturally began to close on the racing line the slightest of touches was all that was needed to send the Spaniard into the Turn 1 gravel trap. Binder was given a Long Lap for that as AM73 tumbled out, rider ok.
Bagnaia, Marc Marquez, Martin, Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), Bezzecchi, and Miller was the order the first time across the line. Spits of rain then began to fall as Martin decided it was time to hit the front with the pack bunching up in uncertain conditions. The rain flags came out as the riders were now able to swap bikes if they so wished.
The pack began to shuffle as the rain came down on the far section of the circuit with nine laps to go. Martin led the way with Miller and Marquez following closely. At this point, Miller decided it was time for gloves off as he divebombed Marc Marquez, sending them both wide and down the order.
Meanwhile at the front, Bagnaia had retaken the lead and with Marquez and Miller now having dropped down to P7 and P5 respectively, the order was now Bagnaia, Martin, Bezzecchi, Marini, and Miller.
The top dog vs the new kid on the block
The rain stopped and the race began to settle down with seven laps to go, but now it was now Bezzecchi catapulting himself right in the mix. The young Italian was all over the rear wheel of the race leader Bagnaia, with the Pramac duo of Martin and Zarco waiting to pick up the pieces in 3rd and 4th.
The pressure was on for Bagnaia but the #1 responded in true Champions' fashion stretching out the field with four laps remaining. Bagnaia put the hammer down setting the fastest lap of the race, giving himself some breathing space ahead of chasing Indendent Team Ducatis. Bezzecchi threw the kitchen sink at the Mugello circuit but it wasn't enough to get the better of Bagnaia who was in a league of his own, and brought home his first Tissot Sprint victory on home soil.
Points up for grabs
The fight for the final spot in the top 3 was decided by less than a tenth of a second as Zarco almost rode pillion to Martin on the final lap. The final sector came Zarco was trying everything to push his way through, but the Spaniard kept the door firmly closed on the #5.
Marini rounded out the top 5 on home soil with Miller recovering to P6 after dropping down the order. After Miller and Marquez had bashed bars early on, Marquez came home P7.
Walking wounded, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) held strong in a solid point-scoring finish ahead of another recovering rider in Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team). The Italian took the final point as he crossed the line in a Tissot Sprint for the first time in his career. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) rounded out the top 10 as his 2023 struggles continued somewhat, looking for more on Sunday.
If Saturday's action at the Gran Premio d'Italia Oakley is anything to go by, you do not want to miss any of the action on Sunday's billing as the race gets underway at 14:00 local time (GMT +2).
1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team)
2. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) +0.369
3. Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) +0.952
4. Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) +1.009
5. Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) +3.668
6. Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) +3.772
7. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) +3.905
8. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) +6.062
9. Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team) +6.431
10. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) +6.458