Fabio Quartararo (MB Conveyors – Speed Up) produced a quality ride to seal a second victory of the season as he held firm to beat Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (SKY Racing Team VR46) at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, with Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40) claiming third on his 100th Grand Prix start. However, huge drama then emerged post-race with the Frenchman being disqualified from the rankings, his Speed Up machine’s tyre pressure under the minimum required.
This meant Bagnaia was promoted to the victory, Baldassarri takes home second and Oliveira third.
It was Quartararo who got the initial launch from P2 to get past pole man Bagnaia on the run down to Turn 1, however, the Frenchman ran slightly wide to allow the latter to take the lead of the race. Quartararo though latched onto the back of Bagnaia as the two quickly put a 0.9 gap into third place Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40), but the Italian soon reeled the pair in before Quartararo took over at the front – a calculated move into Turn 11.
The pair then settled into their rhythm, with Baldassarri keeping tabs until the mid-stage. By lap 12, the leading duo had started to exchange fastest laps of the race as they started to gap the Pons HP40 rider, who in turn had managed to edge out a comfortable 2.8 second buffer to fourth place Xavi Vierge (Dyanvolt Intact GP). He, in turn, was joined by Oliveira as the battle for P4 raged on between Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Iker Lecuona (Swiss Innovative Investors), Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Augusto Fernandez (Pons HP40) – Oliveira grabbing P4 from Vierge on lap 15.
Meanwhile, back at the front, neither Quartararo or Bagnaia would budge from the mid 1:51s as the margin remained between two and three tenths – Baldassarri now a lonely third, nearly four seconds adrift.
Bagnaia’s first real warning shot came on lap 19 at Turn 8, threating to make a move up the inside but thought better of it as Quartararo closed the door. With two to go, the Frenchman wasn’t cracking under the relentless pressure from ‘Pecco’, the latter looking particularly strong through seven and eight. Bagnaia smelt blood on lap 21, closing up before crossing the line to head onto the last lap.
Bagnaia wasn’t close enough around his favoured turns seven and eight, and nor was he at nine or ten as Quartararo held firm. What about on the run down to the Turn 11 hairpin? Again, no way through for the Italian as he then conceded victory to Quartararo. The future MotoGP™ star producing his personal best lap of the race on the final lap to take a what would have been a phenomenal second win of the season – Bagnaia extending his title lead to a commanding 35 points.
Baldassarri was brilliant in third on his 100 Grand Prix start, he finished 5.3 seconds ahead of fourth place Oliveira, the latter now with a mountain to climb if he’s to take the title over Bagnaia. Marquez battled his way to a heroic P5 after suffering a huge crash in FP1, with Binder crossing the line in sixth. The South African beat Fernandez to the line by three tenths, a career-best P7 for the Spaniard. Vierge’s early race charge didn’t last as he crossed the line eighth, with Lecuona taking the chequered flag in P9 after his first career front row start.
Luca Marini (SKY Racing Team VR46) couldn’t reproduce his stunning Thailand ride, the Italian rounding out the top ten in Japan to beat Marcel Schrotter (Dynavolt Intact GP) and Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) – P11 and P12 respectively. Home rider Tetsuta Nagashima (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) scored points for the third race in a row in P13, with Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) and Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) completing the point scoring places.
Simone Corse (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2), teammate Federico Fuligni and Jorge Navarro (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) crashed - riders ok, with Bo Bendsneyder (Tech 3 Racing) retiring.
So after Quartararo's disqualification, it’s Bagnaia who takes the 25 points away from Japan as he increases his stranglehold on the Championship. It’s not all over for Oliveira as we now head to venues where he claimed victories at last season – can the latter claw back the deficit?