Stunning victory for the Swiss veteran as Rins crashes, Lowes crashes – and Zarco takes a podium
Tom Lüthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) took an impressive lights-to-flag win at the Twin Ring Motegi, taking the holeshot off the line from the middle of the front row and unleashing his ominous race pace – just as the former 125 World Champion did in 2014. Reigning Champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) took an important second place after holding station on a tempting charge over the limit to chase down his Swiss rival, and Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS rider Franco Morbidelli converted his P3 start into an impressive third on race day after an incredible duel with home hero Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) to just stay on the rostrum. Further back, the Moto2™ race in Motegi shook the title fight.
The drama was quick to begin, as title contender Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) crashed on Lap 1 when trying to make up places from P22 on the grid. The Spaniard, who had closed in on title leader Zarco and trailed by only one point ahead of the weekend, had a crash on Friday that left him riding through the pain barrier once again. P14 in Warm Up was an improvement, before disaster saw him slide out early. Rins remounted, but failed to score.
It wasn’t long before another title contender took a tumble – Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) – who lost the front end and slid into the gravel. 40 points adrift of P1 before the Japanese GP, the Brit’s title hopes took a serious dent as he slipped down to fourth in the standings with another DNF, after his stunning win in Aragon. Second in Aragon, Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), was another crasher at the same corner just after the incident.
Lüthi was away at the front, with Morbidelli on his tail until the Italian began to suffer grip isssues. As the EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider slipped back into the clutches of Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) and Zarco, the Frenchman took advantage of the Japanese rider running wide and begin his hunt for Lüthi – cutting the gap little by little until a four tenth advantage kept breath held in the Garage Plus Interwetten box on the final lap. The Swiss rider held firm however, taking a victory that seemed to have his name penciled next to it since the Moto2™ field showed their hand in race pace in practice.
The last lap battle wasn’t over as the win was decided, as Morbidelli and Nakagami staged a battle royale over the final few kilometres; the Japanese rider desperate to get past. Trying a number of moves but with Morbidelli hitting back, the Italian just held on to take another podium finish as he enjoys a run of impressive form.
Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP) had a solid ride to a good top five finish in his 200th GP start, with Italtrans Racing Team’s Mattia Pasini taking sixth ahead of compatriot Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing). Julian Simon (QMMF Racing Team) had an impressive ride to P8 after good pace in Warm Up, with AGR Team’s Marcel Schrotter dropping back slightly by the end of the race to end the Japanese GP in ninth. Xavier Simeon completed a double top ten finish for the QMMF squad in P10.
Moto2™ head for Australia with the title completely shaken – Zarco now with a 21 point lead ahead of Rins, and Tom Lüthi’s 25 point haul from victory in Motegi seeing him take over in P3 in the standings – 43 points back with 75 on the table in the final three races.
Moto2™ Race Results
1 – Thomas Lüthi (SWI) KALEX 42’45.854
2 – Johan Zarco (FRA) KALEX +0.386
3 – Franco Morbidelli (ITA) KALEX + 5.863