Tension, drama, heartbreak, glory, history, and happiness: Valencia delivers a season finale to remember.
Following a highly dramatic Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana, the 2023 MotoGP™ World Champion is Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) after Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) crashed out of the race following an incident at Turn 4 with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). Pecco went on to claim victory as a phenomenal fight for P1 played out, with Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) and Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) locked onto the Italian’s rear wheel. ‘Diggia’ crossed the line in 2nd with Zarco 3rd. However, a post-race sanction for Di Giannantonio due to wrong pressures demoted the Italian to P4 with Zarco being promoted to P2 and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) inheriting the final podium position.
Because of a Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) three-place grid penalty for ignoring the black and orange flags in Warm Up, Pecco was promoted to pole position for the final showdown, with Martin still launching from P6.
For the final and most important time in 2023 it was time to race. Bagnaia got the dream getaway from pole to grab a crucial holeshot, with Martin also making a fantastic launch to grab an early P2. Pecco P1, Martin P2 – that’s how it was after the opening lap, with the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing pair of Binder and Jack Miller P3 and P4.
Between the title fighting duo, it was as you were after the second lap but a monumental moment then took place at Turn 1 at the start of Lap 3. Martin was right in the slipstream of Pecco and as the duo chucked the anchors on into Turn 1, Martin got sucked in and made slight contact with Pecco. Martin was wide – well wide – and dropped to P8, with Pecco unhindered by the incident. Huge drama early on.
The fightback began on Lap 4 for Martin. P8 became P7 as the Spaniard got the better of Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™). Martin tried to do the same to Viñales a lap later but the latter bit straight back – and a repeat played out at Turn 11.
Up front, Binder was crawling all over the back of Pecco but focus was elsewhere. A battle was raging between Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing), with that enabling Viñales and Martin to close right in.
What happened next ultimately decided the Championship. Martin was getting visibly frustrated and on Lap 6, having finally got through on Viñales, Marc Marquez was next in line. At Turn 4, Martin lunged up the inside of the eight-time World Champion but contact was made. So much so, the pair were tangled together. Martin ran straight into the gravel as Marquez was thrown into a vicious highside, as two of the home crowd favourites were down and out. Marquez’s final race with Honda ended in huge disappointment, with Martin’s title hopes vanishing. A painful end to a wonderful campaign for the Prima Pramac star.
With Martin out, no matter what Bagnaia did, he would be the 2023 MotoGP™ World Champion. ‘MARTIN OUT’ was signalled on his pit board as the two KTMs of Binder and Miller were now first and second, with Zarco and Viñales chasing Pecco.
With 12 laps to go though, Binder made a mistake. A big one too. Just as he did in the Tissot Sprint, the South African was wide at Turn 11, and that dropped him from P1 to P6. Miller now led Pecco by just over a second.
Binder’s comeback began with an aggressive move on Alex Marquez at Turn 4, and it was one that saw him handed a drop one position penalty. With nine laps left, Miller’s race then ended. The Aussie crashed at Turn 10 which handed the lead back to Bagnaia, who had Zarco just 0.3s behind him. A disastrous few laps for KTM.
The Championship might have been decided, but the race certainly wasn’t. Binder was just 1.5s away from the lead again and Diggia tagged himself onto the rear wheel of the KTM. Soon, the Italian was into P3 with five laps to go.
With three laps left, 0.3s was still the gap between Pecco and Zarco. But cue the jaws music – Di Giannantonio was on a mission. On Lap 25 of 27, the top trio were split by 0.3s over the line. At Turn 4, Di Giannantonio shoved his Ducati up the inside of Zarco’s and made a move stick for P2. Next: the World Champion elect.
LAST LAP OF THE SEASON: Three riders, only one could win. Would Bagnaia claim the title with a win or would it be Di Giannantonio or Zarco standing on the top step? Halfway around the lap, there was no way through. A head shake from Di Giannantonio told us frustrations were there, but Pecco rode superbly to fend off both his compatriot and Zarco to win the World Championship in the best way possible: victory. A classy ride from your top three. The podium result would later change however with Di Giannantonio’s three-second penalty demoting him to P4 and promoting Binder onto the podium.
Raul Fernandez (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) earned his best result of the season with a fantastic P5. Alex Marquez was P6 with Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) capping off his Yamaha career with a solid P7, as Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing), Luca Marini in his final Mooney VR46 Racing Team appearance and Viñales rounded out the top 10.
An unwell Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) finished P11 after feeling ill, with Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), Lorenzo Savadori (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) and Pol Espargaro (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3) the other finishers, as the latter ends his full-time MotoGP™ career – for now – in P14 after a crash and remount.
Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), Augusto Fernandez (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3) and Alex Rins (LCR Honda Castrol) were the other riders to DNF, Bezzecchi after an early race crash with Marc Marquez.
And just like that, 2023 draws to a dramatic close. Bagnaia is now a three-time World Champion as Martin gets set to come back even stronger in 2024. What a season it’s been. Now, full focus turns to Tuesday’s Valencia Test – 2024 starts very soon…
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