Dramatic MotorLand showdown sees Bastianini depose Bagnaia as Quartararo clashes with Marquez.
Just 17 points now cover the top three in the title fight as Bastianini vs Bagnaia goes to the wire, Quartararo hits bad luck early and Aleix Espargaro completes the podium.
The Gran Premio Animoca Brands de Aragon may well prove a truly pivotal day in the 2022 season, with the headlines overflowing almost from lights out and the top three in the title fight now split by only 17 points. By the flag, Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) had served some Misano-flavoured revenge on Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) as the two duelled it out on the final lap for the win, and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) was both back on the podium and back in serious Championship contention.
Before all that, Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) hit some serious bad luck as he made contact with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) after a slide for the number 93. The Championship leader crashed out, Marquez continued and then suffered a technical problem from the prior contact that saw Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) caught in the crossfire. From there, the pitboards went out for the other key Championship protagonists – Quartararo out – and the lay of the land after MotorLand is now a whole different story as the paddock heads to Japan.
Where do we start? Bagnaia headed the field into Turn 1 after a dream start off pole position but it was a nightmare for several riders behind him. From 13th on the grid, Marquez was already up to sixth when he then had a moment exiting Turn 3 and closed the throttle, leaving Quartararo with nowhere to go. The Frenchman rammed the back of the RC213V and was thrown off, sliding into the run off. Rider ok, but a 0 on the board. Next the Marquez-Nakagami contact that saw the Japanese rider slide off and a host of riders forced into avoiding action, a second shot of huge drama. Not long after, Marc Marquez would also pit.
After all that, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) had jumped from 10th on the grid to fifth and then somehow threaded his way past another three bikes to be running an incredible second midway through Lap 1, ahead of Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team), Bastianini, and Aleix Espargaro. Miller then overtook the South African on Lap 3 at Turn 1 and Bastianini did likewise exactly a lap later, putting the KTM back to fourth, but he wasn’t done yet.
Bastianini wasn’t either and he continued his progress with a move on Miller for second on Lap 6 at Turn 15, before Binder executed an impressive overtake on the Australian through Turn 4 on Lap 7. In the blink of an eye, Miller was all the way back to fifth as Espargaro also got through, at Turn 7.
Bad news for one Ducati rider, then, but the Bologna marque’s future factory pairing was about to engage in combat over first position – just as they did two weeks earlier at Misano. Bastianini got the move done at Turn 1 on Lap 9 and it looked like the Gresini rider might be able to pull away, given the pace advantage he seemed to have over Pecco. Instead, he outbraked himself half a lap later at Turn 12 and went very deep, handing the lead back to Bagnaia and barely holding off Binder through the chicane.
From there, however, Bagnaia and Bastianini started to put the hammer down, their margin over Binder up to one full second on Lap 12, two seconds on Lap 18, and three seconds after just one more. The Bologna bullets were trading quick laps around Aragon, and there was still no certainty over who would prevail. Bastianini twice had looks at Turn 16 and thought better of it, but would there be one last attack?
There sure would be! Bastianini sprung a surprise move on his works counterpart on the final lap at the tight Turn 7 right-hander and he was through, cuing up some sweet revenge for home race defeat at Misano. Bagnaia did give chase and when he got a better run off the final corner, it was still in the balance, but the finish line was close enough to the exit of Turn 17 that Bastianini was just able to cling on by a margin of just 0.042 seconds. Another stunning duel, and in the last two races, that means the total of the gaps between those two at the chequered flag totals a mere 0.076 seconds.
As for the other podium position, that went to Espargaro but it was a late attack as Binder held station for much of the race. The Aprilia and Miller tailed Binder for much of the contest before Aprilia’s ‘Captain’ pulled off the block pass at the start of the penultimate lap, and that was decisive. Espargaro finished six seconds behind the top two but Binder was just 0.240 seconds behind him at the chequered flag, and Miller only another 0.585 seconds in arrears in fifth.
Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) took sixth after a late battle with fellow Ducati rider Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), who got home in seventh ahead of Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing), Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), and Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team). Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) earned 11th, with the rest of the points finishers being Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) – who dusted himself off after a Warm Up crash – Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing), Cal Crutchlow (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP™ team), and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team). A total of 20 riders made the chequered flag with Marc Marquez, Quartararo, and Nakagami the only retirements. Nakagami escaped fairly unscathed from the drama but was declared unfit for Japan for a finger injury, so he’ll need to pass a medical ahead of his home race.
And so the paddock says goodbye to MotorLand as we head for Motegi for the first time since 2019. The dust will take some time to settle but it’s a quick turnaround for the paddock heading into the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, and there’s not too much time to catch your breath before actions gets back underway next weekend.
Three riders, 17 points, five races. As Aleix says: LET’S PLAY!
1 Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) – Ducati – 41:35.462
2 Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) – Ducati – +0.042
3 Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) – Aprilia – +6.139
Enea Bastianini: “Another good race and good battle like in Misano! My start was difficult, when Aleix overtook me I went a bit long and lost some positions compared to where I started but on Lap 9 I was back on top and then made a mistake at turn 10 and went off, but I thought ‘ok, now I have to stay clam to close the gap to Pecco’. He was really fast like Misano and made no mistakes, like Misano, but on the last lap I was closer and I won! It’s amazing for me to be back on top, and I’m happy.
“I didn’t think about which corner to try and make the overtake, but when I saw Pecco really close Turn 5, I thought then was the time to overtake and at Turn 7 I was really strong in this race.”
What makes him and Pecco so strong?
“Pecco, and the other Ducati riders, are so fast, but Pecco has his strongest points like me, we’re riding the same bikes and to overtake him is really difficult but this time I won. 48 points is too much to close the gap, for me, but I want to continue in this direction and be competitive in the last part of the championship. let’s see what happens race by race, but I have a good setup for the future.”
Francesco Bagnaia: “Today was very important to not make mistakes since Fabio was unlucky, it gave us a huge opportunity to recover a lot of points. It was important on the last lap to finish. When I saw Enea was so close to me, I just tried to be relaxed and calm, and I thought if he overtook me I didn’t want to take any risk and jut finish in the best way possible. If I saw an error or mistake I’d try back but he didn’t. I’m happy with the result, I did my best today and I think we made a big difference compared to the others today.”
What makes the difference for the duo?
“For me, we are, like Enea said, we are eight riders and we’re trying every day to raise the level. Step by step we’re growing together and we’re always faster. Enea for sure is motivated like me to win races and be in front, and we’re pushing each other because I know if he’s fast, I can be. It’s like a motivational thing – and we have to use that to improve ourselves.”
On the Championship:
“Now it’s clearer: we’re close. 10 points now is the lowest distance I’ve had since the start of the season so for sure I’ll try to think about the Championship but not too much. I’ll just think about my worr. I know Japan won’t be easy, we have less time to test and improve the bike, it won’t be easy. We know our bike needs more time to be prepared compared to others. But I’m sure we can be competitive and I’ll try to work like we are doing and finish the races like we know to do.”
Aleix Espargaro: “Expectations were high arriving to Aragon because I knew that it was one of the bets tracks of the last pat of the championship so maybe I started a bit hot, crashed twice on Friday and lost my confidence. Saturday was tough, I couldn’t get into the top ten in FP3 and from then on I started to build my confidence again, did a good qualifying, solid third place, and in the race too. I didn’t have the pace to follow Enea and Pecco, I knew that they had something else but in the end third is super good for the Championship and I’m happy to be back on the podium.”
“Brad Binder is extremely good, one of the best riders on the grid without any doubt, he doesn’t have the best bike at all without a doubt this year but he’s always strong, always extracting the best from the bike. The first part of the race it was difficult for me to overtake him, he was able to follow Enea! It was crazy. I decided to stay calm behind and wait for his tyre to drop and then in the last laps when I saw his pace started to drop I decided to overtake. Also knowing that with Fabio out of the game, you couldn’t make a mistake so I was relaxed in the second half of the race and took third as a really good bonus.”
On Enea and Pecco:
“It’s not easy what they are doing and what they are achieving. It’s not just a single thing, it’s not that they just have the best bike, it’s a mix and a package. Pecco and Enea are riding at a really high level, I would say the best levels of their careers, and they have a very strong bike with strong teams and a lot of information. This is MotoGP, Ducati, Enea and Pecco are doing a great job and the results are there. But we’re doing a good job because I’m just seven points form Pecco so it means with Aprilia we’re doing a super job and I’m extremely proud and happy.”
Looking ahead in the title fight:
“I never lost faith, I always believed, even on the most difficult weekends like Silverstone and Austria, I tried to not finish 15th, or crash, not 10th, always in the top five or six. This is what makes me proud of the championship I’m doing. I have 200 points because on bad days I was able to get really good results, so now I’m just trying to enjoy it and do the same in the next races. I know it’s not gonna be easy because now we’re going to completely different circuits far from Europe and these two guys next to me are very, very strong… but let’s play!”
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