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. That gives Bagnaia another impressive win for his tally and inches him closer to the crown – with the first match point against Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo), promoted to third after the DSQ ahead of him, now on the table in Australia next time out.
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 made a 0.9 gap back to 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) – and Oliveira grabbing P4 from Vierge on Lap 15.
Meanwhile, back at the front, neither Quartararo nor 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, threatening to make a move up the inside but thinking 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 before the notification of disqualification came through.
Baldassarri therefore took P2 on his 100 Grand Prix start, he finished 5.3 seconds ahead of third place Oliveira and the latter now with a mountain to climb if he’s to take the title. Marquez battled his way to a heroic fourth after suffering a huge crash in FP1, with Binder crossing the line in sixth but therefore promoted to fifth. The South African beat Fernandez to the line by three tenths, who thought a career-best P7 was a top result – and it’s now a P6. Vierge’s early race charge didn’t last as he crossed the line next, with Lecuona taking eighth after dropping back slightly.
Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) couldn’t reproduce his stunning Thailand ride after a more difficult weekend and he is classified in ninth, with Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) completing the top ten ahead of Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS). Home rider Tetsuta Nagashima (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) scored points for the third race in a row and was next up, ahead of Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) and Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team).
So after a big twist at the Twin Ring Moteig, Bagnaia increases his stranglehold. It’s not all over for Oliveira as we now head to venues where he claimed victories at last season – but can the latter claw back a 35-point deficit?
Moto2™ Race Results
1 – Francesco Bagnaia (ITA) KALEX 41’04.294
2 – Lorenzo Baldassarri (ITA) KALEX +6.227
3 – Miguel Oliveira (POR) KTM +11.553
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