Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) clinched back-to-back wins for the first time in his career after fighting off Dynavolt Intact GP’s Tom Lüthi in the closing stages at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan. In a fiercely competitive Moto2™ race, Marini and Lüthi were joined on the podium by 2018 Moto3™ World Champion Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo), who earned a debut top-three finish in the intermediate class after starting from 14th on the grid.
A fortnight on from taking victory in Thailand, Marini started from pole and got the perfect getaway to help him take the holeshot, but it was the polar opposite start for ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team’s Tetsuta Nagashima as the home hero crashed on the sighting lap, only to make the grid before then crashing again at Turn 1 in the first bouts of drama. Behind Marini, meanwhile, FlexBox HP 40 teammates Augusto Fernandez and Lorenzo Baldasarri started to squabble over second place, allowing Idemitsu Honda Team Asia’s Somkiat Chantra to join the podium hunt.
A little further back, Championship leader Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) was having all sorts of problems, compounded by a huge moment on the exit of the final corner on Lap 2. Despite being nowhere near as dramatic his FP3 miracle moment, it was certainly a close call for the title protagonist and there was also a frightening moment for Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Brad Binder after the South African ran wide on the exit of Turn 1. The 2020 MotoGP™ rider hit the grass and was well and truly sideways, with Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) snapping his handlebar when brushing past him, that consequently ending the Brit’s race. Binder remained in it, but it was going to be an even taller order to win it after that as he got going again outside the top 20.
Nine laps down, Marquez was embroiled in a fierce fight over sixth with Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) and Fernandez, with some serious moves starting to see the leaders able to escape. The main threat at the front at this point looked like coming from Lüthi, however, who made quick work of Baldassarri before homing in on Marini. The Italian stood firm for a lap but the Swiss rider hit the front with a classy move up the inside at Turn 9 soon after.
Meanwhile, Marquez began to muscle his way through by, again, showing some serious aggression. The Championship leader squeezed past Chantra for fifth as the Thai rider began to slip backwards, but Martin started to threaten forwards…
With two to go, the podium picture took shape. Marini dived through on Lüthi and, within a few seconds, Martin had pounced on Baldassarri. Despite their best efforts, both those on the receiving end were unable to respond, meaning Marini took the chequered flag and, as a result, a 50-point haul in the space of a fortnight. Lüthi was back on the podium for the first time since Barcelona in second, and Martin tasted intermediate class bubbly for the very first time after a remarkable ride through from the fifth row of the grid.
Behind Baldassarri in fourth was Beta Tools Speed Up’s Jorge Navarro, who again showed incredible late race pace to take another top-five finish. Marquez came across the line in sixth place, meaning he now sits 36 points clear in the standings, and it’s now Lüthi closest with three races remaining. Italtrans Racing Team’s Enea Bastianini ended the race in seventh ahead of Fernandez and Schrötter, who both slipped backwards, with MV Agusta getting themselves inside the top ten thanks to Stefano Manzi (MV Agusta Temporary Forward) in P10.
Fabio Di Giannantonio (Beta Tools Speed Up) took P11 ahead of Brad Binder’s slice back through to 12th, with Chantra ending up down in 13th by the flag. Dominique Aegerter (MV Agusta Temporary Forward) made it both bikes in the points for MV, with Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team) completing the scorers behind the Swiss veteran.
That’s it from Motegi after a somewhat surprising race, with everything still up in the air for those on the chase – and Marquez still very much in charge. Will the baton remain with Lüthi Down Under? Or will Fernandez, Binder, Navarro and the rest take it back? Find out next weekend.
Luca Marini: “This was a different race and weekend to Buriram for sure. Last week I was so much faster in race pace and I knew I could start making a gap in the first laps, but here I wasn’t sure I had such great pace. I was losing out in T1 and T2 a bit during the whole weekend so I tried in Warm Up to find a different way to manage the bike in those corners, but in the race I was quite consistent, I started to save the rear at the beginning but maybe too much because the pace was high. Tom was pushing a lot and when he overtook me I saw I could do something more, and I thought if I carried on like that I’d lose too much and stress the tyre too much coming back. So I tried to stay in his slipstream and use it to not lose as much accelerating, and on the straight, to manage the tyre. In the end he was struggling a bit more and I was faster, so it was quite easy to overtake him, I just had to find the right moment. I didn’t want to overtake him on the last lap because I knew that would be difficult because he was braking quite hard. I was clever and I thought a lot during the race, trying to do everything right and not make mistakes, so I’m really happy and I want to thank the team because they’re doing a great job and the bike was fantastic this weekend in wet conditions as well!”
1 – Luca Marini (ITA – Kalex) 40’57.279
2 – Tom Lüthi (SWI – Kalex) +0.560
3 – Jorge Martin (SPA – KTM) +3.593