The podium is by covered just four tenths as Viñales and Quartararo harry the reigning Champion home – but Bagnaia doesn’t crack as Martin offers an open goal.
Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) looked to be on the ropes as the sun went down on Saturday at the Pertamina Grand Prix of Indonesia. What was a 66-point advantage over key rival Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) had become a seven-point deficit, and the number 1 had only managed eighth in the Tissot Sprint – from a P13 on the grid he would face for the Grand Prix race too. Martin, meanwhile, had streaked away to a fourth Sprint win on the bounce, the rider on form in every way. But Sunday was not, as it turned out, a day to defend for Bagnaia.
From lights out the number 1 was off on a mission, making quick work of the journey up into third. From there, he was chasing Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) as Martin disappeared into the lead, and then came the truly pivotal moment of the Grand Prix. After achieving near perfection of late and taking that hard-fought lead on Saturday, the number 89 suddenly slid out at Turn 11 – leaving an open goal for Bagnaia. The reigning Champion didn’t miss, but he most definitely had to work hard for it – getting past Viñales late on before the Aprilia and Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) both homed right in at the final corner.
Still, Pecco held on to leave a tough weekend at Mandalika with an 18-point lead as Viñales and Quartararo followed him home in the closest podium of the season so far. Pivotal? It could well prove so. It was also historic as Bagnaia became the first rider to win after qualifying off the front four rows in a dry race since the 2006 Turkish GP!
And we’re off!
As the lights went out in Indonesia, Martin got the race start of all race starts as he shot into the lead from sixth on the grid. The Spaniard was absolutely flying too as he led the way from Viñales, already a few bike lengths clear, with Quartararo holding on in third.
Martin and Viñales began to check out as a queue started to build up behind Quartararo, but Bagnaia had been given the wake-up call on Sunday morning as he came out of the gates ready to race and carved his way through the riders ahead, climbing up from 13th on the grid to third by the start of Lap 3.
The early shuffles
The drama was initially elsewhere. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) crashed out, rider ok, and then Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) went for a pickpocket on Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), but the South African made contact and the Italian slid out. Binder was given a Long Lap for it, and Marini did rejoin at least to do his he’d earned a few races ago.
The race then began to settle, but Martin was pulling the pin in the lead and breaking away from Viñales. Fastest lap after fastest lap came in from the number 89, the Pramac putting down a pace that no other could match as he went 2.7s clear of Viñales with 17 laps remaining.
They say to always expect the unexpected in motorcycle racing, however, and that statement proved itself true in MotoGP™ as Martin went from hero to zero in a matter of seconds. A costly mistake at Turn 11 saw his Prima Pramac Ducati bounce through the Indonesian gravel trap and that was that for this Grand Prix – with Bagnaia left with an open goal and now, only one machine ahead of him: Viñales.
Bagnaia on the charge
Viñales may not have yet taken that win with Aprilia, but he’s no stranger to the top step and Bagnaia had to be patient to pull the number 12 back to within striking distance. The Italian took small chunks out of the Spaniard and slowly but surely was edging closer and closer.
As the reigning Champion got within touching distance, he didn’t waste time. It was a tense contest to watch but it didn’t seem it for those involved, with Pecco putting in a perfectly calculated move at Turn 10 to take the lead with 8 laps to go. From there, he started to ask big questions of Viñales on the chase.
In the meantime, all eyes were on Quartararo, who was still third but running faster than both riders ahead of him. And a LOT faster. It only took the 2021 World Champion a couple of laps to reel in Viñales, but passing him was going to prove to be a much tougher task.
They held station, but the race was far from over as both started to edge closer to Bagnaia. By two laps to go, we had three nationalities on three different manufacturers scrapping it out for victory – with the Championship leader and a little history on the line.
As the last lap started, it looked like Bagnaia had enough in hand. But the tension rose and rose as the Aprilia and the Yamaha steamrollered the gap, almost within striking distance by the final two corners. But neither could quite make a move and the Ducato crossed the line for a pivotal and historic win, with Bagnaia becoming the first rider to win from outside the top four rows in a dry race since Marco Melandri at the 2006 Turkish GP.
The full picture
All the talk heading into the weekend was about the Gresini Racing MotoGP™ team, and just as the Italian team signed Marc Marquez for the 2024 season, the very rider he replaced pulled out his best ride in the premier class. Fabio Di Giannantonio put on an impressive display to take 4th place, just +6.962s away from the victory, and four seconds up the road from proven race winner Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) as the number 72 raced through the pain barrier following that collarbone surgery last weekend.
Meanwhile, Binder watch. After the Long Lap following contact with Marini, the South African then committed a second offence as he got a little too close for comfort to Miguel Oliveira (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) and the Portuguese rider was forced well wide. That was a second Long Lap, but Binder still got stuck in to come back through to P6. Teammate Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was just over a second back in seventh as he managed to get the better of the returning Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team) who had run off track earlier in the race.
Alex Rins (LCR Honda) was another who returned from injury. Ninth place was a positive result for the Spaniard as he finished eight seconds clear of Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) who, after a strong start going with Quartararo, dropped right down the order to P10.
The 2023 MotoGP™ World Championship truly is the gift that keeps on giving. The pendulum has convincingly swung in both directions throughout the course of the Pertamina Grand Prix of Indonesia. With the ball now back in Bagnaia’s court, you’re not going to want to miss any of the action as MotoGP™ heads to Philip Island in just one week’s time. DO. NOT. MISS IT!
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