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Three points in it: MotoGP primed for a pivotal return to Mandalika

Three Points In It: Motogp Primed For A Pivotal Return To MandalikaReset? Recharged? Ready to go? You’d better be as a triple header is about to light up the Championship fight, with the top two split by just three points and a whopping 111 on offer across the next three weekends. And it all starts in front of one of MotoGP™’s most passionate crowds as the sport returns to Indonesia and the fabulous Pertamina Mandalika International Circuit on the island of Lombok, with the billboards in place and hero’s welcome assured.

So where were we? We were in the pouring rain, watching Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) hold his nerve just as Jorge Martin‘s (Prima Pramac Racing) continued march towards the top required him to. So now it’s just three points, with Pecco stlil just ahead and having dealt with that pressure, but Martin very much looking like a man on a mission. The mission is simple for both: Martin’s is to keep going, Bagnaia’s is to stop him. Can either reign Mandalika?

Just behind them, there has already been a frisson of drama as well. Title contender Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) suffered a broken collarbone in training, giving the Italian a race against time to not lose too much ground to the top. The team haven’t yet confirmed when he’ll be back, but say they will soon. Luca Marini, meanwhile, is expected to travel to Indonesia.

The same is true of Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), with the team saying he’ll at least be travelling to test out or begin a return to action. And it’s a huge week as rumours continue to swirl around the seat currently occupied by teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio, not an easy situation for anyone involved. The one thing we do have confirmed, however, is that Marc Marquez will split from HRC at the end of 2023.

After weeks and even months of speculation, it would be easy for some to take the official confirmation, received last week, as a formality. But huge decisions are never such a thing, with hours, days, and weeks of negotiation and emotion behind the scenes. Especially when you’ve rewritten the record books and raced together for over a decade. So what does the future hold? Regardless of the longer term answer, on the coattails of a “romantic” podium in Japan for the number 93, there are six race weekends to go. And we can bet on Marquez giving it more than just a go, starting now.

Alongside him, it’s also a final stretch with the brand for Alex Rins (LCR Honda Castrol) ahead of his switch, if he can get back out there this weekend. For Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) it’s a new era within the marque as his 2024 was confirmed with Honda, and for Joan Mir (Repsol Honda Team) it’s a look across the box wondering who will be there next season. It’s also, in some ways, an opportunity, and off the back of two points scoring finishes including that glorious return to the top five in India.

Speaking of which, Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) got back on the podium in India and then had a tougher – but didn’t everyone – Japanese GP, so it’ll be interesting to see how he goes in Lombok after a frontrunning round last season. Teammate Franco Morbidelli, meanwhile, will be looking to start a run of races signing off from Yamaha in style. So too for current Prima Pramac Racing rider Johann Zarco as he looks to get back on the podium before leaving the team, and the Ducati armada Zarco is currently part of could see Enea Bastianini back in the fold at Ducati Lenovo Team too, although the ‘Beast”s return hasn’t yet been confirmed.

Over at KTM, it’s now truly the final stand in the fight for the Constructors’ crown, against that aforementioned Ducati armada. After Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) crashed out in Japan it suddenly looked like Ducati were going to paint Motegi red, but in the end Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) did more than just enough and ensured the fight rolls on. Miller will still want more in Indonesia though, and Binder certainly will as the venue has only seen KTM on the top step so far as they won the first Grand Prix at the venue last year.

The headlines from the Austrian contingent come more from GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3 on the way into the Pertamina Grand Prix of Indonesia though. The news is finally out and the MotoGP™ line-up for the squad next year will seeAugusto Fernandez pair Moto2™ Championship leader Pedro Acosta, taking a little pressure off both. Pol Espargaro will still be with the project, however, and will want to use the remaining races of 2023 to show quite what he’s got to offer. As will they all!

Finally, Aprilia are looking for a lot more in Lombok. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) arrives from a solid Japanese GP but wants to get back to that stunning summer form, and teammate Maverick Viñales had a bit of a dramatic Sunday at Motegi and most definitely wants to bounce back. Raul Fernandez‘ (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) form continues that upward arc though, and they also now have the only winner at Mandalika in their ranks: Miguel Oliveira (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team). Yes, it was wet. There’s no guarantee it won’t be again. Regardless, there are some good memories at the track for the Portuguese rider, and the drama of his earlier season seems to have calmed down too – or more, his rivals have allowed it to after that dunk of bad luck early on. What can he do returning to the venue with Aprilia? We’re about to find out!

SHOWTIME AT MANDALIKA
We’re underway at 15:00 local time – that’s an hour ahead of Jakarta too! – on Saturday AND Sunday at the Pertamina Grand Prix of Indonesia.

Tissot Sprint: Saturday 15:00 (GMT +8)
Grand Prix Race: Sunday 15:00 (GMT +8)

The title fight is on a knife edge as the triple header puts 111 points on the table across three weekends – starting in Indonesia

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