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  • Reese Mautone

The Winners And Losers of The Motul Grand Prix of Japan

MotoGP’s most recent outing in Japan was anything but routine, with riders taking the brunt of the harsh Japanese elements as conditions darkened and a downpour hit the Mobility Resort Motegi for a Sunday thriller.

orge Martín celebrates victory after a chaotic race at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan

Despite rain flags waving during the sighting lap, teams left their riders on the grid sporting a dry set-up.

That choice, coming as a surprise to nobody, didn’t last long when riders received the communication to come in to swap bikes as the rain intensified.

What was surprising, however, was the fact that Michele Pirro, Fabio Quartararo, Stefan Bradl, Franco Morbidelli and Cal Crutchlow all continued to run the slick tyre for the following few laps, with Pirro even leading the race by over 10 seconds before he finally caved for the rain tyres.

The race was unable to continue safely, with Race Control making the final call to prematurely end the Motul Grand Prix of Japan just prior to the Red Flag restart.

Jorge Martín took the all-important win in Japan, edging within 3 points of second-place finisher, Francesco Bagnaia in the World Championship fight.

Marc Marquez got his Repsol Honda onto the podium for the first time since MotoGP’s trip to Phillip Island last year, a welcomed result on his team’s home soil.

As per usual, the ‘chequered flag’ saw a mixed bag of results for the MotoGP grid, so who won and who lost in Japan?


Jorge Martín

Martín’s impeccable form continued throughout the Japanese GP weekend, ending both the Sprint race and Grand Prix on the top step of the podium.

“It’s super important to enjoy this moment. I’ve been on the podium in the last four races, I won two of them,” Martín said.

“I think it’s the way we have to work to try to win, to be in front, and to enjoy the moment is the key.”

Crucially, however, Martín’s biggest accomplishment of the weekend is heading into the next round just 3 points behind Francesco Bagnaia in the world championship standings.

As it stands, Bagnaia is currently on 319 points, with 5 wins and 9 podiums to his name, while the Pramac Ducati rider edges closer on 316 points, much derived from his 3 wins and 7 podiums thus far into the season.

"I have a lot of confidence.”

“For the rest of the season there is not a track where I struggle.

“Let’s go for a good result, to be consistent, and let’s see what they bring.”

The #89 started the wet Motul Grand Prix of Japan from pole position after smashing the previous lap record with his time of 1:43.198, however, the win wouldn’t come easy for the Spaniard on the Sunday.

After committing, along with the entirety of the grid, to run the slick tyre, Martín was one of the many to stop for a bike change in the following laps.

Having lost P1 at the first corner to Jack Miller, the #89 quickly regained the net lead, only to lose it to Aleix Espargaro and drop further back after running wide at Turn 3.

Despite this, the Pramac Ducati proved its ability to turn its tyres on, with Johann Zarco storming through the field, and Martín quickly following suit.

“It was complicated, difficult to maintain the calm. But it was the same for everybody,” he said.

Passing both Marco Bezzecchi and Marc Márquez didn’t take the Spaniard too long at all, with Martín running back in the podium places by Lap 5.

His championship rival was his next target, one that was rapidly acquired on Lap 6 through a carefully orchestrated move around Turn 9.

Espargaro still held the lead, however, the Aprilia soon began to drop off, forcing the #41 to relinquish his lead to his good mate.

The rain intensified, even taking out Martín’s teammate before the terminal red flag was called on Lap 12 of 24.

With 50% of the total race distance being completed, full points were awarded to the riders, a very hard-earned reward for Martín’s efforts in the wet.

He now heads into the final 6 race weekends on almost equal terms as last year’s Champion, Bagnaia, making for an exciting and known ending to the 2023 MotoGP season.

Marc Márquez

It was a "romantic” outing for Márquez and his Repsol Honda Team, with the Spaniard finishing on the podium in Japan, Honda’s home race, for the first time since the Australian Grand Prix, almost a year ago.

After a very challenging season for Márquez and Honda, including a string of poor results and a haul of heavy hits, the home podium comes as a well-overdue sigh of relief for both rider and team.

‘Of course it was an important podium, we were looking for it all the season and arrived very late,” Márquez said.

“But [it] arrived in Honda’s home circuit, in a day that I took profit from the situation, from the weather condition.”

With the relationship under much strain and media attention, Márquez hailed his 140th career podium a “romantic” one.

The term most definitely didn’t go unnoticed by Francesco Bagnaia, with the Italian having a bit of fun in the post-race press conference by adding: “bye, bye Honda!”.

The Spaniard is heavily linked to a move to Gresini Ducati for the 2024 season, with both Bagnaia and Gigi Dall’Igna, General Manager at Ducati, all but confirming the move in the media this past weekend.

As for the Spaniard’s race, Márquez was one of the few riders able to use the dangerous conditions to his advantage.

At lights out, Márquez immediately remained in contention with the front runners, building his way into the leading quintet before making the overtake for third place on Marco Bezzecchi stick on Lap 11.

Following that move, the red flag was called, followed by worsening conditions which cancelled the restart, rewarding the #93 with a P3 finish.

“I tried to manage the race in the best way.”

“During the race you have different moments, in the beginning I was struggling a little bit too much, but then I was trying to manage the tyre and when the track was in real wet conditions I started to attack and I started to be faster and faster."

The Repsol Honda rider started the Motul Grand Prix of Japan from seventh on the grid, braving the rain and avoiding the chaos to end on the final step of the podium and with 15 points in the bag.


Johann Zarco

The extremely disappointed Pramac Ducati rider was one of two riders who ultimately DNFed at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, and to rub salt in the Frenchman’s wounds, it was under utterly devastating circumstances.

“I didn’t have any chance,” Zarco said.

The weather conditions added an extra element of struggle to Zarco’s already difficult Japanese race, given Turn 1 contact on Lap 1 demoted him to P20.

“The first laps, when the track wasn’t very wet, went well.”

“When it started raining, it wasn’t easy to find my rhythm, but I continued to be fast and managed to recover several positions.”

During the opening laps, Zarco managed to claw his way back within the points, even finding himself sitting in P6 and showing truly threatening pace for his rivals ahead.

However, when his skill was outweighed by dangerous conditions and all luck was lost, Zarco crashed out on Lap 13.

To make matters worse, it was only moments before a red flag was called, seeing the Frenchman dragging his battered bike back to the pits, attempting to do so in the required 5-minute active time limit so he could join the restart in P6 (Lap 12 classification).

Zarco was on the limit of the cut-off time to get his bike back to his garage, costing him a chance to fight for a very possible podium finish — if the race had been restarted.

Additionally, the call to not allow him to restart the Grand Prix was also put down to the #5 not entering the pitlane correctly after cutting straight across from the gravel trap at Turn 12.

“I crashed just before the red flag because of aquaplaning getting out of the bridge,” he said.

“I tried to bring my bike back. I did it, but they didn’t count my result, so I'm not even finishing in sixth position.

“I should have crossed the 60km/h line of the pit lane. And because I've gone 5 metres to the side, they don't count it.”

“So for this reason I'm quite angry.”

Losing sixth place, and crucially the ten points that come with it, also means the Pramac Ducati rider has now slipped down to sixth in the championship standings, with Aleix Espargaro promoted to P5.

Zarco’s teammate came home with the win, while he ended the race pointless and frustrated.

Miguel Oliveira

Oliveira’s race also came to a premature end in the pits, however, differing drastically from the Pramac Ducati rider’s circumstances.

Unlike Zarco, who was pushing until the final moments of his active race, Oliveira, of his own mistimed choosing, decided to retire on Lap 12 due to the dangerous conditions.

Running a ‘dry’ visor set-up, just as the rest of the grid was, proved a dangerous choice for the Portuguese rider.

The thick spray became too much for Oliveira, with water seeping into his helmet affecting his sight, a particularly crucial element in any circumstance.

“I started to lose visibility completely. I couldn’t see anything in front of me,” Oliveira said.

“I had a few scares three laps before I retired, not knowing where to put the wheels, turning too early into the corners because I couldn’t see, not knowing where I could brake, accelerate, so I was riding completely blind.”

The Portuguese rider ended the Motul Grand Prix of Japan in P18 despite getting his RNF Aprilia up from P16 into an impressive P4 in the first 7 laps, additionally with the very real potential of a podium finish.

“Obviously, now it’s easy to say that I retired maybe half a lap too early, but the conditions were unmanageable. And it was very frustrating, yes.”

The #88 retired from P6 only moments before the red flag was called, with visibility issues becoming unmanageable.

As Oliveira had pulled into retire, his team made the usual choice to relocate his bike from the pitlane into the garage, however, after examination of the stoppage, he was allowed to take the restart, albeit from the pitlane as he was classified as running a lap down.

“What happened was that I entered [the pitlane] – we know that 99 per cent of the time when we enter the pit during the race, we’re going to retire,” Oliveira said.

“And the team quickly put the bike inside the box, knowing that if we wanted to resume the race, the team couldn’t put the bike inside the box."

He said that “this is something the team learned” from previous instances, however, in this sense, it was a new learning curve.

“Then I resumed the race, I had to restart from the back and then start from the pit lane, which didn’t happen because by the time of the formation lap, the conditions became very similar to before the race was declared finished.”

“Fortunately, the race direction quickly realised after my retirement that the conditions were too dangerous to race.”

Even though there was a huge loss of points and positions, from Oliveira’s point of view, the race may not have been a loss, but rather an avoidance of a potentially dangerous incident due to the visibility limitations he experienced.

The MotoGP grid will enjoy a week off before heading to Mandalika for the Indonesian GP from October 13-15.


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