RACE REPORT | MotoGP Japan 2023

Jorge Martin emerged as the victor of the 2023 Japanese MotoGP, which was prematurely halted due to heavy rain at Motegi, just beyond the halfway point. Despite initial plans for a restart, the challenging weather conditions ultimately led to its abandonment. This turn of events has now placed Martin within a mere 3 points of the reigning champion, Francesco Bagnaia, in the race for the championship title.

The Motegi podium was rounded out by Bagnaia and Marc Marquez, with Marquez achieving his first Sunday podium since the Phillip Island race in 2022, almost a year prior. Since more than half of the originally planned 24 laps had been completed before the stoppage, full points were rightfully awarded to the riders. The stage was set for a title showdown after Martin had closed the gap to just 8 points behind Bagnaia following his Saturday Sprint victory. However, drama unfolded on Sunday as torrential rain began pouring down on the grid.

Conditions rapidly deteriorated, prompting most riders to make a beeline for the pits to switch to their wet-weather bikes at the end of the opening race lap. Only five brave souls, namely Michele Pirro, Fabio Quartararo, Stefan Bradl, Franco Morbidelli, and Cal Crutchlow, chose to stay out on slicks. Quartararo, Crutchlow, and Bradl eventually relented and pitted, leaving Pirro and, subsequently, Morbidelli as the lone riders persevering on slick tires.

Aleix Espargaro of Aprilia assumed the lead from Marc Marquez, Bagnaia, Marco Bezzecchi, and Martin during this tumultuous period. However, Martin, the Pramac Ducati rider who had momentarily dropped back while leading, rapidly made his way back to the front. On lap 6, just after the halfway mark, Martin regained the lead with Bagnaia and Marquez in close pursuit when red flags were waved, signaling that conditions had become too perilous. Marquez was among the riders who gestured that the situation had become untenable. Espargaro, who, like Jack Miller and Augusto Fernandez immediately behind him, had opted for the soft rear wet tires instead of the medium ones, found himself relegated to fifth due to the stoppage.

Notably absent from the restart were Sprint runner-up Brad Binder, who had crashed early on, and Johann Zarco, who had fallen just moments before the red flag. Zarco's hopes of rejoining the race were dashed as he had used a shortcut to return his damaged Pramac Ducati to the pits. Maverick Vinales, who had fallen due to evasive action at turn 1, and Miguel Oliveira, who retired shortly before the red flags, were slated to take the second start from the end of the pit lane, as they had been classified one lap down. Additionally, Vinales, Crutchlow, and Raul Fernandez were handed long-lap penalties for their involvement in a "potentially dangerous situation" during an "incorrect" bike swap, presumably involving crossing into another pit box.

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