Martin wins Japanese MotoGP Sprint to pile pressure on Bagnaia
By Kyle White
Saturday 30th September, 2023 - 7:59pm
Jorge Martin was unstoppable as the Pramac Ducati rider won the Sprint at the Japanese Grand Prix to pile the pressure on Francesco Bagnaia in the MotoGP title race.
Martin took the lead from pole and stayed there throughout the 12-lap showdown at Motegi to secure his fifth Sprint success of the season, closing Bagnaia’s lead to only eight points at Round 14 of the championship.
Brad Binder claimed the runner-up spot using KTM’s new carbon fibre frame, with Bagnaia finishing on the podium in third after fighting his way past Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM) in the closing stages.
Bagnaia, though, was over five seconds down on the dominant Martin whose title challenge shows no sign of relenting.
Martin, who shattered the lap record in qualifying, made a strong start from pole to lead into the first corner from the resurgent Miller, with Binder getting ahead of Bagnaia (Lenovo Ducati) from the second row. Binder quickly moved up to second after passing team-mate Miller on the brakes.
Martin was setting a fast pace from the off as he tried to stretch the field and the Pramac rider began to open a slight gap over Binder in second.
By Lap 4, the Spaniard was 0.3s ahead of Binder, who was one second clear of Miller. Bagnaia was a further half-a-second back in fourth, with Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez chasing Bagnaia.
At the halfway point, Martin had six tenths in hand over Binder, with Miller dropping back in third, 1.8s in arrears but keeping Bagnaia behind him.
Marquez still held fifth but was under pressure from Pramac Ducati’s Johann Zarco and Marco Bezzecchi on the VR46 Ducati, who had a huge spill in qualifying.
Bezzecchi, who qualified fourth despite his crash, picked off Zarco for sixth and was all over Marquez’s Honda on Lap 8.
The Italian attempted a pass on the brakes into Turn 11 but ran wide, allowing Marquez back through with Zarco also getting ahead of the battered and bruised VR46 Ducati rider.
With four laps to go, Bagnaia lined up a pass on Miller for third but the Australian was able to fend him off, releasing the brakes and running deep as he fought to remain in a podium place.
However, on the 10th lap, Miller then left the door ajar under extreme pressure from Bagnaia, who slipped through into third.
Martin had established a cushion of 1.5s over Binder at the front, with Bagnaia 3.5s further behind.
Bezzecchi battled back ahead of Marquez after a pass on the penultimate lap, but Zarco had pulled away in fifth and was closing on Miller.
Martin crossed the line for another crucial victory in the title race by 1.390s from Red Bull KTM’s Binder – fourth in the championship – with Bagnaia 5.269s adrift in third.
Miller came home fourth for his best result in some time, with last year’s Japanese GP winner six seconds down on Martin.
Zarco was close behind in fifth, with Bezzecchi sixth and Marquez the top Honda rider in seventh and the first Japanese machine over the line.
Fabio Di Giannantonio took a solid eighth on the Gresini Ducati, while the top 10 was completed by Aprilia’s Maverick Viñales and Raul Fernandez on the RNF Aprilia.
Repsol Honda’s Joan Mir was 13th behind GasGas Tech 3 KTM duo Pol Espargaro and Augusto Fernandez.
Fabio Quartararo was down in 15th on the factory Yamaha ahead of team-mate Franco Morbidelli, while Yamaha wildcard Cal Crutchlow was 18th, despite receiving a Long Lap Penalty for exceeding the track limits.