MotoGP 2022 Round 16: Motegi

Jack Miller dominates; Quartararo extends series lead

The 2022 Japanese Grand Prix, after getting skipped by The Powers That Be for the last two years, gave the fans an odd little race. The kind of race it was today: Series leader Fabio Quartararo, stuck in the mid-pack mud all day, finished in P8 and extended his series lead. Everyone’s favorite underdog, Aleix Espargaro, got undone on the sighting lap, something terminal with the electronics on his Aprilia, forcing him to pit, drop his bike, jump on his #2 bike, and start from pit lane in a distant P25. Aleix rode his ass off all day only to finish in P16, pointless.

Factory Ducati pilot Pecco Bagnaia, he of the gi-normous expectations heading into the season, found himself slugging it out in the aforementioned mud with his rival, series leader Quartararo, on the final lap. Young Pecco choked on the lowside, trudging through the gravel, clapping his hands in mock appreciation for what he later implied was an error by someone on his crew. Oh, and factory Ducati #2 pilot Jack Miller owned the place all weekend, seized the lead in today’s race on Lap 3 when he went through on Pramac brother-in-arms Jorge Martin and proceeded to lay down a Marquez-esque vapor trail on his way to his fourth win in the premier class.

Ducati did well, as expected, today. Placed five machines in the top ten and two on the podium. Gigi–gotta love this guy–sitting in the garage during the race, looking relaxed, wondering whether he should order more tiramasu. There was a point in the race when Matt Birt stopped to observe that he had just seen a Ducati turn inside a Yamaha for the first time ever. Having seen the results before watching the tape, on Lap 23 I wrote, “KITTENS COMING,” in anticipation of the meltdown Matt and Louis would suffer watching Pecco coming unglued on the last lap. Sure enough, right on cue, here they came. I could only be thankful that Steve Day is no longer in the booth, as he was always the one having kittens.

Fabio may be The Blessed Rider again this year; if so, it would represent a truly great season-long body of work on a sadly inferior machine. But really, he struggled all day to manage P8 which would have been P9 had Pecco not surrendered to the laws of physics. Aleix had the best qualifying of the four contenders in P6 prior to the debacle at the start. EBas started from P15 before finishing in P9. And Bagnaia hamstrung himself today by slogging to a P12 during Qualifying #2. It appears that most of our fearless leaders are feeling the pressure of having a premier class championship within their reach. The answer, in all likelihood, will lie, as we have been saying all year, in the number of crashes/DNFs the riders accumulate, as follows:

Rider Points DNF

Fabio Quartararo 219 2

Pecco Bagnaia 201 5

Aleix Espargaro 194 1*

Enea Bastianini 170 4

*mechanical failure at the start

Looking at things this way, it’s entirely possible to project Espargaro winning the title. Fabio spending his entire days on the limit is a blueprint for disaster. Bagnaia has people wondering why he doesn’t get it, that if he would only keep the shiny side up a little more often he would be leading the championship. That he doesn’t should great hope to the Espargaro family. Here’s what the season would look like if Quartararo and Bagnaia were to crash out in Thailand, allowing Aleix to win and EBas to place second:

Quartararo 219

Espargaro 219

Bagnaia 201

Bastianini 190

With four rounds left, I’m confident both Fabio and Pecco will slide out of one of them. The question is whether Aleix can keep his nose clean for an entire season. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t enjoy seeing him take the title after so many years of fruitless toil.

Marc Marquez seized pole on Saturday, just to remind folks how extraordinarily successful he has been here in the past. He took the hole shot and held the lead for three or four turns before getting swallowed up by a gaggle of riders not riding with one arm. He sat in P5 pretty much all day before taking Miguel Oliveira’s lunch money on the final lap for P4.

The factory KTM operation had things going their way today, placing Binder on the podium and Oliveira in the top five, too. Another guy I’ve been ignoring, but who is getting harder and harder to ignore, is Luca Marini. The sophomore has scored points in 13 of the 16 rounds to date. He worked his way up front and was tagging along with the lead group by the end of the day. The grid these days seems absolutely packed with fast young Italian riders, another node of The Rossi Effect. Another example–Marco Bezzecchi, late of the VR46 Academy, will be the runaway winner of the 2022 ROY award aboard his Desmosedici. The future is bright for Ducati pilots in the years to come. Ecstar Suzuki, on the other hand, had one rider out injured, a second retired with a mechanical issue, and their test rider/wild card had to make a hasty exit from his GSX-RR which was, at that moment, engulfed in flames. Doing a Zarco is what we call that around here.

So it’s off to Thailand to see how riders under extreme pressure perform in an autoclave. I think such conditions favor the younger riders who are physically more able to withstand the heat. But the veterans have been here before and to Sepang and know how to hold up over race distance. For Fabio, Pecco and Aleix, the season is now. Young Bastianini is going to have to ignore the championship, keep his head down, and score as many points as possiblle each time out. Oh, and remember not to crash.

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4 Responses to “MotoGP 2022 Round 16: Motegi”

  1. Starmag Says:

    Kudos to The Thriller. So dominant that it was one reason that it was a boring race. Where did that come from? Maybe he’ll take it to KTM next year, but likely it was a dialed-in Desmo, which mechanically has come around. That and Dorna allowing Ducati 8 bikes to everyone else’s 4, (making up 1/3rd of the grid!), is my pick for best bike at the moment, despite Hodgey’s pick of the Aprilla for that. It does seem close for that honor.

    Baggy needs to take what a given race will allow. So tantalizing with the points leader right in front of him though.

    Aleix blamed his team for Eco mode at the start and his 2nd bike’s soft rear. Big missed opportunity. He had the pace to win.

    The Beast at 49 points out seems like a long shot with 4 to go.

    Obviously, the reports of Antman’s career demise were premature. The High Side Honda didn’t launch anyone into orbit today. Hopefully Honda has gotten a grip on that. If so, maybe Mir has a shot next year at being competitive.

    Great report at usual Bruce, with the crash report and what if’s.

    Like

  2. Vrooom Says:

    How many manufacturers unceremoniously dump a rider who is podiuming regularly, winning occasionally, and in 5th in the championship? KTM is getting lucky. Meanwhile Aleix is getting screwed, qualifying in the second row and starting from last, that has to hurt.

    Like

    • Old MOron Says:

      Ducati are known for being ruthless. Remember how Lorenzo jumped to Honda before Ducati could dump him? Actually I think all factories are that way. It’s the nature of the sport. I hope Jackie tears it up next year.

      Like

  3. Old MOron Says:

    So my favorite national anthem was previously La Marseillaise. But now it might be Japan’s anthem as rendered before the Moto GP race. That was really something.

    Like

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