MOTEGI, Japan — In an enthralling MotoGP race at the AirAsia Grand Prix of Japan in Motegi, Repsol Honda Team driver Dani Pedrosa closed the gap in the title fight further with a strong victory ahead of Jorge Lorenzo and Álvaro Bautista.
It was Yamaha Factory Racing’s Lorenzo who got away best, yet had to be bold in turn one to hold off Pedrosa. Power Electronics Aspar’s Randy de Puniet crashed on the first lap but rejoined, while Yamaha’s Ben Spies crashed out going into lap two.
It was a crash-laden early stage as Avintia Blusens’ Yonny Hernandez also dropped his bike in the gravel, suffering a left top-shoulder-joint dislocation and a contusion to the left foot.
Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner had made a good start running fourth behind Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow in third. Yet three laps in Stoner was taken by San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Álvaro Bautista. LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl was stalking Stoner closely, whilst fending off Tech 3’s Andrea Dovizioso in seventh.
With 17 laps remaining Lorenzo and Pedrosa had pulled out a lead at the front with Crutchlow running a lonely third. Stoner was desperately looking for a way past Bautista, yet the Spaniard was battling hard to keep the Australian at bay. Meanwhile Ducati Team’s Valentino Rossi was in eighth struggling to keep up with Dovizioso’s pace in front. It was then two laps later that Dovizioso forced his way past Bradl to hunt down Stoner in fifth.
With 13 laps remaining Pedrosa got better drive out of turn four and made his way past Lorenzo on the straight into the lead, looking instantly quicker on the Honda. As Lorenzo tried to keep up, it was Bautista who was slowly closing in on Crutchlow, who did well to save a near fall. Five laps on, De Puniet was forced to retire, as was Hernandez’s teammate Iván Silva. The same lap also saw Dovizioso make his way past Stoner into fifth.
With six laps left Pedrosa had built up a commanding lead over Lorenzo, whilst as a lap later Bautista muscled his way past Crutchlow into the final podium spot, and the pair provided a thrilling battle on track. The Brit fought almost straight back with a move up the inside, yet Bautista retook him in the next turn where the two touched. And it was heartbreak for Crutchlow on the last lap as he pulled over having run out of fuel, while looking to fight to the line.
Pedrosa kept his nerve to take the checkered flag, with Lorenzo and Bautista completing the rostrum, making it the second ever premier-class podium for the San Carlo rider.
“It was a hard race because the pace was very fast from the beginning,” said Pedrosa. “I tried to understand the bike, as yesterday we had a lot of chatter so I didn’t know how it would be today. In the beginning it wasn’t too bad but then it got a little worse during the race. I managed it as best I could and I stayed with Jorge, I was able to get a better line out of the corner and pass him and then I put in some good laps and controlled the gap.
“Jorge tried to stay with me, but then decided to settle for the second place. We did what we needed to do and it’s just a pity that there is no one else who can stay with us because every race I win, he’s been second. But anyway, it’s a great feeling to win races and we are doing it now. Thanks to Honda and the whole team, I’m really happy to win again here in Motegi.”
Thus, Pedrosa trails Lorenzo by 28 points with three races remaining.
The first non-podium finisher in fourth was Dovizioso followed by Stoner, Bradl, Rossi, Ducati’s Nicky Hayden, Yamaha YSP Racing Team’s wildcard Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Pramac Racing Team’s Héctor Barberá.
Top CRT spot went to De Puniet’s teammate Aleix Espargaró, whilst Came IodaRacing Project’s Danilo Petrucci had to retire on the last lap.