Motegi has been home to some inconsistent weather conditions in past editions of the popular and animated stop on the MotoGP calendar but the 2023 incarnation was warm and sunny and already saw lap record speeds across the classes from Friday’s Free Practice sessions.
The fixture was particularly significant for the squad’s Japanese star Ayumu Sasaki. The 22-year-old celebrated his seventh podium finish of the season the previous Sunday in India and came to his home event having closed to within 1 point of the world championship leader. Motegi was curious also for Collin Veijer who was lapping the course – distinctive for its crossover and ‘tunnel’ section – for the very first time.
On Friday Sasaki was a slender one tenth of a second from provisional Pole Position with the FR 250 GP as the top twenty were grouped incredibly close together. Veijer was also in the heat of the dash for lap-times and just 0.6 separated the Dutchman from P1. The teammates continued this speed on Saturday. Sasaki tried to refine his race set-up but was left still searching for minor gains; he recorded the 8th best run just behind Veijer but when the latter was hit with a three-place grid penalty for removing his hand from the bars in practice, Ayumu moved up to 7th and Collin was a row behind in 10th.
The relatively short and compact nature of Motegi meant a 17-lap (81km) distance for Moto3 that ignited the Japanese racing programme on a cloudy Sunday. Sasaki and the ever-improving Veijer started strongly and as part of a four-rider breakaway for the win; the naïve racer showed his willingness to win with a brand new lap-record in the early stages; smashing the nine-year old chrono. The quartet continued to swap positions as Viejer was part of a busy second group for places in the rest of the top ten.
The contest went down to the critical final circulations, and after a crash and a breakaway Sasaki was left in a dogfight with Daniel Holgado for P2. Ayumu found enough drive from the drag out of the final corner to win the duel by a tenth of a second and claim his fifth runner-up finish of the season and his eighth rostrum of 2023 (as well as a second consecutive trophy at Motegi).
With 193 points, Sasaki ranks 2nd in the championship standings. The difference to Jaume Masia lies at only 6 while Veijer is 13th. The Intact crew are leading the Team’s competition while Husqvarna Motorcycles are sitting 3rd among the Constructors.
Moto3 moves with the rest of MotoGP™across zones of the Pacific to Lombok, Indonesia for round fifteen. The sport will pause for a week before a consecutive run in Indonesia, Australia and Thailand.
Ayumu Sasaki: “In one way I am disappointed because I believe I had the same pace as [Jaume] Masia and I really wanted the win! The team did a great job to make the bike even better to ride and race today. I did my best and the support from the Japanese fans was insane. It gave me so much energy. I wish I had three or four more races like this on the calendar! We will keep fighting for the championship.”
Collin Veijer: “I didn’t feel too good from the start, the grip wasn’t as good today as it has been all weekend. There was a lot of attacking going on and it was impossible to make a smooth rhythm. Not a great race and I’m not that happy but I’ll try everything to be better in Indonesia.”
Darryn Binder was the lead rider for the Intact outfit in Moto2™. The South African negotiated only his second Grand Prix since returning from injury and after a season-best 7th place in India. Darryn was joined by Australian youngster Senna Agius who had flown to Japan from his European Championship duties to replace Lukas Tulovic after his left collarbone operation the previous week.
Binder’s quickest effort in qualification was just over a second from Pole Position and placed him 18th on the grid. Agius needed time to learn the demands of Motegi and rode to 29th. Darryn made a decent start for the 19-lap race on Sunday and was on the edge of the top ten and in a seven-rider tussle for 7th. He continued to dispute track space on the fringes and collected a decent 10th by the end of the race. Agius reached the chequered flag in 21st.
The Grand Prix of Indonesia will take place at the Mandalika Street Circuit in Lombok on October 13th-15th.
Darryn Binder: “A pretty good race for me and I’m quite happy with the result. Starting from 18th isn’t the best but luckily I kept my pace throughout the whole race and could make some passes and reach the top ten. More mileage under my belt, and I’m starting to feel much more comfortable on the bike. Moving on to the next round I think I can push forward again and the most important thing is to work on my qualifying for a better grid position. It definitely makes the race a bit easier.”
Senna Agius: “This is something to build on. I saw the chequered flag today with a semi-respectable rhythm. It’s been a mountain of a weekend! I was tense at the beginning of the race but loosened up over the laps, which was nice. A big thanks to the team for giving me this chance in Japan this weekend. I am absolutely not satisfied with the result…but I think it’s important to learn from this experience and attack the future in the best way possible.”
Results Moto3 Grand Prix of Japan
1. Jaume Masia (ESP) Honda 33:30.018, 2. Ayumu Sasaki (JPN) Husqvarna +1.546, 3. Daniel Holgado (ESP) KTM +1.602, 11. Collin Veijer (NED) Husqvarna +9.804
World championship standings Moto3
1. Jaume Masia (ESP) Honda 199 points, 2. Ayumu Sasaki (JPN) Husqvarna, 193, 3. Daniel Holgado (ESP) KTM, 190, 13. Collin Veijer (NED) Husqvarna, 63.
Results Moto2 Grand Prix of Japan
1. Somkiat Chantra (THA) 35.19.273, 2. Ai Ogura (JPN) +1.353, 3. Pedro Acosta (ESP) +3.080, 10. Darryn Binder (RSA) Husqvarna +19.405, 21. Senna Agius (AUS) Husqvarna +34.103
World championship standings Moto2
1. Pedro Acosta (ESP), 252 points, 2. Tony Arbolino (ITA), 202, 3. Jake Dixon (GBR), 159, 18. Darryn Binder (RSA) Husqvarna, 28.23. Lukas Tulovic (GER) Husqvarna 12