After appearing to be pretty much untouchable throughout the weekend in Austria, there were high expectations of Pedro Acosta and the Spaniard wasn’t far from meeting them – had it not been for a surprising Celestino Vietti, surging from the crowd to challenge the world championship leader and eventually secure his first victory of the season. Acosta admitted defeat after a few hairy moments and settled for second, with Ai Ogura taking the remaining podium position.
Acosta had made a dream start, keeping the lead from pole position, while Dixon launched straight into second, ahead of Ogura. Tony Arbolino also made good progress up into fourth at the opening corner, getting ahead of Vietti, who lost a couple places off the tile. A slight gap was already starting to appear over the rest of the early top 10 composed of Fermín Aldeguer, Somkiat Chantra, a fast-starting Alonso Lopez, Filip Salac and Albert Arenas.
By lap three, Acosta had a four-tenth buffer over Dixon and Ogura, with Vietti just about hanging on half a second back, but decisively dropping Arbolino over a second behind. Despite his excellent start, the Marc VDS quickly started losing ground, gifted away another position to Chantra and was left with a gap of 1.5 seconds to manage over the next group led by Salac. That group soon turned into a solo act, as both Lopez and Arenas crashed on lap five.
Back at the front, Ogura was keen to stop Acosta’s charge and took over the pursuit from Dixon at turn three, but the repeated exchanges between them allowed the Spaniard almost two seconds of breathing room by lap eight, while also bringing Vietti back into the podium battle. The Italian had a go at Dixon one lap later, to claim third at the first corner. While Chantra was enjoying some clear air in fifth position, Salac had caught up with Arbolino and soon demoted him to seventh, one second ahead of Aldeguer. Teammates Sergio Garcia and Aron Canet rounded out the top 10 at that stage but Canet’s race ended a handful of laps later, at turn nine.
Once he got settled in second position, Ogura attempted to reel in Acosta and to his credit he managed to bring the gap down to 1.2 seconds but the poleman quickly picked up the pace to halt his rival’s progress. While Vietti was biding his time for an attack on the Honda Team Asia rider, Dixon dropped out of podium contention. Vietti eventually made his move at turn four to take second with 11 laps remaining and immediately sped up to reduce the leader’s advantage by a few tenths. Acosta got the message and was nearly matching the Italian’s lap times but that didn’t stop the gap from dropping to under a second for the first time with seven laps left.
With Vietti colouring the timing screens red, Acosta’s advantage was evaporating, not helped by a moment at turn two, and the Spaniard soon received a track limits warning to add to his worries. Only one lap later the gap was under half a second and the Italian was glued to Acosta’s rear wheel with six laps left, immediately making his move at turn six. Acosta made a faint attempt to retaliate straight away but then settled for staying on Vietti’s tail over the next couple of laps. The duo were nearly inseparable on pace, but after a near contact at turn nine, Acosta lost a bit of ground and had to decide if the risk was worth regrouping for an attack.
Vietti started the final lap six tenths ahead of the Spaniard and gave one final push to increase that gap to a full second by sector three and take the chequered flag a second and a half ahead. Acosta settled for second, while Ogura secured a lonely third, nearly four seconds later. Dixon and Chantra didn’t see much action in the latter part of the race but completed the top five, while Arbolino reclaimed sixth from Salac with nine laps remaining, aided by a mistake from the Czech rider. Garcia, Aldeguer and Lukas Tulovic rounded out the top 10 positions.
Although the lederhosen celebration ended up being for second place, Acosta extends his advantage in the world championship to 12 points over Arbolino, with Dixon 59 points back and Canet losing further ground, leaving him with an 80-point deficit.
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