If the story coming into the weekend was around Pecco Bagnaia’s chance to wrap up the title in lovely albeit chilly Phillip Island, the main attraction of the intermediate class race was something completely different. Ultimately, Brad Binder stole the show to grab another smart win ahead of Joan Mir. The Spaniard found the podium after a tough run of races, while Xavi Vierge saw victory slip through his fingers after leading for much of the race and settling for third.
It was not a great day for the front row men to begin with, Marcel Schrotter having qualified second but could not get his bike started in time for the warm-up lap and was relegated to the back of the grid. Poleman Pasini made a good start and had an entertaining exchange with Vierge on the first lap but did not get to see the finish line again as he went down in turn four the next time around, continuing an unfortunate pole curse. After Pasini’s exit, Vierge was left in charge of proceedings but did not have it easy with Binder and 12 other riders who had managed to keep up with the early pace.
The two title contenders had made a decent start, Pecco Bagnaia up to sixth and Miguel Oliveira 12th by the end of lap one. After his early surge, Bagnaia found himself getting overtaken by Oliveira for tenth position and rather than fight back, the Italian continued going backwards. Meanwhile, Schrotter was leading the pursuit of the sizeable lead pack only a second down the road in 15th position and quickly biting into that gap.
Back at the front, Binder, Vierge, Iker Lecuona and Dominique Aegerter were stretching a bit of a gap ahead of a bigger group with Lorenzo Baldassarri, Luca Marini, Alex Marquez, Mir, Remy Gardner, Augusto Fernandez and Oliveira. Another eight tenths down the road were Fabio Quartararo, Bagnaia, Jesko Raffin and Schrotter. On lap five, Lecuona left the main battle by sliding into the grass just as the first two groups merged to give us nine podium contenders. Surprisingly, Oliveira did not make the cut and led the pursuit a second back, in a five-man group that also included Bagnaia.
With Binder comfortable at the front but not too far ahead, the pack started battling for position behind the South African. Vierge was back in the lead after slipstreaming past Binder at the start of lap 12, with Baldassarri, Mir, Aegerter, Gardner, Marini and Fernandez still in podium contention. Battered and bruised after a testing couple of weeks, Marquez was starting to fade and slip towards Schrotter, who had slowly dropped Oliveira & co. The leaders also lost Gardner, who crashed out by the end of that same lap.
With 11 laps to go, Baldassarri had a go into turn one and picked up the lead for the first time but lasted only three turns before Vierge picked him up again. The duo were joined by Binder in the battle for the lead in the next couple of laps, while Mir, Aegerter, Marini and Fernandez were busy rubbing fairings without threatening the lead. Four seconds down the road, things were about to get worse for the two title contenders as both Quartararo and Raffin got past, the duo also going past Schrotter, whose fine work got undone by running wide into turn one.
Baldassarri and Vierge continued to trade the lead for the next handful of laps but Fernandez and Mir finally decided to crash the podium party (only metaphorically) with five laps to go. Binder and Marini were still in the mix but Aegerter dropped half a second on the leaders. The group reduced further as Baldassarri got it out of shape in turn 10 and toppled over in the grass with three laps to go.
After a low key couple of laps, Binder picked up the lead in the final two laps as Vierge got sent to the back of the class. Further mistakes for Fernandez and Marini gave the two leaders some breathing space to dispute victory. Despite being so close in the final turn and getting some slipstream, the finish line came too soon for Mir and Binder snatched the win by three hundredths of a second. Similarly, Vierge got the best of Fernandez on the line to grab the final podium spot.
Marini settled for fifth, with significant gaps between the rest of the top 15. Aegerter would have been disappointed with sixth after battling for the lead early on, while Marquez did well to hang on to seventh position. Raffin, Schrotter and Quartararo completed the top ten, with Oliveira and Bagnaia having an underwhelming title battle just outside the top ten, taking the fight to Malaysia with Bagnaia 36 points ahead of Oliveira.
|10||20||Fabio QUARTARARO||Speed Up||+7.453|
|15||57||Edgar PONS||Speed Up||+14.076|
|16||89||Khairul Idham PAWI||Kalex||+15.350|
|21||67||Bryan STARING||Tech 3||+52.297|
|18||Xavi CARDELUS||Kalex||11 Laps|
|87||Remy GARDNER||Tech 3||12 Laps|
|9||Jorge NAVARRO||Kalex||17 Laps|
|27||Iker LECUONA||KTM||19 Laps|
|21||Federico FULIGNI||Kalex||19 Laps|
|95||Jules DANILO||Kalex||21 Laps|
|32||Isaac VIÑALES||Suter||21 Laps|
|54||Mattia PASINI||Kalex||24 Laps|