Motegi was at its warmest and sunniest after the exceedingly damp welcome in practice and if the spectators were probably happy to see clear skies, it did raise some questions about tyre endurance for the full 20 laps. Those questions were best answered by Lorenzo Dalla Porta, who turned misfortune into glory and squashed his rivals, both in the race and in the championship, to secure quite likely his most significant victory of the season. Albert Arenas carried on the fine form that saw him victorious in Thailand, this time stepping on the second spot on the podium for the very first time. Rookie Celestino Vietti joined the podium celebrations after a last lap attack that broke local fans’ hearts.
20 laps earlier, Tatsuki Suzuki got the holeshot on home ground to lead the way in front of an adoring audience, while poleman Niccolo Antonelli got swallowed by Alonso Lopez and Makar Yurchenko, the duo making the best of their top qualifying positions to date. Another couple of places back, Dalla Porta and Aron Canet were engaging in some early fire between the championship contenders. Meanwhile, Tony Arbolino had gone from 27th on the grid to 17th by lap three and was looking to join the top 15 soon after.
Suzuki was unchallenged for the first few laps and soon had the Estrella Galicia duo of Lopez and Sergio Garcia on his tail but the field was still tightly packed in these early stages. Canet seemed to be making a bit more early progress than the championship leader, Dalla Porta perhaps taking a more cautious approach after the technical niggles that made him miss the opportunity to acclimatise to the new conditions in warm up. Despite the fantastic display in qualifying, poleman Antonelli was starting to feel the lingering effects of his injuries and lack of fitness and dropped outside of the top ten. Darryn Binder was looking like the fastest man on track at this stage but that speed got to him on lap six and sent him hurtling through the gravel trap at turn 11.
Suzuki was still untouched at the front by lap eight but some alarm bells would have rung when he saw Canet and Dalla Porta as his closest challengers. The lead group was finally starting to fragment, down to 11 men, perhaps not surprisingly including Arbolino. That wasn’t to last though, the Italian out at turn five soon after and hurting both his leg and his championship chances.
The first change of lead came at the end of lap nine, when Dalla Porta found that extra bit of speed on the downhill straight and took over proceedings for the final half of the race. Suzuki tried a few attacks but none of them stuck, while Garcia, Arenas, Vietti, Canet, John McPhee, Jaume Masia, Lopez and Marcos Ramirez still had a realistic chance to be in the mix for the podium in the later stages. Lopez and Ramirez were the first to blink, the Spaniards losing touch with the leaders as they engaged in their own little battle. The duo became a trio when Masia went well wide at the final corner after a pretty big mistake and was left with over a second to recover in the eight remaining laps – more frustrating than impossible.
Meanwhile, Dalla Porta was still firmly in charge of the seven-man lead group and to further improve his day, Canet, who was being pushed by McPhee at the back of that pack, hit the gravel at turn nine with seven laps to go. The Spaniard quickly rejoined but in a lonely place outside of the top 20, giving him plenty of space to rue his rare mistake before calling it a day. Dalla Porta quickly got the memo but was still keen to follow through with a victory, which Suzuki seemed most eager to stop. Garcia, Arenas and Vietti were also in with a shot but none of them could show a wheel to Dalla Porta and Suzuki until the final lap.
Dalla Porta started the last lap in the lead and the Italian was helped by Arenas’ advances on Suzuki, the Japanese rider losing second place at turn 7. Arenas could see Dalla Porta’s rear tyre up close but did not get a real shot at the win, the championship leader crossing the finish line less than a tenth of a second ahead of Arenas. Suzuki could not even hold onto a podium after Vietti attacked at turn 12 and the local favourite had to settle for fourth. Rookie Garcia got his best finish in fifth, with McPhee, Masia, Ramirez, Lopez and Migno completing the top ten. Antonelli bravely and painfully finished the race within points from 12th position, behind Yurchenko.
With Dalla Porta making Canet and Arbolino’s mistakes hurt even more with a victory, the Italian has a firm handle on the world championship going into the final three rounds, 47 points ahead of Canet and a 68-point advantage on Arbolino.
|1||48||Lorenzo DALLA PORTA||Honda||39'34.866|
|24||69||Tom BOOTH-AMOS||KTM||4 Laps|
|55||Romano FENATI||Honda||5 Laps|
|44||Aron CANET||KTM||6 Laps|
|14||Tony ARBOLINO||Honda||11 Laps|
|40||Darryn BINDER||KTM||13 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|84||Jakub KORNFEIL||KTM||0 Lap|
|19||Gabriel RODRIGO||Honda||0 Lap|