The weather behaved in Japan and allowed a dream weekend to unfold for Honda Team Asia, with Somkiat Chantra celebrating his first victory of the season after proving untouchable in every session and teammate Ai Ogura joining him on the podium in his home race. Not even Pedro Acosta could prevent the Chantra parade but the Spaniard extended a healthy advantage in the world championship with a third place at Motegi.
Chantra had made a perfect start from pole position and was already checking out at the front by lap two, while Jake Dixon and Alonso Lopez got ahead of Ogura at the start but a mistake from Dixon at turn five was punished by both Lopez and Ogura – the Spaniard enjoying some exchanges with his Japanese colleague before having to take to the penalty loop for his indiscretions in India. Acosta made his own mistakes on the first lap, which dropped him to seventh position, but he made quick work of Sam Lowes and Filip Salac to rejoin the top five, while Manuel Gonzalez, Sergio Garcia and Joe Roberts completed the early top 10 - a notable presence was that of Garcia, who had negotiated his way into ninth place after starting 14th on the grid. Tony Arbolino had made modest progress from 13th on the grid, only up to 11th position, while Aron Canet struggled in the opening laps and faded down to 13th.
Chantra’s escape seemed successful after just three laps, the poleman two seconds ahead of the pursuit now led by teammate Ogura, followed by Lopez, Acosta and Dixon but with a sizeable group still in tow. Once Lopez served his long lap penalties on laps five and six, he dropped from third to tenth place and allowed Ogura some breathing room in second place. Acosta was left leading the pursuit but was slow to close the one second gap to Ogura, while slightly distancing Dixon. After Lowes crashed out on lap seven, Salac inherited fifth place, while a crash for Garcia on lap 10 handed sixth to Gonzalez. A milder mistake from Roberts running through the gravel at turn 10 left Lopez and Ramirez in the lead of the group battling for seventh, also including Arbolino, Canet, Zonta van den Goorbergh and Darryn Binder. That particular group had to provide the entertainment for the remaining eight laps, as the first six men were not within reach of each other.
Although Chantra’s lead over Ogura had reduced to one and a half seconds, it stabilised there with seven laps left and the only threat to the podium seemed to come from Dixon, whose late pace hinted at reeling Acosta in. However, the threat was brief, as Acosta responded to keep the Brit one second behind and the leading four kept their positions until the chequered flag, with lonely rides for Salac and Gonzalez in the top six. Ramirez resisted a late charge from Canet to claim seventh, while Zonta van den Goorbergh made some late progress into ninth, with Binder closing the top 10. A fading Lopez could not resist Arbolino’s late attacks or stop Roberts’ recovery, the Spaniard dropping to 13th position.
Acosta’s podium and Arbolino’s continued struggles mean that the Spaniard has extended his lead in the world championship to a sizable 50 points over the Italian, with Dixon a distant 93 points back.
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