After an overcast early morning at the Cathedral, the sun eventually decided to attend the lightweight class race and was rewarded with a last lap rollercoaster that saw Ayumu Sasaki claim a maiden victory in the world championship. The poleman had to contend with a nearly impeccable Izan Guevara for 22 laps but won a close fight to give a precious birthday gift to the team boss. Speaking of birthdays, Guevara would have liked to go one better to celebrate his upcoming 18th birthday, but the youngster had to settle for second place – and a pretty lucky one, after starting the final lap down in fifth position. Even luckier was teammate Sergio Garcia, who suddenly found himself on the final step of the podium after a subdued race spent mostly at the back of the leading group.
Although the podium line-up might not look too unusual, with the poleman and the championship leaders, it does not tell the whole story of the 22-lap race. It was rookie David Muñoz who stole the show off the line, but Tatsuki Suzuki was quick to retrieve the lead into turn one from Muñoz, Sasaki, Guevara and Dennis Foggia. Suzuki was under attack from Sasaki and Guevara by the end of the second lap and the Spaniard took control of proceedings at the GT chicane, while teammate Garcia made some quick progress from 18th on the grid to join the top 10 after the first couple of laps.
Once Guevara took the lead, there weren’t many challenges coming his way for the next few laps, despite having a 16-man group lined up behind him – partly because of several yellow flags waving around in the early stages of the race. While Guevara was still waiting for a challenger, a leading group of six eventually separated at the front, including Suzuki, Sasaki, Jaume Masia, Muñoz and Foggia, although the Italian didn’t last there much longer, being served with a long lap penalty for shortcutting the final chicane and dropping to 13th position going into the second half of the race. Meanwhile, Garcia was stuck around seventh position and had dropped almost a second behind the leading group by lap 10, but luckily for him, John McPhee and Xavier Artigas soon picked up the lead of the chasing pack and did all the hard work in closing the gap to the leader, bringing Garcia and Foggia with them. Unfortunately for Garcia, the Italian easily found a way past him and the Spaniard did not seem to have the speed to respond or challenge the men ahead.
Back at the front, Guevara seemed untroubled while Muñoz was kept busy by the Sterilgarda Max Racing duo of Sasaki and McPhee and with the Leopard pair close behind. Masia, Artigas and Garcia were still part of the leading group but going a bit under the radar with 8 laps to go, with the chasing group over three seconds behind. Garcia benefitted once more from Foggia’s misfortune with 5 laps to go, when the Italian climbed the kerbs on the exit of turn one, as he got overtaken by Muñoz and lost control, crashing out of the podium battle.
In the battle for victory, Sasaki seemed to be the keenest to attack Guevara but the Spaniard was showing off with his defensive lines, so the first real attack had to wait until the final three laps, when Sasaki overtook at turn five. Guevara tried to hit back straight away at turn six and that started an overtaking bonanza for the next couple of laps, the duo trading places several times over the course of each lap. Once Sasaki settled the score with Guevara, the rest of the group started to get involved and the Spaniard was soon under attack from Suzuki, Masia and Muñoz, dropping to fifth by the start of the final lap.
Suzuki gave his compatriot some trouble on that last lap but could not stop Sasaki from securing a maiden victory. The Leopard Racing rider could not even hold onto the podium in the late drama that saw Muñoz losing the front at turn nine and taking Masia out of the podium battle, with McPhee sliding out just behind them, in a separate incident. That suddenly left the Aspar boys in podium contention, both of them attacking Suzuki in the final few corners, with Garcia crossing the finish line only seven thousandths of a second ahead of the Japanese rider. Artigas scores a top five finish, with Dani Holgado recovering from a couple of long lap penalties to take sixth, aided by a last lap incident at turn eight for Adrian Fernandez and Joel Kelso. Stefano Nepa, Ryusei Yamanaka, Deniz Öncü and Kaito Toba completed the remaining top 10 positions.
Garcia’s serendipitous podium keeps him in the lead of the world championship, but teammate Guevara closes in to only three points, with Foggia’s deficit growing to 67 points.
|18||64||Mario Suryo Aji||Honda||44.008|