Even if the lightweight class race looked a lot more promising for the local crowds at the end of Saturday, it ultimately came down to the intermediate class to reward them with a home victory. Fans were in for a threat, as Ai Ogura made a fine comeback from the fifth row of the grid to take his third victory of the season and the first for a Japanese rider at Motegi in 16 years. Rival Augusto Fernandez just about held onto the lead in the world championship, also working his way through the pack and settling for second, while compatriot Alonso Lopez scored his third successive podium.
The start of the 22-lap race had a slightly different cast, with poleman Aron Canet making a solid start to keep top spot ahead of Fermín Aldeguer and Somkiat Chantra. Cameron Beaubier was soon up to fourth ahead of Tony Arbolino, with Ogura making a rocket launch to climb into sixth, ahead of Jake Dixon and Lopez. Meanwhile, Fernandez progressed one place to 10th and teammate Pedro Acosta was up to 14th on the opening lap.
Back at the front, Canet and Aldeguer stretched a one second gap over the opening lap, but the rookie was struggling to keep up the hot pace of the poleman and soon crashed out of second position at turn five, which left Canet with an advantage of almost two seconds by lap three. However, the Spaniard’s pole curse continued, and he crashed out of the lead at turn nine only one lap later, leaving Chantra in charge of proceedings. It also meant that Ogura was suddenly in the battle for victory but having Lopez and Arbolino between himself and his leading teammate. Ogura joined the provisional podium positions by lap six, while Dixon led the two-man chase less than two seconds behind, ahead of Fernandez, and with Beaubier, Acosta, Jorge Navarro and Filip Salac making up the early top 10.
Back ahead, Lopez relieved Chantra of the lead on lap seven and Ogura soon followed suit following a mistake at turn five from the Thai rider, leaving Chantra under pressure from Arbolino. Meanwhile, Fernandez had gotten past Dixon and was quickly closing the gap to the leading four. While the order settled at the front, the cameras briefly moved to Celestino Vietti, who had made an underwhelming start from 22nd on the grid and eventually crashed out at the first corner on lap eight.
By lap 10, Lopez was keeping Ogura and Arbolino at arm’s length, while Chantra was already fading and allowing Fernandez to take fourth, one second (and closing) behind the leading trio. A mistake from Lopez at turn five allowed Ogura to catch up one lap later, but the Spaniard’s lead was secure for a couple more laps. Meanwhile, all eyes were on the battle for third, where Fernandez demoted Arbolino, who soon lost another position to Dixon by running wide at the final corner – the Brit over two seconds behind the podium battle.
A feisty lap 13 saw Ogura and Lopez trading places several times, until the Japanese rider secured the lead at turn 11, but the shenanigans allowed Fernandez to join the party. While Fernandez looked for a way past Lopez, Ogura posted the fastest lap of the race to increase his advantage to a full second with eight laps remaining. Fernandez attacked only one lap later, but Lopez didn’t make it easy for his compatriot and the repeated attacks allowed Ogura’s gap to grow to 1.8 seconds by the time Fernandez settled the bill for second. Although the Spaniard matched the leader’s pace, it wasn’t enough to make significant inroads into his advantage, but it was more than enough to ditch Lopez, whose final podium position looked under threat from Dixon over the final handful of laps.
Back ahead, Fernandez robbed Ogura of the fastest lap, but top spot was still one and a half seconds away with five laps remaining. The duo continued to trade fastest times, but they were virtually inseparable on pace, which meant the gap never really budged. Ogura started the final lap one and a half seconds ahead of his title rival and more or less maintained that advantage to the finish line to secure victory. Lopez fended off Dixon to keep third, while Chantra completed the top five. Arbolino resisted Acosta’s late advances for sixth, with lonely rides for Albert Arenas and Bo Bendsneyder. The final top ten place was settled on the final lap, after Navarro crashed out and Salac overtook Beaubier to join the top 10.
Ogura’s victory brings him within two points of Fernandez in the world championship standings, while Canet drops 57 points back and Vietti an even more insurmountable 72 points.
|15||19||Lorenzo Dalla Porta||Kalex||35.548|
|16||84||Zonta Van Den Goorbergh||Kalex||40.006|
|19||4||Sean Dylan Kelly||Kalex||49.126|
|20||42||Marcos Ramirez||MV Agusta||69.754|
|24||Simone Corsi||MV Agusta||09:37.5220|