At last, the grand finale for the premier class closed an eventful season with a great day for the sold-out crowd in a bright and cloudless Valencia. The home support was rewarded with Spanish victories in all three classes and put a fairy tale ending to Suzuki’s final race in the world championship, with a fantastic victory for Alex Rins. The Suzuki man resisted a relentless charge through the pack from Brad Binder, who bookends his season with second places. They were joined on the podium by poleman Jorge Martin, who claimed his fourth trophy of the season. While there were countless stories to follow throughout the 27-lap race, the title decider rightfully hogged the limelight and the chequered flag eventually celebrated the first Italian world champion on an Italian bike in five decades. A feisty start and a cautious end to the race helped Pecco Bagnaia secure the title and Ducati finally got to unpack some celebration t-shirts for a riders’ title, after a long wait.
The final lights-out of the 2022 season prompted a brilliant start for Rins, who shot into the lead at turn one, closely followed by Martin, Jack Miller and Marc Marquez, who traded overtakes early on. Meanwhile, the title contenders quickly found themselves in close contact, quite literally, Fabio Quartararo and Bagnaia exchanging paintwork over a not-particularly-sensible first couple of laps whose only victim, fortunately, was a Ducati winglet.
Rins, Martin, Marquez and Miller had stretched a one second advantage by lap four, mainly due to the hair-raising exchanges between Bagnaia and Quartararo for fifth, the duo still having a sizeable group on their tail but being allowed to sort this out between themselves so far. Quartararo had the upper hand once again by lap five, leading the pursuit and dealing with a one and a half seconds gap to the leaders.
Back at the front, Rins and Martin seemed to be ever so slightly quicker in the early stages, while Miller had a go at Marquez into turn one on the sixth lap, the Honda man attempting to retaliate but ultimately allowing the Ducati to bring them back into the victory battle. Quartararo was also very steadily closing the gap to the leaders, while more determinately dropping Bagnaia, who was now under pressure from Binder. The KTM man made a move stick on lap nine, leaving Bagnaia into the clutches of Joan Mir and Miguel Oliveira, with a group including Luca Marini, Enea Bastianini and Johann Zarco another second back but unlikely to pose a threat to Bagnaia.
Rins, Martin and Miller carried on untroubled at the front, but Quartararo got some unexpected help when Marquez tumbled out of fourth place at turn eight. The Frenchman was left 1.7 seconds behind the leading trio with 17 laps remaining and although he was able to match their pace, the gap was not coming down at a particularly fast rate. However, there was suddenly a threat from behind, where Binder was setting a red hot pace, prompting Quartararo to find some speed as well, both riders closing onto the podium battle at the halfway point of proceedings. Three seconds behind, Mir had found a way past Bagnaia to claim sixth, the cautious Italian not particularly keen to retaliate and soon under attack from Oliveira as well. Bagnaia was then holding back an obviously faster Marini, who eventually lost patience and got ahead at turn four with nine laps remaining.
Back at the front, Rins had stretched a one second advantage with 10 laps left, a reasonably safe gap to Martin and Miller, who finally had company from Binder and Quartararo, the two having swapped places one lap earlier. While Binder soon attacked Miller for third, Quartararo seemed to lose steam and dropped one second behind the podium battle. He still got promoted one position when Miller crashed out with five laps remaining, but fourth was nowhere near the result he was after. Binder went on to harass Martin, but it wasn’t until the final two laps that he managed to find a way past the poleman, leaving himself with a six tenths gap to close if he wanted to challenge Rins for victory on the last lap.
A tense final lap saw Binder close in to three tenths of a second, but Rins defended beautifully to gift Suzuki one final victory. Binder settled for a still impressive second, with Martin taking the final trophy on offer. Quartararo’s charge faded in the closing stages and the Frenchman had to admit defeat in the title battle, with Bagnaia taking the chequered flag in ninth place. Oliveira, Mir, Marini, Bastianini and Franco Morbidelli were also part of the final top 10 of the season.
Once Bagnaia changes from damp leathers into a suit and tie, he will be joined at the awards gala by runner up Quartararo and Bastianini, who secured third after Aleix Espargaro was forced to retire early in the race.
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