Spain’s Dani Pedrosa kept the pressure on MotoGP title leader and fellow Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo by beating the Yamaha rider for victory in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.
Pedrosa’s fifth win of the season also marks a new personal record for the Repsol Honda rider.
Dark overcast conditions meant that all 22 riders chose the softer rear tyre alongside the harder front, with Lorenzo bravely sweeping around the outside of Pedrosa to defend his pole position into turn one.
Lorenzo’s Yamaha team-mate Ben Spies held an early third before running straight on and falling after hitting a barrier, thankfully at a much lower speed than Nicky Hayden at Aragon, at the start of the second lap.
That blew a hole between the leading Spaniards and the rest of the field, which grew even larger as the race went on. Pedrosa shadowed the Yamaha rider until peeling out of his slipstream and taking the lead under braking into the turn five right-hander, on lap 12 of 24.
Pedrosa then pulled away from Lorenzo to win by 4.275s, cutting Lorenzo’s lead to 28 points with three rounds and 75 points to go. Pedrosa has now won four of the past five races, having been taken out at Misano.
Joining Lorenzo and Pedrosa on the rostrum was Alvaro Bautista, who celebrated his new Gresini Honda contract with a second ever MotoGP rostrum.
Tech 3 Yamaha’s front row starter Cal Crutchlow had reclaimed third after Spies’ early exit, but was hunted down by Bautista, who lunged inside the Englishman with five laps to go.
The all-satellite battle continued when Crutchlow briefly re-passed Bautista with three laps left and he was still in podium touch as the final lap began … only to run out of fuel, forcing him to park his M1 and punch the tank in frustration.
That moved team-mate Andrea Dovizioso to fourth and Casey Stoner to fifth on his MotoGP comeback. Stoner, absent for the past three rounds following ankle surgery, held fourth in the early stages before being overtaken by Bautista and then Dovizioso.
Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda), Valentino Rossi (Ducati), Hayden (Ducati), wild-card Katsuyuki Nakasuga (Yamaha) and Hector Barbera (Ducati) completed the top 10.
Aleix Espargaro was the top CRT rider in 12th place, with Aspar team-mate Randy de Puniet suffering yet another fall. Avintia Blusens rider Yonny Hernandez also tumbled and is feared to have fractured a collarbone.
Roberto Rolfo, drafted in to the cash-strapped Speed Master squad in place of Mattia Pasini for the remaining rounds, finished his first MotoGP race since 2005 in 16th and last place.
Japan was the first of three consecutive ‘flyaway’ rounds, prior to the Valencia season finale. Practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang starts on Friday.
Japanese Grand Prix results:
1. Dani Pedrosa ESP Repsol Honda (RC213V) 42m 31.569s
2. Jorge Lorenzo ESP Yamaha Factory Racing (YZR-M1) 42m 35.844s
3. Alvaro Bautista ESP San Carlo Honda Gresini (RC213V) 42m 38.321s
4. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 42m 47.966s
5. Casey Stoner AUS Repsol Honda (RC213V) 42m 52.135s
6. Stefan Bradl GER LCR Honda MotoGP (RC213V) 42m 56.136s
7. Valentino Rossi ITA Ducati Team (GP12) 42m 57.641s
8. Nicky Hayden USA Ducati Team (GP12) 43m 8.293s
9. Katsuyuki Nakasuga JPN Yamaha YSP Racing Team (YZR-M1) 43m 8.363s
10. Hector Barbera ESP Pramac Racing (GP12) 43m 42.298s
11. Karel Abraham CZE Cardion AB Motoracing (GP12) 43m 47.227s
12. Aleix Espargaro ESP Power Electronics Aspar (ART CRT) 43m 54.338s
13. Colin Edwards USA NGM Forward Racing (Suter-BMW CRT) 43m 56.537s
14. James Ellison GBR Paul Bird Motorsport (ART CRT) 44m 0.957s
15. Michele Pirro ITA San Carlo Honda Gresini (FTR-Honda CRT) 44m 6.181s
16. Roberto Rolfo ITA Speed Master (ART CRT) 44m 22.422s
Cal Crutchlow GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1)
Danilo Petrucci ITA Came IodaRacing (Suter-BMW CRT)
Ivan Silva ESP Avintia Blusens (FTR-Kawasaki CRT)
Randy De Puniet FRA Power Electronics Aspar (ART CRT)
Ben Spies USA Yamaha Factory Racing (YZR-M1)
Yonny Hernandez COL Avintia Blusens (FTR-Kawasaki CRT)
MotoGP world standings, after 15 of 18 rounds:
1 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 310
2 Dani Pedrosa Honda 282
3 Casey Stoner Honda 197
4 Andrea Dovizioso Yamaha 192
5 Álvaro Bautista Honda 144
6 Valentino Rossi Ducati 137
7 Cal Crutchlow Yamaha 135
8 Stefan Bradl Honda 125
9 Nicky Hayden Ducati 101
10 Ben Spies Yamaha 88
11 Héctor Barberá Ducati 70
12 Aleix Espargaró ART 55
13 Randy de Puniet ART 53
14 Karel Abraham Ducati 37
15 Yonny Hernández BQR-FTR 28
16 Michele Pirro FTR-Honda 26
17 Colin Edwards Suter-BMW 25
18 James Ellison ART 21
19 Jonathan Rea Honda 17
20 Mattia Pasini ART 13
21 Danilo Petrucci Suter-BMW 11
22 Iván Silva FTR-Kawasaki 11
23 Toni Elias Ducati 10
24 Katsuyuki Nakasuga Yamaha 7
25 Steve Rapp APR 2
26 David Salom FTR-Kawasaki 1