MotoGP 2022 – Rnd 19
Sepang MotoGP Race Report with Boris
Well, that was tenser than an accidental meeting between two of your current girlfriends. As an actual race, it was less than thrilling. Phillip Island is a very hard act to follow.
As the second-last, and possibly deciding battle in a year-long war, it was magnificent, edge-of-the-seat stuff.
Rain had been predicted for race day, but FP1 was dry, and somehow, Brad Binder was atop the food-chain. Pol Espargaro was in the toilet. He was to be penalised three grid places for almost killing Zarco when he “returned to the track in an unsafe manner”.
Helpfully, Pol then proceeded to crash his brains out for the remaining Practice and Qualifying sessions, and I was wondering if Honda would need to start cannibalising Malaysian Fireblades for his fairings.
FP2 started wet, but was drying rapidly when Cal Crutchlow bunged on a set of slicks and sat himself at the top of the timesheets.
The world returned to normal in a dry FP3, after a strange occurrence which briefly saw Morbidelli at the top of the list. Pecco crashed out, and was denied a fast time.
So some of the big names had to go through Qualifying One to get to Qualifying Two, and things were still looking a little lop-sided as race day approached. Pecco, Marc Marquez, Jack, and Zarco were all flubbing about in Q1, until Pecco and Marc grabbed the top two spots which sent them to Q2. Jack had a brutal closed-throttle high-side to further add to his Phillip Island bruising, and landed himself in 14th on the grid.
It was intriguing watching Fabio’s face as he watched Pecco make his way into Q1. Expressionless…almost. He sure knew what was at stake.
It was even more intriguing seeing Pecco’s girlfriend, Domizia, so massively stressed out she would not have looked out of place kneeling in front a statue of the Virgin Mary with handfuls of rosary beads. As it was, she was in the Ducati pit radiating angst like my old science teacher when I arrived to dissect the rats.
Fabulous had broken a finger on his left hand in a Practice session, so his 12th place on the grid was not a surprise. Pecco then crashed out in Q2, and was relegated to ninth on the grid. The Captain, who’d lost the wheels off his championship bus two rounds ago, was unable to get higher on the grid than 10th, so everyone who was playing for the championship was now in midfield.
On the first row sat Jorge Martin, who’d blasted a new lap record around Sepang, and put himself on pole. The Beast was in second, and Marc Marquez held third.
Behind them sat Bezzecchi, Rins, and Marini – and Fabulous once again had an entire ocean of Ducatis to plough through.
Mathematically, if Pecco won, and Fabulous came fourth or worse, then Davide Tardozzi could open the box of T-shirts he’s been carting around with him all year, and we would have a new world champion. There were, of course, other scenarios which would see Pecco win, but that is the one that went on to apply during the race.
Pecco blazed off the start – he later said it was the best start of his career – and went from ninth to second by the first corner. Martin had the holeshot, while Marc sat behind him, followed by Morbidelli and Fabulous, who also managed a decent start.
Franki’s presence at the pointy end surprised and delighted me. But his Double Long-Lap Penalty did not delight him. He’d committed crimes against the racing line and he had to pay. And it cost him dearly. He’d looked ready to assist his team-mate Fabulous in any way he could. And just where the hell have you been all year, Franki?
Martin quickly eked out a half-second gap on his chasers, while Aleix accelerated his way to the back of the field. Behind Pecco sat the Beast, and the more I looked, the more it seemed Pecco was holding the Beast up.
Fabulous was in a solid fifth, and had a crack at passing Marc, which he did, only to be passed back. But as one would expect of a reigning world champion, he made the next pass stick, and grabbed fourth.
This saw Marc fade into the clutches of Mir and Rins, both of whom were trying very hard to stay with the boys in front. But no-one was staying with Martin. He now had a one-second lead, and growing. Fabulous, in fourth, was another two-point-seven seconds behind Pecco and the Beast.
Bezzecchi was also starting to make his play and he’d moved up behind Mir and Rins, and all three were preparing to hose Marc.
The Ducati pit was tightrope tense, but when Martin suddenly crashed out and gave Pecco the lead, that tightrope became piano-wire taut. Pecco’s girlfriend could not bring herself to look.
So Pecco led, the Beast followed, and almost three seconds behind him came Fabulous. Bezzecchi had passed Rins and Mir, and was now spanking Marc Marquez for fourth place.
If he caught and passed Fabulous, and Pecco won, Pecco would be crowned the champion. As Bezzecchi was also now the fastest man on the track, this looked to be a distinct possibility. There were careful smiles in the Ducati garage.
And every one of them was wiped off when the Beast passed Pecco, relegating him to second, and leaving the championship still within Fabulous’s grasp.
The Ducati pit became a hive of activity. All the Bologna myrmidons were having huddles, and meetings, and running to and from the monitors on pit wall. Even Gigi ventured out from his cave to consult with Tardozzi et al. Pecco’s missus was insane with nerves, and now praying.
And so it went for a whole lotta laps. The Beast led Pecco, Fabulous languished 2.7 seconds behind them – he was lapping as fast as they were (and sometimes a touch faster), but he needed to be going a good deal faster if he was to catch them before the end of the race.
His other problem was that Bezzecchi was closing in on him, and the Ducati garage was becoming ever more frantic with each passing lap. They’d been waiting for a title since 2007. They’d already secured the Manufacturers Championship, and would see the Teams Championship go to Bologna at the end of the race. But Ducati wants the Riders Championship. Bad.
Five laps from the end, Pecco passed the Beast. It looked legit. The Beast later said he then found it impossible to pass Pecco. He seemed to have no trouble earlier on, but who knows? Maybe his tyres were going off. Yeah, that would be it, right?
Six laps from the end, Fabulous started to creep up on them both. He’d managed to keep Bezzecchi at bay in a feat of riding prowess that cannot be understated – he was eclipsed only by Jack Miller, who’d ridden his way back to sixth pace after being back in 21st at one stage.
But it was just too late for Fabulous to have a shot at second or even first place. Nonetheless, the championship is still live. Tardozzi may have cut the sticky-tape off the T-shirt carton, but he now has to take that carton with him to Spain – and hope that Fabulous cracks before Pecco.
It will be epic.
2022 Sepang MotoGP Race Results
|DNF||Darryn BINDER||YAMAHA||10 laps|
|DNF||Fabio DI GIANNANTONIO||DUCATI||10 laps|
|DNF||Jorge MARTIN||DUCATI||14 laps|
|DNF||Tetsuta NAGASHIMA||HONDA||16 laps|
|DNF||Luca MARINI||DUCATI||19 laps|
MotoGP Championship Points Standings
|20||DI GIANNANTONIO Fabio||ITA||23|