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#MatchPointPecco: Sepang ready to serve up a storm

It could be the biggest comeback in history. Can the Ducati rider wrap up the crown?

Wednesday, 19 October 2022

There have been thrills, there have been spills, and there have been turning points aplenty in 2022. But perhaps the most significant so far was the Australian GP, as Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) crashed out and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) took to the podium. With it, the Italian gained the Championship lead – and he’s gone from 91 points back to now 14 points ahead, which is the biggest deficit overcome to date. So can he complete the comeback with the crown?

Sepang hosts his first chance to take that first premier class Championship, with four contenders remaining. Bagnaia is Champion if he wins and Quartararo doesn’t finish on the podium; if he finishes P2, Quartararo doesn’t finish better than P7 and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) doesn’t win; if he finishes P3, Quartararo doesn’t finish better than P11 and Aleix Espargaro doesn’t finish on the podium; he finishes P4, Quartararo doesn’t finish better than P14 and Aleix Espargaro doesn’t finish on the podium; or he finishes P5, Quartararo fails to score any points and Aleix Espargaro doesn’t finish on the podium. A little light maths for us all to enjoy on Sunday…

For Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), meanwhile, it’s a final stand too. He’s 42 points back so the Italian is on the verge of falling out of contention if that gap is more than 24 points at the flag. And that’s what happened to Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) after that bad luck at Phillip Island as the Australian lost the chance to fight for more points through no fault of his own. Still, Thriller was quick and could be a key player, whether in the fight for the win or as Bagnaia’s teammate.

After weeks of discussion, stablemates are definitely something to look out for as the title fight reaches fever pitch. The likes of Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) already stated in Thailand that he chose to minimise the risk when behind Bagnaia at Buriram, Miller has played the perfect back up man before, and it looked on Sunday like Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) had a couple of moments he could have attacked Bagnaia was there a different dynamic to the situation. But minimising risk when fighting for the crown is a very different thing to team orders – who plays fast and loose on the verge of history?

Speaking of history, after Australia, also means speaking of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) as the number 93 just missed out on the win but secured that 100th premier class podium – and first since his return. He says he’ll find Sepang tougher again but he’s no stranger to glory at the Malaysian venue, and is certainly once again a presence that can’t be counted out in the fight at the front. He also has no reason whatsoever to particularly care what’s happening in the title fight around him either, with a singular sight set on getting the maximum possible from his weekend.

The same is also true of Team Suzuki Ecstar. It’s been a tougher season for some time, but Alex Rins’ stunning win in Australia was a much-needed boost for all those in the team – and the rider. And it was a stunner, with a last lap playing the opposite cards to the other time Rins defeated Marquez at Silverstone… this time there was no perfectly pitched late strike for glory, there was just a long, long push to the line closing every door along the way. And close them he did, so Rins could be one to watch arriving in the wake of that performance. Joan Mir too, who was hampered by tyre pressure woes in Australia but had some good Sunday pace he didn’t get to show off, will be hoping to play more of a role this time out.

Finally, the calling card of Sunday pace: Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). Australia wasn’t the weekend he or teammate Miguel Oliveira would have wanted, but both made big leaps forward on race day to score some solid points again. Binder, for his part, still sits sixth in the Championship behind Miller and ahead of Zarco – testament to the South African’s consistency. He’ll want to try and keep that edge, and Oliveira is within two points of Rins in eighth, too. There remains much to be decided even as the clock ticks down.

In the Championships, there’s still plenty on the line too. Bastianini could be crowned top Independent Team rider ahead of Zarco if he can keep the gap at or above 25 points from a current 32, and Ducati Lenovo Team have another chance to wrap up the teams’ title. Rookie of the Year, meanwhile, is now a done deal as Bezzecchi wrapped it up.

Phillip Island was arguably the race of the season so far, and we’re already recharged and ready to go again at Sepang. Can Pecco play his match point or will there be another twist? Find out on Sunday at 15:00 (GMT +8) local time as the Malaysian venue turns up the heat.

MotoGP™ CHAMPIONSHIP: THE CONTENDERS

1 Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) – Ducati – 233

2 Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) – Yamaha – 219

3 Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) – Aprilia – 206

4 Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) – Ducati – 191

Ogura sets his sights on glory

The Japanese rider has his first shot at the crown in Malaysia, but it’s a long one as Fernandez looks to make amends

Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) had chance to capitalise big Down Under as Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) suffered arguably his toughest weekend of the season so far, languishing outside the top ten. But in a shock twist on Sunday, Fernandez slid out from third and what would have been a sizeable points lead, meaning it’s Ogura who instead heads to Sepang with his first match point.

The gap, however, remains tiny. It’s just 3.5 points but that is enough to mean that, if Ogura wins and Fernandez doesn’t finish better than 13th, the title goes to the Japanese rider. Will Fernandez hold his nerve? Can Ogura come out swinging and bounce back? The psychology of heading into the round knowing you made a mistake vs knowing you just weren’t that fast is an interesting balance. So who will balance it best?

One rider who doesn’t need to balance much is Alonso Lopez (Beta Tools SpeedUp) as the rookie pulled off a stunning second win, overcoming a Long Lap and still winning by over three seconds – before pulling a literal ace out of his sleeve after the flag. He will most definitely be pushing to lead the resistance as the rest of the field fight it out for their own glory.

Don’t miss another stunner at 13:20 (GMT +8) as Moto2™ go racing at Sepang International Circuit.

Moto2™ CHAMPIONSHIP: THE CONTENDERS

1 Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) – Kalex – 242

2 Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) – Kalex – 238.5

Moto3™: the fight for second heats up at Sepang

The crown is decided, but it’s a close fight for silver as the lightweight class arrives in Malaysia

Izan Guevara (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) went from Champion elect to Champion confirmed at Phillip Island, but as Moto3™ heads for Sepang there remains plenty on the line. Sergio Garcia (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) stemmed the flow of points against him with a first podium for some time, Ayumu Sasaki (Sterilgarda Husqvarna Max) was close to the rostrum again and Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) had a tougher weekend – resulting in the three being covered by 18 points ahead of the penultimate race of the year. So who will come out swinging?

The respite from a tougher run should see Garcia back to what’s more his best, and Sasaki is the most consistent rider of late – practice in pace and on race day. Foggia will want more of that after winning in Buriram and then struggling in Australia. But with the long straight at Sepang they could have a little more competition this time around, and the likes of Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech3), back to near fitness, will be aiming high at a track he knows well.

There’s also a Malaysian presence on the grid as Syarifuddin Azman wildcards with VisionTrack. The JuniorGP™ race winner certainly has track knowledge on his side, and he’ll want to make an impression on home turf.

Moto3™ head out at the slightly later local time of 12:00 (GMT +8) this weekend, so tune in as the gloves – and pressure – come off!

Moto3™ CHAMPIONSHIP: THE FIGHT FOR RUNNER UP

1 Izan Guevara (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) – GASGAS – 290

2 Sergio Garcia (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) – GASGAS – 225

3 Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) – Honda – 223

4 Ayumu Sasaki (Sterilgarda Husqvarna Max) – Husqvarna – 207

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