Up-and-coming Japanese hero Ai Ogura (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia Kalex) scored a wonderful home-race Grand Prix victory at sunny Motegi today, after starting from 13th on the grid.
The 21-year-old from Saitama’s third win of the year was a huge delight for the Motegi fans, who cheered Ogura all the way as he worked his way through from the fifth row to take the lead on lap 13 of 22. His victory was also hugely important for the 2022 Moto2 World Championship because it moves him to within just two points of series leader Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo Kalex), who chased Ogura for the last half of the race, putting the Japanese youngster under huge pressure.
However, Ogura handled the pressure perfectly, the gap between the two changing by a few tenths lap after lap. At the finish he was 1.192 seconds in front.
And he couldn’t have chosen a better place to score the most crucial victory of his career so far, because this is the first Japanese GP since 2019, so local fans have been starved of live world-class motorcycle-racing action. Not only that, Ogura’s latest success was the first by a Japanese rider at a Japanese GP since his IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia team manager Hiroshi Aoyama won the 250cc race here in 2006!
The first few laps were frantic as pole-position man Aron Canet (Flexbox HP40 Kalex) crashed out of the lead on lap four, which put Ogura’s team-mate Somkiat Chantra (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia Kalex) into first place. The 23-year-old Thai rider had started from the second row and was in excellent form, leading for three laps before Alonso Lopez (Beta Tools Speed Up Boscoscuro) took over at the front.
By this stage of the race Ogura had fought his way through from fifth at the end of the first lap to also pass Chantra and move into second. Ogura chased Lopez for six laps, biding his time, before engaging in a brief duel with Lopez. On lap 14 he rode his fastest lap to leave Lopez in his wake.
But Ogura never got a moment to relax. Fernandez was also on the charge, coming through from tenth on lap one to move into second and go after his title rival. Fernandez set the fastest lap, Ogura immediately responded by raising the pace, then Fernandez bettered him again. But Ogura was unbreakable – he kept his cool and won the race to receive rapturous applause from the crowd.
Lopez took third, some distance back and just ahead of Jake Dixon (Shimoko GASGAS Aspar Team) who came on strong in the final stages, just half a second behind Lopez at the end.
Chantra settled into a battle for fifth place with Tony Arbolino (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex), which he comfortably won, boosting his morale for his home Grand Prix at the Chang International Circuit, race 17of 20.
The top ten was completed by Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo Kalex), Albert Arenas (Shimoko GASGAS Aspar Team). Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team Kalex) and Filip Salac (Gresini Racing Moto2 Kalex).
Today’s racing at Motegi followed last Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix and precedes next weekend’s Thai round of the World Championship. MotoGP continues its eastern tour with the Australian and Malaysian GPs, before returning the Europe for the season finale at Valencia, Spain.