Tom Luthi has secured his third victory of the season at the Twin Ring Motegi Circuit, after the Swiss rider replicated his ominous race pace he had shown throughout the free practice sessions, holding off championship leader Johann Zarco in the process. Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS rider Franco Morbidelli converted his fantastic third in qualifying into and impressive third on race day after a mouthwatering duel with Takaaki Nakagami. Championship protagonists Sam Lowes and Alex Rins saw their title aspirations take a huge blow as both hit the deck.
When the lights went out on the grid, it was Luthi who bolted off the line and the Interwetten rider led into the first couple of corners. Reigning World Champion Zarco got bogged down on the start and found himself in fifth by the end of lap one. Its not the start the Frenchman would have wanted as he is trying to extend his championship lead. Only Morbidelli was able to charge after Luthi.
Down the grid drama ensued, as title contender Rins crashed out while trying to make up places from P22 on the grid. The Spaniard was only trailing Zarco by one point heading into the weekend after strong displays in the previous rounds. However a massive crash in free practice on Friday resulted in him re-injuring his shoulder which affected his performance throughout the weekend.
While Luthi and Morbidelli Cleared away, Zarco found himself tangled with Championship rival Lowes but disaster struck for the Brit as he slid out at turn 10, giving the Frenchman some breathing space.
With his two main rivals out and a gap emerging behind him, the Ajo Motorsport rider did not need to be involved in any tussles as his main objective was to extend his lead in the championship. Nakagami took advantage of this situation and made his way past Zarco with 20 laps to go.
Surprisingly Zarco never reduced his pace and he tagged on to the flying Honda Team Asia rider for next ten laps. A mistake from the Japanese rider with nine laps remaining allowed the confident Zarco to take third with the struggling Morbidelli, who was suffering with rear grip issue, also slipping into the clutches of the Frenchmen.
Up the road, Luthi has established a solid two second lead over the chase, but this lead would be very short lived as the charging Zarco powered his way across, to minimize to gap to just seven tenths with four laps remaining. The Swiss rider responded however and within the next lap was matching the Ajo Motorsport rider’s lap times. Holding his nerve, Luthi took his fourth win of the season. This win moves him ahead of Lowes in the championship to third, cutting Zarco’s advantage over him to 43 points.
The fight for the final place on the podium heated up between Morbidelli and Nakagami in the final stages of the race. Heading into the final lap, Nakagami made a hopeful move into turn 9 which boosted him into third temporarily but the cunning Italian muscled his way back past turn 11 and held on for his fifth podium of the season.
Behind the top four, Sandro Cortese finished his 200th GP in a solid fifth place. Simone Corsi pipped fellow grand prix veterans Mattia Pasini and Julian Simon. Marcel Shrotter and Xavier Simeon completed the top ten.