Only one word sums up the 2022 Grand Prix of Japan—dramatic. After a three-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MotoGP Championship returned to Twin Ring Motegi on September 23-25, 2022. The riders reacquainted themselves with the three-mile course under Friday’s gray skies. Those clouds opened up on Saturday, though, hammering the circuit with torrential rain and shaking up the qualifying schedule.
The wet track challenged the top three championship contenders, with neither qualifying higher than sixth position. After all was said and done, unlikely poleman Marc Marquez best adapted to the tricky conditions. Fortunately, the race gods brought sunny skies to the Tochigi Prefecture on Sunday. Still, the drama never ceased.
During the pre-race warm-up lap, Aprilia rider and title contender Aleix Espargaro looked at odds with his RS-GP 22 race bike. As the rest of the riders rolled into their grip positions, Espargaro peeled into pit lane. An electronics error forced number 41 to ditch his number one bike—tossing it to the ground in the process—in favor of his backup machine. The swap also pushed the luckless rider to the back of the 25-rider field.
As the lights went out, Marquez, KTM’s Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira, and Prima Pramac Ducati’s Jorge Martin charged to the front. However, Ducati Factory rider Jack Miller proved he had the superior pace after just a few laps. The Aussie eventually took the checkered flag by a comfortable 3.4-second margin, but the drama unfolded further down the field.
Reigning champion and current points leader Fabio Quartararo started the race in ninth position but couldn’t cut his way through the pack. After exchanging overtakes with VR 46 Ducati’s Luca Marini, El Diablo settled into eighth place. His Yamaha M1’s lack of acceleration made passing nearly impossible and dropped him into the clutches of main title rival Francesco Bagnaia.
The Ducati Factory pilot had his fair share of struggles throughout the race too. After battling with future teammate Enea Bastianini, Pecco found enough late-race pace to challenge Quartararo on the last lap. Sadly, an ambitious overtaking maneuver at turn two sent number 63 careening into the gravel trap.
Further back, Aleix Espargaro sliced through the field, making up nine positions throughout the 24-lap race. The Aprilia rider’s 16th-place finishes only added salt to the wound, as he failed to secure a point-scoring position. Though neither championship challenger scored a point at the Twin Ring, Quartararo didn’t exactly capitalize on the opportunity, only scoring eight points himself.
Even the surprise poleman, Marc Marquez, finished higher than the champion elect with a stunning fourth place. Next, MotoGP will return to Thailand’s Buriram International Circuit on October 2, 2022. After a three-year hiatus, anything could happen at the Thailand GP, and if the Grand Prix of Japan is any indication, we can’t wait for the drama to unfold.