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Dani Pedrosa staved off championship rival Jorge Lorenzo in a close-fought Grand Prix of Japan at Twin Ring Motegi this afternoon. The Repsol Honda rider secured his fourth win in five races to slash another 5 points off Lorenzo's lead in the championship.
Alvaro Bautista of San Carlo Gresini Honda was ecstatic after scoring his second podium in third place, getting the better of Cal Crutchlow in a thrilling battle in the closing laps of the race.
Returning to action this weekend was World Champion Casey Stoner at Repsol Honda, following recuperation from his ankle injury sustained in Indianapolis. The Australian was not at a hundred percent, but was raring to go aiming to compete in the final rounds before he retires at the end of the season. He was mathematically out of the championship prior to the race.
Other driver changes through the field for the weekend included a return for Ivan Silva at Avintia Blusens replacing David Salom, and Roberto Rolfo coming in in place of compatriot Mattia Pasini at the Speed Master team.
Nicky Hayden raced through the weekend carrying a fracture in this right radius after that horrible tumble in Aragon.
Following all-dry practice sessions in the run up to the race, qualifying on Saturday saw Yamaha Factory Racing's Lorenzo steal pole position from Pedrosa in the final minutes, breaking the lap record for the circuit in the process. Cal Crutchlow completed the front row of the grid in third place for Tech 3 Yamaha, while Ben Spies headed row 2 for Yamaha. Bautista lined up 5th, in front of Andrea Dovizioso's who was frustrated to be only 6th fastest. A struggling Stoner could manage a 7th spot, alongside Stefan Bradl's LCR Honda. The Ducatis of Valentino Rossi and Hayden lined up 9th and 10th on the grid.
As the lights went out at the start, Lorenzo got a good start but it was Pedrosa who had the run to turn 1 into the holeshot. But the Yamaha was having none of it, aggressively cutting back round the outside to retake the position by the exit of the corner. Ben Spies also got a good start to jump Crutchlow to third, but his race lasted only 1 lap as he couldn't slow down into Turn 1 and ran straight across the gravel into the wall and retirement.
Stoner had a great start as well and was up two places by the first lap, further promoted to fourth after Spies' exit. He was, however, taken by a quicker Bautista on the third lap and had to begin fending off Bradl behind him.
In a crash-affected first lap, Randy de Puniet went off at the hairpin by was able to continue on his Aspar, but the biggest of the incidents was Avintia's Yonny Hernandez's fall which dislocated his left top-shoulder joint.
The Spanish duo flew away from the rest of the pack, but Lorenzo was unable to shake off the hotly pursuing Pedrosa. The gap was never beyond 0.4s as Pedrosa kept Lorenzo honest, waiting for a chance to pounce. He had to wait 11 laps for that opportunity when he deftly pulled off a pass on the straight into turn 5. Once past, he never looked back, steadily upping his lead to the 4.2s interval at the chequered flag for his fifth win of the year.
The fight for third was more thrilling towards the closing laps. Crutchlow had held the position for a good 19 tours, some distance away from the leaders. Bautista meanwhile had chipped away at the gap to the Brit, which was as high as 1.5s by lap 10 to be right at his tail. The Spaniard passed Crutchlow on lap 20, but the position was taken right back down the inside by the Yamaha. Bautista wasn't about to give up and repassed the Brit even as they touched around a bend. It was to end in tears for Crutchlow, however, as his bike ran out of fuel on the very last lap while he was in 4th place.
Inheriting that position was teammate Dovizioso, who had overtaken Stoner on lap 17. The Australian finished a creditable 5th, 4s clear of Bradl. The Ducatis followed home in 7th and 8th, Rossi ahead of Hayden, who narrowly beat Japanese wildcard Katsuyuki Nakasuga on a Yamaha. Hector Barbera rounded off the top 10 for Pramac Honda, with Aleix Espargaro once again the top CRT bike in 12th place.
Pedrosa's win shaved off another 5 points from Lorenzo's lead which now stands at 28 points with three races to go in the season. The Mallorcan leads at 310 points to Pedrosa's 282, with Stoner a distant third at 197.
Repsol Honda are now 100 points clear of Yamaha in the team standings with 396 points, while the tightly contested constructor's championship saw Honda increase the gap to Yamaha to 11 points, at 337 to the bluw-and-white squad's 326 points.
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