Alex Marquez snatched his maiden Grand Prix victory from under the nose of Maverick Vinales as the Moto3 championship was blown wide open in Japan. Title favourites Luis Salom and Alex Rins both crashed out of a dramatic race with Vinales moving between the two in the championship, the top three separated by just five points heading to the finale at Valencia.
Marquez hit the front on the opening lap but the race burst into life moments later with Salom’s title hopes taking a seemingly terminal blow at turn nine. Ironically, it was Isaac Vinales, cousin of Salom’s championship rival Maverick, who highsided his FTR Honda and wiped Luis out. Scuffed leathers and all, Salom remounted and set about repeatedly breaking the lap record but just when he looked on course to salvage some points, the Red Bull KTM Ajo rider highsided all by himself, ending his race for good.
In his absence, Vinales and Rins went into battle at the front with Marquez continuing to complicate matters by pushing past his Estrella Galicia teammate for second on lap twelve. The move certainly didn’t go down well with Rins but he would only have himself to blame for a crash at the last corner of lap fifteen. Maverick Vinales couldn’t believe his luck as all of a sudden, he had gone from rank outsider to provisional championship leader four laps from the finish.
After initially losing his cool with Marquez, Rins was now looking to his younger compatriot to do him a favour and stop Vinales from winning. On the penultimate lap, Marquez dived through at turn one but Vinales, sick of seeing victories slip through his fingers this year, pushed back past at turn nine but the top two were still nose-to-tail with a lap to come.
Vinales resisted Marquez’s KTM on the drag race to turn one but the Calvo rider left the door wide open at turn nine, allowing Marquez to pull off an identical move to the one which saw them swap places a lap earlier. Despite being buried in the slipstream on the run to the finish line, Vinales came up short by 0.027s as Marquez claimed his first GP win but in truth, Maverick was the big winner as he closed to within two points of Salom. Ahead of the showdown in Valencia, all three title contenders now know a victory on home soil will crown them Moto3 champion.
A lonely Jonas Folger completed the podium in third ahead of Miguel Oliveira while Romano Fenati rode a stunning race to take fifth from 26th on the grid. Jack Miller and John McPhee finished sixth and seventh for Racing Team Germany, just 0.007s apart, with the Briton claiming his career-best result but Alexis Masbou will feel that would have been eighth had he not fallen himself at the final corner.
Niklas Ajo finished eighth for Avant Tecno ahead of Niccolo Antonelli with Brad Binder rounding out the top ten but the South African may yet have his wrist slapped for taking out Zulfahmi Khairuddin at the very first corner.