Jorge Martin narrowed the gap on championship leader Francesco Bagnaia to just three points with six races left on Sunday after winning a Japan MotoGP cut short by rain.
Starting from pole, the Spaniard had already cut the difference to Italy’s Bagnaia to only eight points on Saturday with his third straight sprint victory and fifth of the season.
Ducati’s Bagnaia came second in the race, giving the defending world champion 319 points compared to 316 for Martin from Ducati satellite team Pramac. Marc Marquez took third.
The 24-lap race began under overcast skies and light rain quickly intensified once the race started in mountainous Motegi.
This made for treacherous conditions with slippery turns and a sea of spray, and most riders came into the pits early on to change tyres.
Martin and Bagnaia worked their way back to the top of the field before organisers suspended the race with 12 laps to go.
They attempted a restart but the red flags quickly came out again and the riders were awarded full points according to their positions at the stoppage.
“I was committed to do a great result today,” Martin said afterwards.
“I felt really good with the rear grip and I was able to overtake all of them (after the pit stop) and make this gap to win today,” he added.
“I’m so so happy. Luckily everybody’s away but it was too dangerous to keep going,” he added.
Bagnaia said he was happy with the result but said he thought he could have overtaken Martin.
“I was hoping to do more laps to catch Jorge because I was trying to gain (on him) lap by lap without pushing too much,” he said.
“Unluckily, we didn’t have time to finish the race… I think, with the time management, I was quite competitive in the last part of the race,” he said.
Looking ahead, Bagnaia said competition was turning more “difficult” and “intense” as he duelled with Martin for the championship.
“I think it will be interesting. Could be a great fight. For sure, it’s more intense right now. It’s more difficult,” he said.
Six-time world champion Marquez on Honda made his first podium finish of the year at the home circuit of the Japanese brand.
He started from the third row, but as rain caused other riders to go wide or even into gravel, the Spaniard saw an opening to race to the podium.
“I enjoyed (it). In the beginning of the race I was very calm, just tried to understand the tyres,” Marquez said.
“When I saw that there was water on the track, I started to attack and I was increasing the speed step by step,” he said.
South African Brad Binder on KTM crashed out early in the race. He set a lap record on Friday, before Martin renewed it on Saturday.
Johann Zarco also crashed and was not allowed to return to the race after he took a shortcut to get back into the pit lane.
Last weekend, Martin had already narrowed the difference to 13 points in India in Greater Noida.
This was after Bagnaia catastrophically crashed out in hot and humid conditions just over halfway through the race.
In qualifying on Saturday, Martin had set a new lap record at a dry Motegi of one minute, 43.198 seconds, followed 0.171 seconds later by Bagnaia, and 0.353 seconds by 2022 Japanese GP winner Jack Miller on KTM.