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Talking points ahead of the Indonesian MotoGP™

Thursday, 12 October 2023

Take a MotoGP™ title fight that's building nicely to the boil and send it to a circuit where the field has limited knowledge and features unpredictable weather, and it's hard to imagine how Lombok won't provide loads of entertainment.

It's tight at the top – with six rounds remaining of what's turning into a compelling MotoGP™ season, there's just three points separating the champ (Pecco Bagnaia) from the challenger (Jorge Martin), with pedigree and stability the calling cards of the former, and momentum on the side of the latter.

It's a delicious recipe no matter where in the world MotoGP™ would be heading next; add the relative unknown of the Mandalika International Street Circuit for this weekend's second Indonesian Motorcycle Grand Prix (October 13-15), and high drama is almost a given.

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If Indonesia's debut seems like a long time ago, you're right – it was second of 20 races last season and held in March, meaning there's been 32 Grands Prix (and 14 Sprints) since MotoGP™ made the rounds at Mandalika.

There was no shortage of drama – or water – in last year's Lombok debut, where KTM's Miguel Oliveira splashed through the puddles better than everyone else to become the inaugural premier-class winner, and Marc Marquez had the highest of high-sides in the Sunday morning warm-up and missed the first two of what was to become eight races on the sidelines in 2022.

Marquez – of course – has been in the headlines since the last race in Japan as his plans to end his long association with Honda finally became public – that’ll be discussed ad infinitum this weekend off track, so here’s three talking points to consider on it.

The hunter, but for how much longer?

Consider this sequence: 1-1-1-2-1-1 – that's where Martin has finished across the Sprints and Grands Prix in San Marino, India and Japan before heading to Indonesia, the Spaniard taking 106 of a possible 111 points in three weekends to slash Bagnaia's series lead from 50 points to almost nothing.

Bagnaia's consistency is keeping him atop the standings for now – the factory Ducati man has finished on the podium 21 times in the 24 races where he's seen the chequered flag – but he seemingly can't count on Martin beating himself any more. The Pramac Ducati man isn't throwing the bike down the road like he did in 2022, when he failed to finish one-quarter of the races.

Martin's win in Japan was worth more than 25 points for its sheer intimidation factor; after running off track and dropping to ninth on lap three, it took him all of four laps to storm past the eight riders ahead of him – Bagnaia included – to take a lead he'd never relinquish.

The Spaniard has raced with a 'nothing to lose' attitude against Bagnaia since Catalunya, which is easy to do when you're coming from behind and riding for a satellite team, albeit on 2023 factory-spec machinery. Will Martin leave Indonesia in the ascendancy, and will his approach change if he becomes the target rather than doing the targeting?

KTM's carbon fibre flyer

Jack Miller wasn't going to be drawn into saying a lot about KTM's new chassis in Japan last time out – a knowing grin was his response to most enquiries. But both his smile and the stopwatch were the biggest giveaways that the Austrian marque's new frame was both an improvement and – he hopes – a solution to a season that had slumped after a promising start.

After Dani Pedrosa had raced the carbon fibre chassis to fourth in a stunning first-up showing at Misano, both Miller and teammate Brad Binder tried it and liked it in the one-day test that followed; it then became a race against time to get two frames ready as soon as possible, no mean feat given the series started on its Asian swing soon after San Marino.

Miller looked more like the rider who started the season for KTM at Motegi, immediately qualifying on the front row and fighting for a podium in the Sprint, while Binder finished behind only Martin in the short-form race.

Motegi's race-day rain kept us – and KTM – wondering what the bike could do over a longer distance in dry conditions, making this Sunday at Mandalika one to watch if we get clear skies.

Aprilia back in the game?

Japan was important for Aleix Espargaro; the Spanish veteran, winner at Silverstone and Catalunya earlier this year, banked a fifth-place result at Motegi to allay fears that the Asian leg of the season was heading the way of 2022, when he plummeted from title contention once the series left Europe.

This season – those two victories aside – hasn't hit the same high notes for Aprilia and its talisman, but the fast and flowing nature of the Mandalika circuit should suit the supple RS-GP down to the ground, meaning the 34-year-old's expectations can justifiably be sky-high.

Espargaro has made Q2 at every race this year – only Bagnaia and Martin can claim the same – and should be a podium threat in the dry. And if it rains again? Aprilia has last year's winner, Oliveira, lurking … the Portuguese rider rocketed towards the front in Japan before struggling with vision problems with his visor as the rain intensified, and both of his victories in his final year at KTM last season came in the wet.

Indonesian MotoGP™ fast facts
Circuit name/location: Mandalika International Street Circuit, Lombok
Length/laps: 4.3km, 27 laps (MotoGP™), 22 laps (Moto2™), 20 laps (Moto3™)
Grands Prix held/debut: 1, 2022
Most successful rider: Miguel Oliveira (one win)
2022 podium 1st: Miguel Oliveira (KTM), 2nd: Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha), 3rd: Johann Zarco (Ducati)

The 2023 Indonesian Motorcycle Grand Prix will be available to watch live on Foxtel and Kayo. See our What time does the 2023 Indonesian MotoGP™ start in Australia article for timings.