Top 10 motorcycle racing moments of 2023

As ever, motorcycle racing delivered on a number of occasions in 2023, and here are our favourite racing moments of the past year

Fabio Di Giannantonio chases Francesco Bagnaia, 2023 MotoGP Qatar Grand Prix. - Gold and Goose

Motorcycle racing delivered on multiple fronts and across all disciplines in 2023, from to-the-wire title fights to epic on-track duels, from the dirt to the asphalt, and from national series’ to the world stage.

Whether it was Francesco Bagnaia defeating Jorge Martin at the final MotoGP race in Valencia for the riders’ title, Jett Lawrence going undefeated in his first championship on a 450, or Toprak Razgatlioglu and Alvaro Bautista going head-to-head in WorldSBK, there was plenty to enjoy at the race track in 2023.

Here, we’ll go through our top 10 sporting moments of the year.

Tarran Mackenzie wins Czech WorldSSP

Tarran Mackenzie left a relatively comfortable, title-contending ride in the British Superbike Championship behind in 2023 to go and chase his World Championship dream.

He landed on Midori Moriwaki’s MIE Honda CBR600RR in the Supersport World Championship, and the bike was horribly uncompetitive. 

Mackenzie was able to show what he could do at the first race of the season in Phillip Island, where the rain played its performance-equalising role in Race 1, allowing Mackenzie to work around his bike’s speed issues to finish fifth.

By the Czech round at the Autodrom Most, any hope of significant performance gains for the CBR600RR during the 2023 season had mostly evaporated. And it was a similar evaporation - this time of the water from the Most track surface - that put Mackenzie in position to win in the World Championship for the first time. 

Many of the top contenders started Race 2 in Most on wet or intermediate tyres, but Mackenzie was one of a number of riders to start on slicks. That paid off when the track dried out and the leaders pitted, but Mackenzie took the race for himself by being the fastest and most consistent rider on slicks as the track dried. The improvement in track conditions meant that Mackenzie faced some late pressure from Marcel Schrotter, but the German ran out of time, and Mackenzie took an important and emotional victory.

Ken Roczen puts Suzuki back on top

‘Kickstart Kenny’ was a neat nickname given to Ken Roczen for the 2023 season of AMA Supercross, Pro Motocross, World Supercross, and the inaugural season of America’s SuperMotocross World Championship, in all of which Roczen would compete for Suzuki

It was mostly a meme nickname, but its humour lay in truth: the Suzuki RM-Z450 is old, so old that it has a kick-starter, and so how could it compete against the likes of Yamaha’s all-new-for-2023 YZ450F, or the Honda CRF450R that Roczen had left behind after the end of the 2022 season?

At the Indianapolis Supercross, Roczen proved that, in the right conditions, the Suzuki is still a match for anything, taking a tense victory ahead - narrowly - of Justin Barcia’s GasGas MC450F. It was a great win for Roczen, who held a kick-starter on the podium, and for the HEP Suzuki team, which had never won a race before.

Roczen went onto be a frontrunner in the second half of the AMA Supercross season, the rider closest to beating Jett Lawrence in the AMA Pro Motocross 450MX championship (more on that further down) despite only racing at High Point, the only rider to really challenge the Hondas in the SuperMotocross Finals, the 2023 World Supercross Champion, and the MXGP-class winner at the 2023 Motocross of Nations. 

But it’s Indianapolis that will always be the most memorable moment of 2023 for Roczen and the HEP Suzuki team.

Alex Rins wins for Honda

If Suzuki was an unlikely winner in AMA Supercross, Honda was similarly so in MotoGP. 

Before 2023, Marc Marquez was Honda’s last premier-class Grand Prix winner in October 2021 at the second Misano race of that season.

On the other hand, Alex Rins had won two of the last three races of 2022, in the dying days of the Suzuki Ecstar team. The GSX-RR Rins was forced to leave at the end of 2022 and the RC213V he boarded in 2023 could hardly have been more different. The GSX was simple, smooth, and sweet-handling; the Honda was complicated, aggressive, and electronically limited.

When Marc Marquez crashed at the season-opening Portuguese Grand Prix, breaking his thumb, it was assumed that Honda’s hopes of winning in 2023 would have to wait until he returned. After all, that was pretty much how it went for HRC since Cal Crutchlow’s last win at Argentina in 2018. 

But, Rins arrived at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas for the third round of 2023 and was immediately competitive. He qualified second, 0.160 seconds behind reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia on the dominant Ducati, and then finished the Sprint 2.5 seconds behind Bagnaia, but still in second place.

Surely, maintaining that podium pace for double the distance in the Grand Prix of the Americas would not be possible? On the contrary, Rins was the only rider with pace anywhere close to Bagnaia’s in the full-length race on Sunday, especially after Jack Miller crashed out. 

When the Italian fell at turn two on lap seven, Rins still had more than half the race to do, had Fabio Quartararo and Luca Marini only a couple of seconds behind, and now he had lost the tow of Bagnaia.

Rins, though, was able to maintain his pace regardless and took a memorable win for himself, HRC, and Lucio Cecchinello’s satellite LCR team. 

Unfortunately for Honda, by then, it had already frustrated Rins by not giving him new parts to test, and he soon signed for Yamaha. At Mugello, Rins broke his leg - an injury that practically ended his season and from which he is still recovering.

WorldSBK musical chairs

There were some big moves in rider markets across the motorcycle racing world in 2023. Chase Sexton won the AMA Supercross championship with Honda, having already signed to race for KTM in 2024, and some guy running the #93 decided to leave the factory Honda MotoGP team to race a satellite Ducati (we might have something on that a bit further down).

But WorldSBK’s silly season was pretty remarkable all on its own.

It was kicked off in Barcelona when Ducati called a press conference on the Thursday before the race. It looked like Alvaro Bautista - who had won the world title in 2022 and had dominated to that point in 2023 - was going to retire, and his rivals had assembled at the press conference to applaud him on what had turned into a distinctive career. But then he said he was going to continue for another year, and the rest of the paddock sighed.

2021 WorldSBK Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu knew that his Yamaha package was not going to be more competitive versus Bautista’s Ducati in 2024 than it had been in 2023, so looked for other options. He landed on BMW, much to Yamaha’s shock.

Yamaha’s choices then looked pretty slender, with Jonathan Rea - one of WorldSBK’s ‘three kings’ alongside Bautista and Razgatlioglu - shacked up with Kawasaki for another year after 2023. But then Rea made the same realisation Razgatlioglu had done and decided he would pay the price to get out of his Kawasaki contract early in order to sign with Yamaha for 2024. A glorious era was over, but a spectacular 2024 awaits.

Marc Marquez leaves HRC

Another piece of the WorldSBK story involved Ducati Corse General Manager Gigi Dall’Igna, who revealed at the Misano round of the production series that Andrea Iannone would ride one of Ducati’s satellite Panigales in 2024.

A few months later, at the Japanese Grand Prix, Dall’Igna told the media, basically, that Gresini Racing had signed Marc Marquez for the 2024 MotoGP season. It was not surprising news by then, because Marquez had essentially made his decision to leave Honda after the post-race test in Misano and described his Japanese GP podium as “romantic” in the post-race press conference in Motegi. 

But, while not surprising, the news was seismic for MotoGP, as the rider who is regarded as the best on the grid would now, once again, be on competitive machinery.

You could argue that this moment should be further up the list, but it matters more for the years to come than for 2023 itself, which Marquez ended by finishing on the podium in the Valencia Sprint, by being sent to the moon by Jorge Martin in the Valencia Grand Prix, and by riding a Ducati Desmosedici for the first time at the Valencia test.

Di Giannantonio gets it done in Qatar

Marc Marquez’s move to Ducati feels as though it will have implications for years to come. On the other hand, the rider he replaces at the Gresini team next year is unlikely to have a comparable impact on global motorcycle racing.

But, that does not mean that Fabio Di Giannantonio’s victory in the Qatar Grand Prix was meaningless. In fact, for 2023, it meant far more. It meant that Di Giannantonio, who was essentially discarded as not-quite-good-enough at the summer break was now a MotoGP race winner, and suddenly one of the most popular riders on the grid as a talented rider who suddenly had no ride. Following that Qatar win up with second place (at the flag, only to be denied the podium on paper by the tyre pressure rule) in Valencia was the final thing Di Giannantonio needed to confirm his place on the 2024 grid. 

Hopefully, another year in the premier class will be long enough for English media to learn how to say his name properly. 

MotoGP title fight goes to the wire

Who doesn’t love a to-the-wire title fight? Team managers, probably, but I’m not one of those, and I’d guess that most of you reading this aren’t one of those either.

The MotoGP title fight this year had pretty much everything. Sure, Francesco Bagnaia was leading by 66 points after the Barcelona Sprint, but the only reason I can write that number without looking is because we were reminded of that fact about three times a weekend as Jorge Martin whittled his deficit down, and even took the lead at one point.

Ultimately, this year’s MotoGP title fight had two critical moments. The first was the Catalan Grand Prix, where Bagnaia crashed on the exit of turn two on the first lap, and was run over by Brad Binder, who had nowhere to go but over the Italian’s legs. Somehow, Bagnaia escaped without any broken bones and kept himself in contention as his physical condition improved in the final part of the season.

That meant that it was not until the Indonesian Sprint that Jorge Martin took the points lead, and the next day saw the second crucial moment. Martin crashed on lap 13 of the Indonesian Grand Prix with a three-second lead. It was a crash caused by two things. The first was the understandable but excessive confidence Martin had accrued in the races since Barcelona, in which he had been the fastest rider and better than Bagnaia, and the second cause was the dirty track in Indonesia. When Martin ran wide at turn 10, pushing too hard, he picked up dirt on his tyres, which left him with reduced grip when he tipped into turn 11, and that was that - he washed the front and made his way back to the Pramac Ducati box by scooter. His confidence somewhat reset after that, and his only riding errors for the remainder of the year came in Valencia.

You could certainly argue that Martin would have been a deserving champion in 2023 - he was certainly the rider with the most raw speed. But the only Grand Prix in which Bagnaia saw the chequered flag and did not visit the podium was Argentina, where he crashed out of second place and remounted to finish 16th.

Bautista and Razgatlioglu battle it out… TWICE

The hunger to win is what drives all great champions. Marc Marquez gave up the most financially rewarding contract in MotoGP this year so that he can try to win his ninth world title in 2024 with Gresini, and Max Verstappen won this year’s F1 world title at a canter, only to then keep winning races after the championship was won and continue to be utterly distraught any time he felt things weren’t perfect. 

Many riders displayed such hunger in 2023, but on two particular occasions this year it became all-consuming for Toprak Razgatlioglu and Alvaro Bautista.

There’s no doubt that the Ducati Panigale V4 R is the best package in WorldSBK currently, and there is a similar conviction in the notion that Alvaro Bautista is the rider who extracts the most performance from that package on the most consistent basis.

Much of the Panigale’s advantage comes from its straight-line speed, which makes it a hard bike to race against, and that was on particular display at Portimao. What was also clear in Portugal was the bike’s exceptional rear grip, and it was this that finally did for Razgatlioglu in Race 2.

The Turkish rider kept up the fight for the whole race but could do nothing about the speed of the Ducati compared to his Yamaha between the final corner and the finish line.

A few weeks later, in Jerez, the battle was back on, again in Race 2. This time, it was even more fierce, and Bautista fought back in the corners, keen to show that his bike’s straight-line speed was not covering for any perceived lack of combat prowess on his own part.

Once again, the Jerez race came down to the final corner, with Razgatlioglu cutting the kerb on the inside to maintain the advantage on corner exit, and he took an ultimately meaningless but nonetheless tremendously exciting victory.

(And then the stewards took it away from him because he touched the green on the exit of the final corner, but we won’t care about that when we watch the race back in 15 years.)

These were the two best races of the year, hands down, and Razgatlioglu’s move to BMW next year promises many more of these battles.

Jett Lawrence goes unbeaten… as a ROOKIE

Up until 2023, two riders had gone unbeaten for a whole season of AMA Pro Motocross in the premier class. Ricky Carmichael did it first, back in the days of 250cc two-strokes in 2002, and then repeated the feat in 2004. Then, James Stewart did it in 2008. Whichever of those two you consider to be the best is up to you, but what is objective is that one more rider has added themselves to this most exclusive of lists in 2023.

Jett Lawrence was a great rider in the 250 class - he won four titles on a quarter-litre machine. But it was this summer, when he made his AMA Pro Motocross debut on the Honda CRF450R, that he showed his true potential. Lawrence, in his first season in the premier class, not only won the 450MX title but did so with an unbeaten record, winning all 22 motos.

What perhaps made Lawrence’s achievement even more special was that both Carmichael and Stewart were a part of the broadcast team throughout the season, which allowed Stewart to coin the term ‘Jeffortless’ to describe the Australian’s at-ease riding style.

Following the conclusion of the Pro Motocross season, Lawrence went on to win the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship in the 450 class, and he won the MXGP-Open race at the Motocross of Nations.

January will see Lawrence’s debut in the 450cc class of AMA Supercross, and his 2023 summer means he is already a title favourite.