Marc Marquez
Marc Marquez

Now or never: can anyone stop Marquez’ march towards the crown?

sports October 16, 2018 01:00

By MotoGP

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Spaniard on the cusp of the title as we arrive at the home of Honda.

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) has done it before and wrapped up the title on the home turf of manufacturer Honda, and in 2018 he has chance to do it again in the Motul Grand Prix of Japan. If he scores points and finishes ahead of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and if he doesn’t concede more than two points to Dovizioso and 24 to Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Marquez is Champion and takes his seventh crown. The hard-braking behemoth of the Twin Ring Motegi could decide everything.

The mission for Dovizioso is clear, then. He has to be ahead of Marquez and the best case scenario is to win. He has good form at the venue including two poles – 2010 and 2014 – and two podiums, one of which was a win, last season. And who could forget the stunning showdown in the rain as Marquez and Dovizioso dueled it out? The Italian certainly won’t, nor the fact that he won it in style. Despite the Spaniard fighting back last time out, Dovi remains ahead in their last lap showdowns.

So what of Valentino Rossi? The Italian remains third by virtue of consistency and consistently getting the best from the package, despite some struggles for Yamaha of late. He needs to go big to play a big part in the title decider, but like most venues, he’s a former winner at Motegi – that’s a given. Could Thailand have been a turning point for Yamaha too? Both Rossi, who came fourth at Buriram, and teammate Maverick Viñales, who locked out the podium, had much improved pace there – and that despite the hot temperatures and high tyre wear. They’ll hope to be a force to be reckoned with as it’s their home race and also the home track of arch rivals Honda – something also true of Hamamatsu factory Suzuki and Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone.

One unknown quantity who could have a big say in the weekend is Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team). Crashing out at Aragon and left riding through the pain barrier on Friday in Thailand, the ‘Spartan’ was on the pace – until a monster highside in FP2 put paid to his weekend at Buriram. It was caused by a mechanical problem and Lorenzo, classed fit to race, nevertheless chose to sit the weekend out. He’ll be back at Motegi, however, and he has quite a CV at the Japanese venue, including three wins. As does Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team), who crashed out in Thailand. 

The fight for top Independent Team rider continues to rage just behind Lorenzo in the standings. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) has 128 points, Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) 126 and Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) 123 – so it remains incredibly close and every weekend is pivotal, with Motegi no different. The same is true in the battle for Rookie of the Year as last time out Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) closed on Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and it’s just five points between the two, but at Motegi, eyes will be on a different rookie.

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) is one of the home heroes who will be on track and the Japanese rookie has had some good pace of late – and then suffered bad luck on race day. He’ll want to put on a good show at his home race and the home race of HRC, but he won’t be alone in flying the flag. Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga will be another Japanese rider on the grid as he wildcards, giving the home crowd a rookie and a veteran to cheer for.

The Motul Grand Prix of Japan has everything hanging in the balance. Marquez is on the cusp of yet more history and, again, it’s Andrea Dovizioso the key man in his way. Find out if Motegi hosts another incredible showdown on Sunday 21st October when the lights go out at 14:00 (GMT +2) local time.


Championship Standings

1 - Marc Marquez (SPA) HONDA 271 points

2 - Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) DUCATI 194

3 - Valentino Rossi (ITA) YAMAHA 172

4 - Maverick Viñales (SPA) YAMAHA 146

5 - Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) DUCATI 130

Motegi: no margin to play it safe

Team work made the dream work at Buriram, with Bagnaia now 28 points clear

Francesco Bagnaia was happy after he crossed the line at Buriram for a magnificent seventh win, but that ramped up even more as teammate Luca Marini pulled up alongside him to signal he’d made it a Sky Racing Team VR46 1-2. Bagnaia had been set to gain five points on rival Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) by the latter stages but after Marini’s late charge saw him get past the Portuguese rider, five became nine and the advantage for Bagnaia is now more than a win. Worth celebrating? You bet.

There is a fair way yet to go and 100 points up for grabs beginning in Japan, but Bagnaia knows that was an important result. Oliveira does too, and he knows it’s now gloves off and there’s no margin to play it safe. Motegi needs to begin a fight back before the venues the Portuguese rider dominated last season appear on the horizon; friendly faces after some tougher rounds.

Tougher round is something on the lips of Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), teammate Joan Mir, Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP 40) and Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) after Buriram. All crashing out and heading for Japan empty headed, it was a Sunday to forget for all. But there are some positives for many to take from the weekend, and some positives looking ahead – Marquez, for example, took his first ever GP win at Motegi, in 2013 as a Moto3™ rookie.

An expensive day for those guys was a welcome gain for Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) though, as the South African stoked his points haul with another solid result. “Better than my usual sixth,” was the smile after a hard-fought fourth in Thailand, and the South African is now in a comfortable third overall in the standings. Consistency has been a buzz word for Binder, with the 2016 Moto3™ World Champion only surpassed by Bagnaia and Oliveira in that department as the two remain the only two to take points every race.

Motegi always shows incredible support for every rider and they’ll be in for another showstopper on Sunday, but the crowd will also have their eye on some home favourites – including Tetsuta Nagashima (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) in Moto2™. Nagashima has been consistently progressing and getting further to the front, and Thailand saw the Japanese rider take his best ever result in eighth. He’ll be gunning for another top ten and points at home.

Teammates, tactics, thrills and hopefully less spills await at the Twin Ring Motegi. Don’t miss Moto2™ as the tensions continue to rise – tune in for the race at 12:20 (GMT +9) on Sunday.

Championship Standings

1 - Francesco Bagnaia (ITA) KALEX 259 points

2 - Miguel Oliveira (POR) KTM 231

3 - Brad Binder (RSA) KTM 157

4 - Lorenzo Baldassarri (ITA) KALEX 132

5 - Alex Marquez (SPA) KALEX 126

A dark horse no more: ‘Diggia’ homes in on the top

Motegi awaits Moto3™ after yet another twist in the tale in Thailand

Friday and Saturday seemed to give us a clue to what was going to happen on Sunday in the PTT Thailand Grand Prix, as Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) struggled with the fitness of his left hand and key title rival Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP) took pole. Even come Sunday, the Spaniard looked to be on the back foot. It was a big about face by the flag, however, as Martin was able to steadily make his way through the pack and Bezzecchi was crashed out through no fault of his own. The result? 26 points of advantage for the Gresini rider, a serious mountain for Bezzecchi to climb, and a new big contender…

After his first win earlier in the season, Buriram marked the second for Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and it’s taken him to within just three points of second in the standings. With Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) failing to finish in the incident with Bezzecchi and Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) missing through injury, where there were once a group of five contenders there now appear to be three and ‘Diggia’ is far from a dark horse. The hard-braking monster of Motegi will be a challenge for Martin and his recovering hand, and both the Italians chasing him down know it’s increasingly now or never as the season barrels on.

As well as that fight at the front and the key names so often in contention, there will be a lot at stake in Japan for those riding on home turf, too. Buriram became something of a turning point for two of them: Kazuki Masaki (RBA BOE Skull Rider) and Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing). Masaki put it on the front row for the first time and briefly led before sadly crashing out, and Sasaki led FP2, showed top pace and battled at the front for a good while until falling victim to some racing that got a little too close. Motegi is a page turned but there are some big positives to take there.

That’s also true for Kaito Toba (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), who took P12 and was back in the battle for points and recovering some Sunday form. He also has a new deal for next season in his pocket, as does compatriot Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse), although he sadly crashed out in Thailand. It was a mixed bag for the Japanese contingent at the flag, but they’ll mean business once again at Motegi.

From the 19th to 21st October we return to the land of the rising sun. Tune in to the action at the Twin Ring Motegi from 9:00 (GMT +9) local time on Friday as practice begins and make a date with Moto3™ on Sunday at 11:00.

Championship Standings

1 - Jorge Martin (SPA) HONDA 204 points

2 - Marco Bezzecchi (ITA) KTM 178

3 - Fabio Di Giannantonio (ITA) HONDA 175

4 - Enea Bastianini (ITA) HONDA 133

5 - Aron Canet (SPA) HONDA 118

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