Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) wrapped up a sensational seventh World Championship title at the home of Honda, Motegi, claiming a stunning victory at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan after a race-long battle with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). It didn’t end the way of Buriram, however, with the Italian crashing out of contention at Turn 10 with two laps to go and Marquez left with one lap alone in the lead to take the win and the crown. ‘DesmoDovi’ had to push to the limit, and that he did.
Dovizioso got the perfect launch from P1 as Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) just came into contact off the front row. Marquez, meanwhile, kept the inside line from P6 to get himself into P3 before dispatching Miller at Turn 9 for P2 – and Dovi’s qualifying advantage had disappeared after just half a lap. Crutchlow then got past Miller to latch onto Marquez and Dovi, with Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) making a great start from P9 to get himself up to fourth as he passed Miller into Turn 11.
The three at the front then put the hammer down as Dovizioso slammed in a 1:45.7 on Lap 6 though, and Crutchlow and Marquez kept tabs on the Italian but fourth place Rossi suddenly found himself over eight tenths back. The pace was fluctuating but the leading trio started to edge away from the nine-time World Champion bit by bit, who in turn had two Team Suzuki Ecstar riders homing in on him.
With 11 to go, the two Hamamatsu factory machines passed Rossi and were closing in on the front three, with fifth place Alex Rins setting a lap nearly a second quicker than race leader Dovizioso. Then, Marquez made his first move on Lap 14 at Turn 9, but on the exit of Turn 10 he ran wide and onto the dirt. That was the first blast of drama at the front as the moment kicked up a huge puff of dust and dirt to hamper his exit, allowing Dovizioso to re-take the lead into Turn 11. The Suzukis were firmly in the fray at this point but then disaster struck for Andrea Iannone; the Italian crashing out at Turn 10.
With eight to go, Dovizioso and Marquez exchanged 1:45s with Crutchlow a whisper behind but a lap later the number 35 was two tenths slower as the front two started to make the decisive break. Dovi’s intent was clear: a fastest lap of the race, hammer firmly down and the pin pulled. And so it was, Dovizioso vs Marquez on the final five laps. Marquez sat behind the Desmosedici before making a move into P1 at Turn 9 – no immediate reply for Dovi. With three to go the Ducati was swarming, but there was no way past with two to go.
Then, a huge moment and one that decided the 2018 title. Pushing hard to keep with Marquez, Dovi tucked the front of his GP18 at Turn 10 with just over two laps to go, crashing out of the race to leave Marquez with a healthy margin to Crutchlow and Rins. Pushing to the limit to deny the Spaniard the Italian found that limit and just stepped over it, and Marquez was left chasing the crown in clear air.
A huge wheelie over the line was his first celebration as he took an eighth win of the year and his seventh Championship, breaking yet more records. The youngest to take five premier class crowns and seven titles overall, Marquez also joins the exclusive club of riders with five premier class titles or more – alongside Valentino Rossi, Mick Doohan and Giacomo Agostini.
Crutchlow held off Rins for P2 at the line, with Rins less than two tenths behind the British rider to secure a phenomenal home podium for Suzuki. Rossi brought his YZR-M1 home in a second consecutive P4, with Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) claiming P5 in Japan after a strong latter half to the race – an equal best result of the season for the Spaniard. Zarco couldn’t recover from a difficult start, he ended P6, with fellow Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) seventh.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) crossed the line eighth on his last Grand Prix visit to Japan, the ‘Little Samurai’ having a healthy five-second gap back to ninth place Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) – and the Italian losing ground to Crutchlow and Zarco in the Independent Team Championship. Battle of the rookies was won by tenth place Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), the Malaysian beating Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) by less than a second.
Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and teammate Pol Espargaro were line astern in P12 and P13, with Yamaha wildcard Katsuyuki Nakasuga (Yamalube Yamaha Factory Racing) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) claiming home turf points in P14 and P15 respectively. Miller crashed midway through the race, with Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Team) also crashing – riders ok. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) retired in the early stages.
Fabio Quartararo (MB Conveyors – Speed Up) produced a quality ride to seal a second victory of the season as he held firm to beat Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (SKY Racing Team VR46) at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, with Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40) claiming third on his 100th Grand Prix start. However, huge drama then emerged post-race with the Frenchman being disqualified from the rankings; his Speed Up machine’s tyre pressure under the minimum required. That gives Bagnaia another impressive win for his tally and inches him closer to the crown – with the first match point against Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo), promoted to third after the DSQ ahead of him, now on the table in Australia next time out.
It was Quartararo who got the initial launch from P2 to get past pole man Bagnaia on the run down to Turn 1, however, the Frenchman ran slightly wide to allow the latter to take the lead of the race. Quartararo though latched onto the back of Bagnaia as the two quickly made a 0.9 gap back to third place Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40), but the Italian soon reeled the pair in before Quartararo took over at the front – a calculated move into Turn 11.
The pair then settled into their rhythm, with Baldassarri keeping tabs until the mid-stage. By Lap 12, the leading duo had started to exchange fastest laps of the race as they started to gap the Pons HP40 rider, who in turn had managed to edge out a comfortable 2.8 second buffer to fourth place Xavi Vierge (Dyanvolt Intact GP). He, in turn, was joined by Oliveira as the battle for P4 raged on between Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Iker Lecuona (Swiss Innovative Investors), Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Augusto Fernandez (Pons HP40) – and Oliveira grabbing P4 from Vierge on Lap 15.
Meanwhile, back at the front, neither Quartararo nor Bagnaia would budge from the mid 1:51s as the margin remained between two and three tenths – Baldassarri now a lonely third, nearly four seconds adrift. Bagnaia’s first real warning shot came on Lap 19 at Turn 8, threatening to make a move up the inside but thinking better of it as Quartararo closed the door. With two to go, the Frenchman wasn’t cracking under the relentless pressure from ‘Pecco’, the latter looking particularly strong through seven and eight. Bagnaia smelt blood on Lap 21, closing up before crossing the line to head onto the last lap.
Bagnaia wasn’t close enough around his favoured turns seven and eight, and nor was he at nine or ten as Quartararo held firm. What about on the run down to the Turn 11 hairpin? Again, no way through for the Italian as he then conceded victory to Quartararo before the notification of disqualification came through.
Baldassarri therefore took P2 on his 100 Grand Prix start, he finished 5.3 seconds ahead of third place Oliveira and the latter now with a mountain to climb if he’s to take the title. Marquez battled his way to a heroic fourth after suffering a huge crash in FP1, with Binder crossing the line in sixth but therefore promoted to fifth. The South African beat Fernandez to the line by three tenths, who thought a career-best P7 was a top result – and it’s now a P6. Vierge’s early race charge didn’t last as he crossed the line next, with Lecuona taking eighth after dropping back slightly.
Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) couldn’t reproduce his stunning Thailand ride after a more difficult weekend and he is classified in ninth, with Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) completing the top ten ahead of Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS). Home rider Tetsuta Nagashima (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) scored points for the third race in a row and was next up, ahead of Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) and Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team).
So after a big twist at the Twin Ring Moteig, Bagnaia increases his stranglehold. It’s not all over for Oliveira as we now head to venues where he claimed victories at last season – but can the latter claw back a 35-point deficit?
The Championship pendulum swung again in the Moto3™ class as Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP) took a stunning third win of the season, beating Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) and Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) on the run to the line as double disaster hit for Del Conca Gresini Moto3. Championship leader Jorge Martin crashed out of contention pushing to fight at the front and his lead was cut to a single point, with teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio also suffering a fall and likewise, failing to score.
Pole man Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Skull Rider) got the launch as the lights went out to lead into Turn 1, with Bezzecchi slotting in behind the Argentine rider after John McPhee (CIP – Green Power) got a slightly sluggish get away from P2, thus allowing Martin to make up one place from P4 on the grid. The front four initially threatened to make an early getaway but it soon became a group of thirteen at the front, with the lead of the race chopping and changing between the two main title contenders, along with the likes of Rodrigo and the hard-charging Binder.
Then on Lap 14, there was a massive moment for Martin heading into Turn 11 as both Binder and Bezzecchi attacked – one each side – and the Spaniard made slight contact with his Championship rival. But the Honda rider somehow managed to stay upright on without losing too much time.
This left Binder to lead with Bezzecchi and McPhee slotting in behind, Martin dropped down to fifth. However, a lap later with five to go, disaster struck. Trying to get back on terms with the leaders, Martin lost the front of his Honda and crashed out of contention battling Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Tony Arbolino (Marinelli Snipers Team) – and that after the drama for teammate Di Giannantonio, who suffered a huge highside at Turn 12.
This left Bezzecchi in prime position to take full advantage and with three laps to go the Italian had created a half-second lead, but that was soon extinguished by Binder and the chasing pack, setting the scene for a frantic finish.
Bezzecchi led onto the last lap but Binder made his move at Turn 5 and then held station until the final corner. However, heading out of the aptly named ‘Victory Corner’, Bezzecchi got the superior run and fired his KTM past Binder to snatch a vital victory at the line by just 0.041 seconds, with Dalla Porta also getting a devastating drive to deny Binder of second by an even smaller margin of 0.001. A stunning end to a magnificent Moto3™ race and one of the closest Grand Prix podiums of all time.
Foggia had another great ride to come home P4, he beat McPhee to the chequered flag by 0.039, who in turn got the better of Arbolino. Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) came home P7 and polesitter Rodrigo would end up P8 at the line after losing touch with the leaders in the latter stages. Battered and bruised home hero Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) made it a solid finish in ninth after staying with the leadig group for most of the race, and rounding out the top ten was Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PruestelGP).
Heading into the final three races of the season, the gap at the top of the Championship sits at just one point, with Martin holding the smallest of advantages of Bezzecchi. Will we be in for more drama in Australia? There’s only a week until we find out!
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