MotoGP Last time out Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) won the race and Championship, and the celebrations have doubtless been continuing for the now eight-time... #JapaneseGP Motegi, weekend preview: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3

MotoGP

Last time out Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) won the race and Championship, and the celebrations have doubtless been continuing for the now eight-time World Champion since the paddock packed up and left Buriram. But despite that title fight being over, the season is far from it and the first of the four remaining races of the year sees us head for the hard-braking home race for so many manufacturers in the paddock – with plenty of pride on the line.

For Marquez, it’s a chance to race without his mind set quite so much on the maths – and he’ll also surely be chasing pole as Motegi is the last venue on the calendar at which he’s never achieved the feat in the premier class. He’s won though – twice in MotoGP™, once in Moto2™ and once in the 125 World Championship – so his record says it’s a surprise he’s not yet started from the front. With no Championship pressure, will he be the man to beat? Likely. But there are the team and manufacturer standings to consider, and it’s Honda’s 60th anniversary year of racing in the World Championship as well…so it won’t be quiet weekend. It will be a milestone for teammate Jorge Lorenzo too, as he celebrates 200 premier class Grands Prix.

Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), meanwhile, will be hoping to make more of a fight of it at Motegi. The venue has been a good one for the Italian and he is a man who’s been on pole before: the track was where Dovizioso took his first pole in the premier class in 2010, and he did it again in 2014 and 2018. He also won the 2017 showdown with Marquez in the rain – one of the most stunning duels of recent years, and there have been a few – and he’s been on the podium in the dry, so it makes for good reading. And there’s no home race pressure for the number 04, although the team and constructor standings add some back in. On that count, however, there could be more for teammate Danilo Petrucci, as the Italian is now fifth overall – although only a handful of points off Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) in third and one point behind Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). He’ll want more from Motegi and the final four rounds overall.

That tight fight will certainly be one to keep an eye on. Rins will be pushing to the max to try and get the most from the home weekend for Hamamatsu factory Suzuki, as will rookie teammate Joan Mir, but Viñales is closing fast on third overall – so gaining back some consistency is also key for Rins. Suzuki will also have another machine on track too in Japan in the form of a wildcard for test rider Sylvain Guintoli, so that could aid them in their search for more speed.

Yamaha, meanwhile, have been seriously gaining traction as the latter half of the season goes on, especially Viñales as he chases down a place in the top three overall, and limelight-stealer Fabio Quartararo’s (Petronas Yamaha SRT) shining performances speak for themselves. The French rookie is now only two points off Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) overall and could conceivably still catch Viñales for top Yamaha. More pressing, though, is Rookie of the Year – with Quartararo 85 points ahead of Mir as it stands. If he leaves Japan 75 points ahead of the Spaniard, he’s taken the first of what could be a few accolades in 2019.

The Independent Team rider standings are another key battlefield. Quartararo has now got a nice buffer back to Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) in the fight for top Independent Team rider, but Miller will be pushing and so will Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol). Crutchlow is on Honda turf and will want to bounce back after an issue in Thailand…although the pressure will likely more be on the other side of the garage and home hero Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu). What can the Japanese rider do? Rumour has it he’ll be undergoing surgery in the near future on his shoulder, but not before Motegi – so it’ll be a big push on home turf, with lots of home support.

So many narratives make up a MotoGP™ season and we may well be reading the first epilogue of the riders’ Championship but we’re far from the end of the story overall. Teams, constructors, rookies, Independent Team riders; milestones, records and more remain just around the corner in the final four rounds of the season, so tune in for the Motul Grand Prix of Japan on Sunday 20th October at 15:00 local time (GMT +9) to see another spectacular chapter.

Moto2

Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) says there isn’t anything particular about the Twin Ring Motegi that has made his record at the track such a good one, but he’ll feel pretty good about it heading into the Motul Grand Prix of Japan this year. The number 73 has a chance at a fourth win at the circuit, and he’s already 40 points clear…so is he sitting pretty? Almost, so now is the time for key rivals Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) to stage somewhat of a final stand.

Fernandez, certainly, took the gloves off last time out and showed he’s more than willing to fight for this Championship; aggressive and leaving everything on the track. He remains consistently impressive but now he has to remain consistently ahead of Marquez by some margin, as does Binder, who is 44 points off the leader. The South African seems to have more been sneaking his way up the table as he’s gained some serious traction in the latter half of the season, and if 40 points doesn’t put Fernandez out of contention, a few more doesn’t do the same for Binder. Will Marquez crack? Does he need to? A maximum 100 points remain on the table…

Jorge Navarro (Beta Tools Speed Up), meanwhile, will be looking to get up in that fight in Japan too. The Spaniard had a tough time at Buriram and didn’t score, meaning he’s been leapfrogged in the standings by a few riders – including Swiss veteran Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP). It’s a tight top five with a lot on the line for everyone though, and Lüthi could be one to watch. He’s another who has a great record at Motegi.

Then there’s Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46), who is in sixth overall. Although he’s in danger of becoming the first near the top to be out of the fight mathematically, the turn of pace he had at Buriram was stunning – and if he keeps anything like that going in Japan, he could be a serious extra cat amongst the pigeons.

As with every class on the grid though, there’s a home hero to consider too: Tetsuta Nagashima (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team). He’s had some impressive showings this season and could prove an extra complication for a few people at the Twin Ring Motegi.

Moto3

With his demolition job at MotorLand Aragon, Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) pulled the gap to Championship leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) back to just two points – but then came a little more bad luck for the Spaniard at Buriram. Heading away from Thailand with another zero as Dalla Porta took second, it’s back to 22 points and another uphill battle on the road to Japan.

The bad news for Canet is that Dalla Porta was only hundredths off the win at the Twin Ring Motegi last year, but the good news is that he himself has some top five experience at the venue, although a couple of years ago. He also knows he has to push and can’t get trapped into playing it safe, and with higher stakes can come higher rewards. Is four rounds enough to get back on terms with the Italian? Given the see-saw of the year so far, it can still happen.

Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers), meanwhile, needs even more. After suffering from an issue with his arm in Thailand and, like Canet, losing ground, it’s fast approaching crunch time for the Italian if he’s to stay in with a shout. Arbolino needs to start winning races and could need the likes of Albert Arenas (Gaviota Angel Nieto Team), Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) and John McPhee (Petronas Yamaha SRT) to come into play…

Racing in Japan, however, lends a little extra motivation to the home heroes and they could well have a big say in the weekend. Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) is the most recent Japanese winner in the class and was also caught in the drama at Buriram so he’ll be full gas to get more from Motegi, and Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) will want to win his second Grand Prix of the season. Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) could be another to watch and needs to bounce back, and they should keep an eye on impressive rookie Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) too – he’s had some impressive results so far this year, and a first podium already. And can Kazuki Masaki (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) turn his form around?

The Motul Grand Prix of Japan is a vital stage of the Championship battle this season, but there’s also a lot on the line for the home heroes. Who will come out on top? Find out on Sunday 20th August at 12:00 local time (GMT +9).