Andrea Dovizioso won his fifth race of the season in a thrilling late-race battle with Marc Marquez Sunday at the Motegi Circuit in Japan. The Italian's win closed the gap to Marquez to a mere 11 points and cemented the Ducati rider's reputation as a racer who can carry the fight with the championship leader to the finish line.
Marquez, who finished two-tenth of a second behind the winner, appeared to have the race in hand halfway through the final lap but a near high-side at Turn 8 allowed Dovizioso to close the gap and then seize the lead and the racing line heading into the final three corners. Ducati's Danilo Petrucci, who led race's middle stages, held on for third place, his fourth podium of 2017.
Suzuki riders Andrea Iannone (4th) and Alex Rins (5th) not only gave the factory squad its best race of the season they also both had personal best finishes for the year. Jorge Lorenzo, who led the race at the end of the first lap, faded into the pack but made a late climb into sixth, four seconds in front of Aprilia's Aleix Espargaro (7th). Pole-sitter Johan Zarco finished just in front of fellow Yamaha man Maverick Vinales (9th). Loris Baz rounded out the top 10, the privateer's third top-10 finish of 2017.
The Cold and Wet Generated Some Heat
Similar to conditions all weekend, the 24-lap race began in moderate rain, standing water and lousy rider visibility at the 4.8 km, 14-corner circuit. At the start, pole-sitter Johann Zarco was swallowed up by the pack and by the end of the first lap, Lorenzo led the race. Petrucci grabbed second with Marquez and Dovizioso in tow.
But soon after, Petrucci, who was running the fastest laps in the field, took the lead from Lorenzo with 23 laps remaining. Both Marquez and Dovizioso also pushed past the former World Champion and the three lead riders began to slightly gap the field. Petrucci began to pull away and within another three laps, the former test rider led the chasing pair by 1.3 seconds.
Back in the pack, Valentino Rossi had climbed into ninth from his start at 12th on the grid. With 19 laps remaining, he passed his teammate Vinales for 8th place. But the charge didn't last. Half a lap later, Rossi crashed out of the contest. The race then settled into an uneasy rhythm with the riders fighting, tire spray, low-visibility and a slick track as much as they fought each other.
Then with seven laps to go, the race grew into one of the finest two-rider battles of the year.
At this point, Marquez led the race with Dovizioso in close pursuit. Petrucci was several seconds behind the pair in a lonely third place. Behind him, a battle for fourth had erupted between Rins, Zarco and Iannone.
Dovizioso set the fastest lap of the race to close within three-tenths of a second to the leader. At Turn 3 with five laps remaining, he locked on Marquez's tail. Two corners later, he sliced past the World Champion to take the lead. With five laps remaining, Dovizioso opened a small lead of eight-tenths of a second.
But Marquez is Marquez. He wasn't about to concede.
With four laps to go, Marquez cut the lead to three-tenths. At three laps remaining and rain still falling, the gap dropped to two-tenths. At Turn 3, Marquez pushed his bike inside, stood up Dovizioso and seized the lead. At Turn 6 Dovizioso fought back, diving hard inside Marquez's Honda as both bikes struggled for traction.
Marquez again put a wheel in front only to have the Ducati man slam the door shut at Turn 7. Marquez remained locked on Dovizioso's rear wheel, inches separating the bikes. At Turn 9 Marquez pounced again, diving to the inside and forcing Dovizioso wide.
Marquez held the lead through the second-to-last lap. In the final lap, it was Marquez turn to open a gap of four-tenths. The gap held until Turn 8. There, Marquez opened the throttle too early or too much and the rear snapped sideways, nearly bucking the rider from the Honda. Dovizioso immediately closed the gap.
By Turn 10, and heading into the downhill back straight, Dovizioso jumped on Marquez's rear wheel. Charging down the soaked, half-mile straight side-by-side, Dovizioso braked a little deeper into the 90-degree Turn 11 and passed Marquez to the inside. Marquez answered back at the race's final corner, Turn 14, but couldn't hold his line in the wet. Dovizioso slipped his bike inside and carried the narrow lead to the finish line.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Bike||Time / Diff.|
|19||Alvaro BAUTISTA||Ducati||3 Laps|
|26||Dani PEDROSA||Honda||4 Laps|
|17||Karel ABRAHAM||Ducati||5 Laps|
|35||Cal CRUTCHLOW||Honda||10 Laps|
|46||Valentino ROSSI||Yamaha||19 Laps|
|31||Kohta NOZANE||Yamaha||21 Laps|