Marc Marquez won his seventh world title – his fifth in the MotoGP class – with a victory Sunday at Japan's Motegi circuit after a race-long battle with his primary rival, Andrea Dovizioso. And like the season-long battle between the top two riders, it came down the end of the race when Dovizioso pushed a touch too hard in Turn 10 and crashed out of a close second place.
And with his oppenent's crash, Marquez at 25 years old retained his dominance of motorcycle racing’s top class. With Dovizoso's second-to-last lap crash, Cal Crutchlow climbed into second with Suzuki's Alex Rins right on his tail for the final podium spot. Valentino Rossi with a fourth gave the struggling Factory Yamaha team reason for optimism. Satellite Ducati rider Alvaro Bautista continued a strong late-season run with a fifth, after qualifying 10th.
Johann Zarco, pushed wide on the first corner after a front-row start, was the final victim of Bautista's late surge and settled for sixth. Maverick Vinales, who ran in 10th for much of the race, finished in a lonely seventh, two seconds in front of Dani Pedrosa (8th). Danilo Petrucci, set to take Jorge Lorenzo's factory Ducati seat next year, finished 9th with Hafizh Syahrin rounding out the top 10.
Before the race even began, it seemed Dovizioso's to win. The Italian has been consistently fastest in the dry practices and he'd won the race last year in the wet. And at 77 points behind Marquez, Dovizioso had to keep the current champion from a victory if the championship contest was to continue into next week's Philip Island race.
True to form, Dovizioso parlayed his pole position into a holeshot and the lead into Turn One, closely followed by Jack Miller and Marc Marquez who had pushed into third from a sixth-position start. Within a lap, Marquez dove past Miller into second. Cal Crutchlow had moved into fourth, closely followed by Rossi (5th) and Rins (6th).
Crutchlow then took third from Miller with 22 laps to go and two corners later, Rossi passed a slowing Miller for fourth. The top three riders, Dovizioso, Marquez and Crutchlow began to open a gap on the following group, expanding it to six-tenths of a second with 18 laps remaining. Within two more laps, the gap to fourth-place Rossi was nearly a second.
In the middle of the pack, Maverick Vinales struggled and slipped into 11th place. But Andrea Iannone began to charge, slicing through the pack to press the fourth-place Rossi with 15 laps remaining. The factory Suzuki rider made quick work of his friend and moved into fourth. Rins, on the other factory Suzuki, followed suit and dropped Rossi into sixth.
Then Miller, who was trying to climb back into the second group, crashed out of 7th place with 14 laps remaining. By this point, the lead three riders had opened a 1.5-second gap on Iannone in fourth. And in the second group, the two Suzukis began to open a lead on Rossi.
At the front, Marquez began to challenge Dovizioso, passing him onto the back straight but running wide and beyond the curb through a patch of dirt. Dovizioso repassed his title rival one corner later with Crutchlow holding third. But the dustup had allowed the Suzukis to close to the lead group. Iannone sensing a chance to make up space, ran into Turn 10 too hot and lost the front, crashing out the race with nine laps to go.
Three laps later, Dovizioso and Marquez began to turn up the wick, with both riders setting their fastest laps of the race and opening a gap to Crutchlow. But some of the fastest laps of the race also were happening mid pack as Bautista, who has climbed into seventh, continued his charge.
With four laps remaining, Marquez block passed Dovizioso at Turn 9 to take the lead. And for the next lap, the title rivals were locked in a tight battle, half a bike length separating the pair. Marquez opened the slighest gap, one tenth of a second. Then two-tenths. On the second-to-last lap, his title hopes slipping away with every tenth of a second, Dovizioso tried to follow Marquez's blistering pace through Turn 10.
But where there's a will, there's not always a way. The Ducati's front end washed out, handing Marquez the win and the title.
|29||Andrea IANNONE||Suzuki||10 Laps|
|17||Karel ABRAHAM||Ducati||12 Laps|
|43||Jack MILLER||Ducati||14 Laps|
|41||Aleix ESPARGARO||Aprilia||18 Laps|