Patches of blue sky splitting the cloud cover were a novel feature for race Sunday in Motegi and it complicated tyre choice but the only problem Marc Marquez had was getting back to the winners’ enclosure after running out of fuel on the victory lap. The Spaniard secured the constructors’ title on Honda’s home soil with his 80th career win and equalling the legendary Mick Doohan on premier class wins. Celebrations were extra sweet for the second placed man too, Fabio Quartararo sealing the Rookie of the Year title after a mostly lonely race. Andrea Dovizioso did give the Frenchman a fright on the final lap but ran out of time and the Italian’s 100th grand prix podium ended up being a third place.
Marquez looked good as soon as the lights went off, keeping the lead into turn one, while Quartararo attacked teammate Franco Morbidelli and ran him wide into turn one, allowing Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow to go past the Italian as well. Quartararo went one better and hit the front after an attack out of turn seven but the world champion reclaimed top spot in turn ten. By the end of lap two, Marquez took some risk but had stretched a gap of one second to the Frenchman. Meanwhile, Morbidelli recovered ground and was wingman to his teammate ahead of the Ducatis of Miller and Dovizioso. If the men in red were on the offense, some of the boys in blue were getting humbled early on, both Alex Rins and Valentino Rossi outside of the top ten.
Quartararo put his head down to hold Marquez’ rhythm and slowly crawl his way back into contention but the Honda man spent more time flipping switches than positions. With the temperature dropping ever so slightly, the Frenchman’s soft rear tyre seemed like the more suitable option at this early stage to the Spaniard’s mediums but Marquez was still maintaining a fast pace. Another second down the road, Miller took over from Morbidelli, who was defending position from Dovizioso and Maverick Vinales. The two Yamaha machines were struggling to make an impression on the respective Ducatis ahead of them but the gaps between them were minimal.
The pace seemed to settle by lap seven and Marquez’s gap kept steady at one second, the four-way battle for the final podium spot unfolding another three seconds down the road from Quartararo. A few mistakes from the Ducatis allowed the Yamahas a try and Morbidelli took over the pursuit by lap ten. Miller quickly found himself going from a podium position to the back of the chasing pack in sixth and losing ground on that battle even further with apparent tyre issues.
The halfway mark of the race looked decisive for Marquez, whose gap was ticking over the two seconds mark for the first time and Quartararo did not seem to have any solutions of his own for this particular problem. Four seconds back, Morbidelli was admirably defending from Dovizioso but the Ducati man found an easy way past in turn 11. All he had to do to secure a podium was to hold off the two Yamahas for long enough until their soft rear tyres screamed “no more” but Vinales’ seemed just fine as he breezed past Morbidelli into turn one. Meanwhile, Rins was trying to find his way into this battle, a second and a half behind the trio and with Crutchlow and Miller not too far behind.
Riders entered unknown territory for the final ten laps, with little opportunity to torture the tyres for so long throughout practice but there was no obvious drop just yet. Marquez had a comfortable 2.5 seconds gap at the front but Dovizioso seemed to be reducing the distance to Quartararo from four seconds to three once he hit the front of that chasing group. However, Vinales was the fastest man on track and he was glued to the Italian’s back, harassing him and pushing him into posting personal best times. Vinales continued to demonstrate how difficult it is to get past the Ducati going into the final five laps and although the Spaniard was doing a great job of creating opportunities for himself, the Italian was just as good at finding the defensive line. Meanwhile, another Italian suffered opposing fortunes, Rossi crashing out with four laps left from 12th position.
While Marquez was continuing on his steady march to victory, the battle between Dovizioso and Vinales ran its course with two laps remaining and the Italian was suddenly eyeing the second place of Quartararo. The gap went down to eight tenths of a second as they started the final lap but the Ducati man ran out of time and finished third, four tenths behind Quartararo. Vinales had to settle for fourth, with Crutchlow breaking Morbidelli’s heart on the line for fifth place. Rins showed good speed in the late stages of the race but poor qualifying hurt him once again and the Suzuki man had to make do with seventh, ahead of teammate Joan Mir. Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller rounded out the top ten.
With the title already deep into Marquez’s pocket and a record 13th consecutive podium for the Spaniard, the rest were left to fight for scraps in the championship. Dovizioso looks comfortable in second place, while Rins and Vinales are tied on points for third and with Petrucci and Quartararo not out of contention either.
|46||Valentino ROSSI||Yamaha||4 Laps|
|29||Andrea IANNONE||Aprilia||17 Laps|