The riders’ Championship may already have been decided before the paddock arrived at the Twin Ring Motegi, but the Motul Grand Prix of Japan saw plenty of milestones: Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) took a commanding victory to wrap up the constructors’ Championship for Honda, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) pushed him as hard as he could and took second to secure Rookie of the Year and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) pounced on Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) to take his 100th Grand Prix podium.
It wasn’t the perfect getaway for polesitter Marquez but he held his advantage into Turn 1, with Quartararo braking later to get underneath his teammate Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and start his stalking of the reigning Champion early. But that allowed the fast-starting Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) to grab P3 on the exit of Turn 2, and a frantic opening lap then unfolded as Quartararo passed Marquez for the lead only for the number 93 to pounce back at the tight Turn 10. It was a late lunge from the Honda man as the duo ran slightly wide, with Quartararo looking for the cutback but almost losing the front, foot slipping into the air. That gave third place Miller a sniff at second, but the door quickly closed and the Aussie almost hit the back of the Frenchman ahead.
At the front, meanwhile, Marquez had pulled the pin. Eight tenths were his advantage over Quartararo as the duo started to break clear of the chasing pack, that then becoming a second as the rookie hovered close but not quite close enough. Further behind, the battle for the final place on the podium was getting intense, however, with Miller holding P3 as Morbidelli, Viñales and Dovizioso all started to close in…
It didn’t take long for Morbidelli to lead the trio past Miller, but the group was over three seconds off Quartararo at the midpoint of the race and after staying within almost-striking distance of the reigning Champion for the first half, ‘El Diablo’ was also starting to drop back. With 11 laps to go, Dovi took Morbidelli before Viñales followed suit and it soon became Dovizioso vs Viñales for the final rostrum place, with two different machines making for an interesting concertina of a duel.
As the final few laps appeared on the horizon, Quartararo had been dropped by Marquez but the Frenchman would need to be careful. Dovi had fended off Viñales and the Ducati man was on a charge, closing in by eight tenths in a single lap. Would it be enough? On the last lap, everything suddenly tightened up as Marquez cruised round for the win and Quartararo closed in; Dovizioso closing in on him…but the Italian couldn’t quite get close enough to make a final lap lunge. Marquez took the win, Quartararo second and Dovizioso third, all with big reasons to spray the prosecco with a smile on the podium: manufacturer glory, rookie genius and a century of rostrum finishes.
Viñales took fourth after just being denied the podium, ahead of Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) in P5 as the Brit beat Morbidelli by 0.047 on the run to the line to grab his first top five finish since the Czech GP. Morbidelli’s early podium hopes sadly faded as the Italian picked up P6 in Japan, with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) recovering from P11 on the grid to P7 in the race. Teammate Joan Mir rode a solid race to finish just over a second behind Rins in P8, with the Ducatis of Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) and Miller rounding out the top 10.
One name noticeably absent from that run down is that of nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), who had a tough race that then ended early in a crash, as was the situation for Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini).
Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was 11th and got the better of impressive KTM-riding rookie Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) in P12, with Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) taking 13th. Mika Kallio (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) made it three KTMs in the points in P14, with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) the final man to score.
That’s it from Japan and another weekend to remember for Marquez and Honda. Step two of three is now complete with the riders’ and constructors’ titles sewn up, can they catch Ducati in the team standings? Marquez also equalled Mick Doohan’s 54 premier class win tally at Motegi, and it’s not long to go until the riders are back out on track at Phillip Island for the eight-time Champion to try and go one better. Meanwhile Quartararo will arrive as Rookie of the Year, and he’ll also have his first shot at taking the honour of top Independent Team rider…on Miller’s home turf. Tune in next weekend for the Pramac Generac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
Marc Marquez: “It was not easy, especially because we were pushing, I was pushing from the beginning because the strategy was clear. I tried to open a gap from the beginning because I felt strong in Warm Up but I started to play a lot with the switches; like you saw with fuel I was on the limit. It’s one of the worst circuits for it here so I was playing with it, then I pushed and when I had two seconds I started to play with it again. It wasn’t easy to ride that race because you have to think about a lot of things on the bike but I was able to manage it in a good way and finish the race on the limit. And the Repsol Honda Team did a great job because they found the best compromise!”
1 – Marc Marquez (SPA – Honda) 42’41.492
2 – Fabio Quartararo* (FRA – Yamaha) +0.870
3 – Andrea Dovizioso (ITA – Ducati) +1.325
*Independent Team rider