The Japanese MotoGP, another thrilling race, once again decided at the last turn.
The Twin Ring Motegi Circuit was wet from the first day of practice and stayed like it through race day.
Friday free practice 1, Marc Márquez topped the timesheets ahead of Aleix Espargaró and Britain's Scott Redding. Free practice 2, saw Andrea Dovizioso rise to the top in the wet conditions in front of Marc Márquez and Aleix Espargaró.
Saturday, still raining down on the circuit, after mist caused the action to be held up. Marc Márquez finished at the top of free practice 3, ahead of Valentino Rossi, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo and Aleix Espargaró.
Fast and Furious Qualifying!
In Qualifying 1, both the Factory KTM riders, Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith, went through from Q1 to Q2 which was some achievement.
It was fast, it was furious and full of drama! Both Marc Marques and Valentino Rossi slid off in the tricky conditions, and both put on slicks for their second qualifying run as the track dried slightly. But found it to be a mistake, slithering around the circuit, with Rossi coming 12th in the final standings.
Danilo Petrucci thought he'd got pole until the last seconds when surprisingly Frenchman Johann Zarco, on his Monster Yamaha Tech 3, snatched it from him, with a time of 1'53. 469. Second was Danilo Petrucci only 0. 318 behind, and in third was Marc Márquez.
MOTUL GRAND PRIX OF JAPAN
MotoGP Qualifying 2
Motegi, Saturday, October 14, 2017
Eventful Race day with lots of dramas
Sunday, the proceedings were delayed, after an oil spill in Moto3. As the clean up took over an hour, which meant the days schedule had to be amended.
For Andrea Dovizioso to stay in the championship hunt, he could not lose any more points to championship leader, Marquez, who was 16 points ahead at the beginning of the weekend, after his wins at Misano and Aragon.
The lights went out and Marquez made a great start from third on the grid, leading into the first corner. But Ducati's Jorge Lorenzo came past to take the lead, Pramac Ducati's Danilo Petrucci got past Lorenzo using the softest rear tyre, with Marc Márquez closely following him, pole-sitter Johann Zarco and Dovizioso in pursuit.
Marquez and Dovizioso already battling for third behind Lorenzo, while Petrucci opened a gap of one second at the front.
The top two in the championship quickly passed Lorenzo and began to hunt down Petrucci as the leading three pull away from the rest of the field.
Valentino Rossi was passing riders well from his 12th place from the start.
Unfortunately his race was cut short when he hi-sided his Movistar Yamaha at turn 8, on lap 7. He came down hard, fortunately not injuring his leg he broke recently. He'd already healing leg with a crash on Saturday. He was in ninth place and had great difficulty in the wet with the rear spinning and traction problems.
Petrucci maintained his lead as Marquez and Dovizioso kept station, counting down the laps behind in second and third.
Hondas Marc Márquez made his move on lap 12 as he forced his way past Petrucci into the Motegi tunnel, Dovizioso wasted no time passing Petrucci immediately, knowing that he had to stay with Marquez for any chance of victory. Petrucci now relegated to third.
Frenchman, Johann Zarco was in fourth from pole, on his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha but a way behind the top three and struggled with the wet track. The Suzuki riders, Álex Rins and Andrea Iannone finding form in Suzuki's home race, were getting past rider to go into the top six.
Behind were Gresini Aprilia's Aleix Espargaró, was Maverick Viñales who was also struggling in eighth on his Movistar Yamaha with rear grip like Valentino Rossi. But Vinales handled the conditions a bit better than Rossi.
Dovizioso stayed behind Marquez for the next 6 laps, not letting him get away. Six laps from the end, the factory Ducati rider made his move, taking Marquez hard on the brakes to take the lead.
He began to pull away and opened a gap of eight tenths over Marquez, but the Honda rider had other ideas.
Marquez caught Dovizioso back up, and with three laps to go, the battle royale began. I counted over 7 passes on just one lap!
Marc cut the gap and dived past on the brakes on the esses after the tunnel, forcing Dovizioso to lift up as Marquez forced his way past to take the lead again. They passed each other almost at every turn.
The Honda rider riding on and over the limit and opened a lead of a few tenths, as Marquez almost came off, after a feet off the pegs moment on the final lap at turn 8, making him lose his momentum.
Andrea Dovizioso used the grunt of his Ducati to get alongside the Honda on the straight before making a good pass, on the brakes once again, into turn 11.
However, just as in Austria, it was another last lap showdown!
Marquez was now right with Dovizioso and attempted one last do or die manoeuvre with a huge lunge into the final turn, which caused him to go wide. Dovizioso seized his chance and cut back inside the factory Honda and powered over the line for a massive victory as his Ducati crew celebrated passionately.
With only three rounds of the championship left, Dovizioso is right in contention as he seeks his maiden premier class crown. Now only eleven points separate the two title leaders.
Petrucci took the final rostrum place in a solitary third, 10. 5 seconds behind, with Suzuki's Andrea Iannone getting the better of team-mate Álex Rins taking fourth.
Fast starting Jorge Lorenzo came home a respectable sixth on his factory Ducati ahead of Aleix Espargaró and Johann Zarco, while Maverick Viñales and Avintia Racing's Loris Baz completing the top ten.
Maverick Viñales' title hopes are now fading as the Yamaha star is now 41 points behind leader Marc Márquez.
Britain's Sam Lowes on his Gresini Aprilia had his best finish in MotoGP coming 13th behind KTM's Pol Espargaró and wild card, Katsuyuki Nakasuga on the factory Yamalube Yamaha. Scott Redding came 16th on his Pramac Ducati as Tito Rabat on his Marc VDS Honda took the last championship point
Both Brits Scott Redding and Bradley Smith had a solid race, battling to stay upright in the awful conditions, finishing 16th and 17th in the 24 lap race.
The two replacement riders were Kohta Nozane and legendary Hiroshi Aoyama, both of Japan. Kohta Nozane riding the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 of Jonas Folger who returned to Germany for treatment of an energy draining virus. Kohta put in a spirited ride and was hoping for some points, but sadly crashed out on the notorious race circuit. Japanese hero Hiroshi Aoyama was riding the Marc VDS Honda, in place of Jack Miller, who had crashed off road riding, breaking his leg, like Rossi five weeks ago. Australian Miller vows to be on his bike at his home GP this weekend. Hiroshi Aoyama took the last finishing place in a steady race.
It was an awful race for Britain's Cal Crutchlow on his LCR Honda. He didn't finish after coming off twice in the race. Also spectacularly crashing in free practise knocking poor Jorge Lorenzo off in the process. In the race his second fall was a terrifying crash on the brakes, with Cal's own firework display of sparks flying everywhere from his sliding Honda. While Factory Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa retired saying it was too dangerous to continue, as he struggled to get some heat into his tyres.
Our Rider interviews
Valentine Rossi who crashed out in spectacular fashion and visibly in pain, he explained this to us:
"It was a big crash this time. Also yesterday, but today more. Today Turn 7, yesterday Turn 8. It was a highside again. I was behind [Aleix] Espargaro and tried to not give up because I can keep his pace, but on the left I have zero grip. It was like riding on ice.
"When I realised what was happening I was already flying through the air! With the constant throttle the rear [slid]. It was very fast. When I realised what was happening I was already flying through the air. So very lucky that the leg is okay. I have pain everywhere. But not a lot, so this is good.
"We have been struggling a lot all weekend. Was very, very difficult because we never had good grip, especially on the rear. So we need to try to understand why,
"For me, now the match between our bike and the Michelin rear tyre gives a lot of problems, in all the conditions. And especially in the wet.
"So we need to understand the way and try, because during this weekend it was always very cold - not hot - but we had all kinds of wet conditions. Too much water, not enough water, but we were struggling always. Very difficult. We need to understand. "
When asked about the tyres and whether some in the Yamaha team feel they have become softer at some stage this season, Rossi replied:
"For me, compared to last year, very difficult to understand when you speak with Michelin. But me, when I ride the bike, I have a different feeling like the tyre is more soft and we suffer. But this is an idea. I don't know if it's true. "
When told that Michelin said there has not been any change, Rossi added:
"So for sure from the bike is different. If on the bike is different, something is different. But is also difficult to understand because anyway on the Honda and Ducati, the tyre works, so it is our problem. "
The stakes were high but the title rivals traded blows fearlessly in their pursuit of glory and there was plenty of mutual respect on display at the end as they embraced in parc ferme.
Race Winner Andrea Dovizioso told us
"It was a difficult race because at the start there wasn't much grip and I didn't have a good feeling with the bike but I never gave up, not even when I was losing ground, and this made all the difference. said the 31-year-old.
"Marc was really quick and he tried right until the end, but there were some places where I could attack and he also made a small mistake on the last lap which gave me a chance to catch him again and try and pass him at Turn 11. I knew that he was going to attack me in the final two corners but I was prepared for this, I closed the door on him and he had to go a bit wide to pass me. It was absolutely vital to win here and I'm really so pleased for the whole team and for the championship. "
"When I overtook him I wanted to make a small gap but I realised I didn't have any more the rear tyre, "
"We slowed down on the lap time and it was very difficult to be precise. At that time it was just about strategy to overtake and to be in the right position in the right moment. The last three laps, he pushed again and I pushed really hard. I knew it was difficult to stay with him but I have a positive part of the track and some negatives.
"I was really good in the braking and I braked in a perfect way. He did a mistake in the last lap in turn 8 when I was losing a little a bit and maybe it wasn't enough to try to overtake in turn 11 with that gap, but maybe he was pushing too much and did a mistake,
"I knew I had to do everything perfect in two corners to be ready in turn 11 and that was already my strategy at the beginning of the lap, but it was difficult because he was making a really difficult lap time. [The victory] was much better than Austria, maybe because I didn't expect to win here, but in Austria, yes. "
Dovizioso says he finds it 'easy' to think over every eventuality during a race situation in a focused way, which the 31-year-old says has always been part of his racing psyche.
"I think a lot of things when I'm riding. When I overtook him in turn 11 I already, and I thought about Austria, I already thought about the strategy in the last corner - your brain is going so fast in that moment and for me it is so easy to think about many things in a focused way,
"That is why I did that line and I prepare in a perfect way - the way I want - for that corner. But this is my characteristic and I am not surprised about that. "
In Second Marc Márquez had this to say
"I don't know who will win this championship but it is amazing to fight like we did today in rain conditions, "
"Of course I tried and gave it my 100%, fighting until the last lap and the last corner. It was an amazing race with the two guys fighting for the Championship fighting for the win.
"Today there was a lot of water on track and for some reason I was struggling a little more than expected. I tried to push and be smooth but Andrea was very fast too for the entire race.
"Entering the last lap, I knew I had only a very small advantage ahead but then I made a small mistake in turn eight, well, quite a big mistake actually, and he caught me. After he passed he was very strong on the brakes and I wasn't able to match him.
"In the last corner I tried again but it was not possible to pass him again. Today he did an incredible race and won but anyway I'm happy with our result as I was expecting him to be very very fast here. We scored some good points and made a good show for the fans so it's ok
"For me, second place is OK because we are in front of the championship but I took a lot of risks and we knew before this race that it will be difficult because here, Ducati and also Dovizioso are very fast here every year.
"We tried and in wet conditions I felt good, but today in the race with a lot of water, it was a little bit more difficult. I pushed, I took a lot of risks in a few laps but I saw that Dovi also was able to be very fast, " he added.
"Then I made a mistake in turn 8 and I already start to feel that my bike was shaking because of the slipstream of Dovi. He overtook me in turn 11 because he was stronger on the brake point. I was very far and anyway I said I will try at the last corner and see how it is, and it was a bit like the same situation in Austria. But second place was great, I'm happy because we are in a good way
"We fight in a good way and the only corner that was in the limit was turn 3, and I want to say sorry, but I braked very far from him and I realised that either I go inside, or I touch him,
"I went inside and that was on the limit but the rest of the battle was very nice and I enjoyed a lot. Now we are already past Motegi, which is one of the circuits that in some years I struggled a lot, but now we go to other race tracks that normally I enjoy more.
"The championship is very close and I heard some people say it was almost done, but it was 16 points and now it is 11 and this is really tough to win, " he added.
"Dovi also is very consistent, very fast, and in rain conditions he is also very strong; so Australia, Malaysia, Valencia can be rain conditions also but the most important is that in each conditions, we are there. We will try to manage in the best way. "
Third place man Danilo Petrucci told us this
"It was an extraordinary race. After Mugello this is the podium that makes me happier. I tried to push from the first laps and when I was in front with a good gap I thought I could get to the end and win my first victory.
"Dovi and Marc, however, have been faster. It was nice to be behind them to see that battle. I feel very close to being there and I will try in the next three races. I would like to thank the team for their great work. This is a great moment for us".
Next to finish in fourth with his best of this season was Andrea Iannone he told us this
"Finally this was a race that I enjoyed. It has been a positive one for us. I had a good start and was able to keep a consistent pace. I'm happy for the improvements we made from the time of the warm-up to the race which allowed us to find that consistency.
"It's also positive that we could have a good race right here in Japan. It's a good sign after the struggles we have faced this year. We still have much work to do and to improve, but compared to the beginning of the season, we are now more aware of where we can improve. I want to thank the whole Suzuki Company for all the effort they are putting into the project, and also my crew, and the whole Team Suzuki Ecstar. They have never given up and they continue to believe in me. "
Suzuki team mate Álex Rins came behind Iannone said this
"I think it has been the best weekend of the season so far. The result is fantastic and the bike has worked pretty well in wet conditions the whole weekend. The race was very positive.
"I started a bit far back when in the first corners someone forced me to go wide and I lost some more positions, falling back to 15th. It took me some time to regain my position in the race, but I finally managed it and finished in 5th, so I'm very happy.
"I lost some time behind Zarco but the conditions of track were not easy. I can say I learnt so many things today and now we are facing the Australian race with more optimism. "
Sixth finisher Jorge Lorenzo of the Factory Ducati Team had this to say
"I can't be happy with my race, because we had the potential to try and win if there hadn't been so much water on the track. We weren't able to find the right setting to be quick in these conditions and without rear grip it was impossible for me to do anything more.
"I gradually succeeded in getting a better feeling with the bike, and I improved my pace and was able to pass Vinales, Zarco and Aleix Espargaró. In the end we were missing almost a second per lap today, and that's a pity because this weekend we were always fast.
"I want to congratulate Andrea, because he's proving to be a really strong rider, mentally as well, and he is able to take advantage of every chance of fighting for the world title. Hats off, and congratulations to him and all the team!"
Disappointed Yamaha's Maverick Viñales finishing in seventh said
"I expected things to be a little bit worse, because this morning I was trying to be in the top-15. Finally, in the race, I pushed a lot in the beginning. I tried to risk only the necessary, trying to give our best.
"Today this was the maximum and we will have to think now about Australia. Until all the points are collected it is impossible to know if there is still a chance to win the championship.
"For sure we we'll face different circumstances in Australia. It will be a different bike and different tyres, we don't know what we're going to have there, but it's a track I like a lot, I like to ride there, so I can't wait to be on the bike again. "
Getting his best result in MotoGP Britain's Sam Lowes told us this
"In the early laps I struggled to get the tyres and brakes up to temperature because of all the water. Once I found my pace, I was able to ride a good race.
"I overtook a lot of riders and had a fun ride. With three weekends in a row, it is important to get off on the right foot. I managed to do that, also gaining great experience in such difficult conditions.
"I had gotten very close to Pol in eleventh place. Maybe I wouldn't have been able to overtake him because there were only a few corners left, but the bike had a problem and we will have to look into what caused it. I lost a position, but I am satisfied with how I rode throughout the weekend anyway. I finished in the points and, above all, I battled down to the last lap. "
MOTUL GRAND PRIX OF JAPAN MotoGP Race Result
Motegi, Sunday, October 15, 2017
The Championship race is between Marquez and Dovizioso now. Three races will decide this years champion. Only eleven points apart.
MotoGP World Standing 2017
after the Japanese MotoGP
Qualifying, Race and Championship standing courtesy of the official MotoGP website: www.motogp.com
- Roland Potter