MOTEGI, Japan – Honda’s main man Marc Marquez was on track for his third world Moto GP championship, and his fifth overall – and he’s only 23! – but neither he nor his team expected it to happen at Honda’s home circuit in Japan with four races yet to go. The only two possible contenders, Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, both crashed out in separate incidents, leaving an incredulous Marquez to grab the title.
The 23-year-old becomes the youngest rider ever to win three MotoGP world crowns and is now a five-time world champion after his 125 and Moto2 championship successes in 2010 and 2012. A rather esoteric statistic – Valentino Rossi was 24 when he won his fifth world title, and the late great Mike Hailwood was 25.
Marquez said, “When I was riding and there remained five laps or six laps, I started thinking, ‘okay, in Australia I need to finish seventh or eighth to be world champion.’ Then when I saw Lorenzo out, everything became crazy in my head.
“It’s incredible! Before the race I didn’t expect to be Champion, and I said that here it would be impossible. However, when I saw that Rossi was out of the race, I decided to push hard for the victory. I was riding my hardest, and when there were three laps to go, I read on my pit board that Lorenzo was also out; on that same lap, I made mistakes in four or five corners, as it was difficult to stay focused!”
The race itself didn’t have a lot of drama up front, as Marquez took control after Rossi crashed early. The battles for second and third were fierce until Lorenzo fell, gifting second to Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, while third and fourth proved a tough battle between Suzuki team-mates Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales. Both riders were full of praise for the improvements in the Suzuki; both may regret those improvements next season, as both rides are leaving, Vinales for Yamaha and Espargaro for Aprilia.
A couple of the riders in the top 10 didn’t make the race. Honda’s Dani Pedrosa had a massive high-side crash in practice, breaking his right collarbone; he was back in Spain having a titanium plate put on the bone before the race started. And Ducati’s Andrea Iannone missed appearing again, his cracked T3 vertebra still giving him immense pain. His ride went to Hector Barbera of the Avintia Ducati team, who looks likely to ride the bike again in Australia next week. His place was taken by Australian superbike champion Mike Jones in his first-ever ride on a Moto GP bike, who did well after being tossed into the deep end like that.
It was an interesting social study to listen to Rossi and Lorenzo after the race on why they crashed:
Rossi: “Sincerely, I felt nothing – not too fast, too wide or too deep – but I lost the front and logically I made a mistake.”
Lorenzo: “I think we made the wrong decision with the front tire, … I’m sure with the soft one I would be much better, I could stay with Marc and fight for the victory.”
The top 10 was completed by LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow, again the top non-factory rider (who got good-naturedly roughed-up in parc fermé as he tried to stuff himself into a Suzuki team photo!), Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro, Aprilia’s Alvaro Bautista, Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci and Scott Redding, and Aprilia’s Stefan Bradl – that’s notable not least for both Aprilias being in the top 10.
Espargaro’s off to Aprilia in 2017, Bautista’s off to Avintia Ducati, Petrucci and Redding are fighting over who gets the more current Ducati in 2017, and Bradl’s joining Nicky Hayden at the ten Kate Honda team in World Superbike.
Moto 2 title leader Johann Zarco got a couple of huge gifts, as his closest championship contenders both crashed out of the race, giving him a bit of breathing room in his attempt to defend his 2015 title. On the day, he finished second to an imperious and unstoppable Tom Luthi, the Swiss rider having a perfect day, grabbing the lead in the first corner and never relinquishing it.
Zarco’s closest title rival, Alex Rins, had a big crash on the first lap trying to make his way through the field after a terrible qualifying performance. He managed to restart, but scored no points. Next in line, Sam Lowes, crashed while dicing furiously with Zarco – the two having form after Zarco forced Lowes to crash at his home race at Silverstone in the U.K., and perhaps Lowes got a little too excited trying to deal with his nemesis.
Third went to Francesco Morbidelli, the excitable Italian for once riding a tight and controlled race to collect the last podium spot, barely holding off local favourite Takaagi Nakagami. Behind him came Germany’s Sandro Corese wrapping up the top five.
With three races left, Zarco has a 21 point lead over Rins, and 43 over Luthi, so the race is hardly over yet. Both Zarco and Rins will be leaving for Moto GP in 2017, but the bragging rights are still there for the chasing.
South African Brad Binder has already sewed up the Moto 3 world title, but he’s hardly relaxing. He led most of the race at Motegi, losing out to an inspired Enea Bastiannini only on the last lap, and that only at the line by 0.017 second.
It was a different sort of Moto 3 race, more of a chess game than the usual cut-throat bar brawl we’ve come to expect. Still, there were half a dozen riders in contention until the end, making it as usual the closest and most exciting race of the Moto GP event.
Third went to local favourite Hiroki Ono, his first GP podium, but sadly he was disqualified later for being under the minimum weight for bike and rider, promoting VR45 Academy rider Nicolo Bulega to the podium on his 17th birthday.
Moto GP Championship Standings after 14 of 18 races
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 273 points (World Champion)
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 196
- Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 182
- Maverick Vinales, Spain, Team Suzuki Ecstar, 165
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 155
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 124
- Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 116
- Pol Espargaro, Spain, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 106
- Andrea Iannone, Italy, Ducati Team, 96
- Hector Barbera, Spain, Avintia Racing Ducati, 84
Next race October 23, Philip Island, Australia