Marc Marquez has done it before and wrapped up the title on the home turf of manufacturer Honda, and in 2018 he has chance to do it again in the Japanese Grand Prix. If he scores points and finishes ahead of Andrea Dovizioso and if he doesn’t concede more than two points to Dovizioso and 24 to Valentino Rossi, Marquez is champion and takes his seventh crown. The hard-braking behemoth of the Twin Ring Motegi could decide everything.
The mission for Dovizioso is clear, then. He has to be ahead of Marquez and the best-case scenario is to win. He has good form at the venue including two poles – 2010 and 2014 – and two podiums, one of which was a win last season. And who could forget the stunning showdown in the rain as Marquez and Dovizioso duelled it out? The Italian certainly won’t, nor the fact that he won it in style. Despite the Spaniard fighting back last time out, Dovi remains ahead in their last lap showdowns.
So, what of Valentino Rossi? The Italian remains third by virtue of consistency and consistently getting the best from the package, despite some struggles for Yamaha of late. He needs to go big to play a big part in the title decider, but like most venues, he’s a former winner at Motegi – that’s a given. Could Thailand have been a turning point for Yamaha too? Both Rossi, who came fourth at Buriram, and teammate Maverick Viñales, who locked out the podium, had much improved pace there despite the hot temperatures and high tyre wear. They’ll hope to be a force to be reckoned with as it’s their home race and also the home track of arch rivals Honda – something also true of Hamamatsu factory Suzuki and their riders Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone.
One unknown quantity who could have a big say in the weekend is Jorge. Crashing out at Aragon and left riding through the pain barrier on Friday in Thailand, he was on the pace – until a monster highside in FP2 put paid to his weekend at Buriram. It was caused by a mechanical problem and Lorenzo, classed fit to race, nevertheless chose to sit the weekend out. He’ll be back at Motegi, however, and he has quite a CV at the Japanese venue, including three wins.
The fight for top independent Team rider continues to rage just behind Lorenzo in the standings. Cal Crutchlow has 128 points, Danilo Petrucci 126 and Johann Zarco 123 – so it remains incredibly close and every weekend is pivotal, with Motegi no different. The same is true in the battle for rookie of the year as last time out Hafizh Syahrin closed on Franco Morbidelli and it’s just five points between the two, but at Motegi, eyes will be on a different rookie.
Takaaki Nakagami is one of the home heroes who will be on track and the Japanese rookie has had some good pace of late – and then suffered bad luck on race day. He’ll want to put on a good show at his home race and the home race of HRC, but he won’t be alone in flying the flag. Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga will be another Japanese rider on the grid as he wildcards, giving the home crowd a rookie and a veteran to cheer for.