MotoGP: Last chance saloon for title fight?

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Reigning MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez will head to Buriram and the new-to-the-calendar Chang International Circuit with a massive 72-point lead, almost three race wins clear, and it’s fast becoming a last chance saloon for those on the chase, currently led by Andrea Dovizioso. Now is the time to strike, but no one can shake off the consistency of the Repsol Honda racer.

The long and challenging MotorLand Aragon is a very different beast to the Red Bull Ring and Brno, and yet the protagonists remained the same – in terms of speed at least. Although Jorge Lorenzo suffered a turn one crash and was out of the running, it was once again Honda vs Ducati at the front for the majority of the weekend and this time Marquez came out on top. So will that remain the same at Chang despite the nature of the track?

Testing tells us that Honda will be strong. It was Cal Crutchlow who topped the opening day of the test at Buriram, Marquez who was quickest on day two and Dani Pedrosa went fastest overall – a clean sweep for the Japanese manufacturer. Ducati Team’s Dovizioso was a little further back, and Lorenzo further still after a difficult test…but who showed their hand? Ducati have only gained momentum as the year has gone on. Lorenzo arrives on the road to recovery after that crash at Aragon, but his reputation for riding through the pin barrier should stand him in good stead. 

If we are to get another Honda vs Ducati duel at the front, Team Suzuki Ecstar will be hoping they can get as close to it as they did at Aragon. Andrea Iannone was on the podium and in that battle for a bit, and teammate Alex Rins wasn’t far behind as they took two top four finishes. Rins also had good form in the test at Buriram so the signs look good for the Hamamatsu factory.

So what of Yamaha? MotorLand was a difficult weekend as the Iwata marque continue to endure a tougher time of it in 2018. During testing at Buriram they didn’t light up the timesheets either, but nevertheless Valentino Rossi remains third in the title fight and not that far back from Dovizioso. Maverick Viñales is fifth and two behind his veteran teammate, but equal on points with Lorenzo in fourth. So there is a lot to race for in the final rounds for both men.

In testing, it was Johann Zarco who took home the honour of top Yamaha. The Frenchman hasn’t quite been able to keep his early season pace but he’ll take heart from that on the road to Thailand – and he’s still well within striking distance of the honour of top Independent Team rider. Crutchlow is on 119 with Danilo Petrucci tied with him, while Zarco lurks just behind on 112 points. That can easily change in over the course of even a single race…

Takaaki Nakagami led the rookies at the Buriram test and he’ll want to pocket some points but – Hafizh Syahrin will want to start gaining back some ground on Franco Morbidelli in the fight for rookie of the year. Syahrin first rode a MotoGP bike at Buriram, so it’ll be MotoGP’s first trip to a track where he’s tested since the opening round at Qatar. 

Simon Patterson

By Simon Patterson

MotoGP and road racing reporter, photographer, videographer