MotoGP Motegi Results

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Wins, Claims 7th World Championship 

The 2018 MotoGP World Championship came to a screeching, grinding halt today in a Japanese gravel trap on Lap 23 of the Motul Grand Prix of Japan. It fell to earth in the person of Italian Andrea Dovizioso who, chasing Marc Marquez for the lead, lost the front in Turn 10. Everyone knew there was going to be no stopping Marquez this year. Still, the moment the title is decided, weeks too early, is just a big ol’ bummer. But there it is. 

MM victory continues

Picture from 2014, but you get the idea.

Practice and Qualifying 

The top five on the timesheets for FP1 and FP3 were sufficiently similar to suggest who might expect podium treatment on Sunday. FP1 was topped by Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Zarco, Marquez and Vinales. FP3 included Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Zarco, Marquez and Rossi. FP2 was wet enough to keep a number of riders in their garages, so, once again, it came down to FP3 to separate the Q1 goats from the Q2 lambs. Eight of the top ten riders in the world championship went directly to Q2, the lone exceptions being Danilo Petrucci, having a miserable weekend on the Ducati GP19, and Jorge Lorenzo, who declared himself out of Sunday’s race due to a wrist injury suffered in Thailand. This allowed Dani Pedrosa and Jack Miller to sneak directly into Q2.

In a fun Q1, Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Ducati) and Taka Nakagami (LCR Honda) teamed up to punk KTM’s Brit Bradley Smith, both laying down fast laps very late in the session to deny Smith the glory of passing into Q2. Once there, unfortunately, they did very little, ending up sharing row four with Dani Pedrosa.

As has become the custom, Q2 got trés busy late in the session. For a while, it appeared Crutchlow and Marquez would sit 1 and 2, Honda executives praying to any number of gods for deliverance from Gigi Dall’Igna. Alas, their prayers went unanswered, as Jack Miller threw his Ducati GP17 across the line into second before he crashed out at Turn 5. As the session closed, Andrea Dovizioso hammered his way onto pole, and the prodigal Frenchman, Johann Zarco, blew past Miller into second place, leaving the factory Hondas and Yamahas off the front row for, like, the first time since The Berlin Wall came down.

With conditions on Saturday pretty good, Dovi put in a pole lap of 1:44.590. This compares to 2015, when the top six qualifiers beat his time using Bridgestone tires. (Can’t remember when the control ECUs came on board.) Lorenzo’s brilliant pole lap that day, 1:43.790, is a full eight-tenths faster than Dovizioso’s on Saturday. Track record intact; season record now stands at 8 for 13 as I continue to seek support for my prediction that track records “would fall like dominos” in 2018. From this perspective, Motegi appears to be an outlier. Oh, and let’s not forget Lorenzo’s unique ability to qualify Yamahas on the front row. On Bridgestones.

If Marc Marquez intended to win the title on Sunday, as his gold helmet clearly suggested, he would have his work cut out for him, starting from sixth place against Dovi’s pole. The first lap could easily tell the story. 

The Japanese Grand Prix – 2018 in Microcosm 

If you’ve followed the 2018 season, you will have a pretty good understanding of how today’s race unfolded. Aside from Jack Miller, who started third, veered into Johann Zarco’s path at the start, and stayed with the leaders until Lap 5, it was Dovizioso and Marquez from the very start. Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi occupied third and fourth, with Miller in 5th being stalked by both of the Suzukis, Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone. By mid-race, Dovi and Marquez had put some space between themselves and their chasers. Keeping the pace relatively slow, they allowed a few lower tranche riders—Rossi, Rins and Iannone—to enjoy visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. For a while.

Finally, at Turn 9 on Lap 21, Marquez went through on Dovizioso and made it stick. Dovi, season on the line, chased the Spaniard desperately for two laps before losing the front in Turn 10 of Lap 23 and sliding off. He would re-enter the race and end his day in 18th position, out of the money, reduced to looking forward to 2019.

The more astute readers out there will realize about now that today’s race was, in fact, nothing like the 2018 season in microcosm. I happened to be reaching for a section header. It won’t happen again.

Dovi’s crash out of second place improved life for Cal Crutchlow, who ended up second, and Alex Rins on the Suzuki, who found himself on the podium for the first time since Assen after having started eighth. Rossi finished a kind of limp fourth, while Yamaha teammate Maverick Vinales could do no better than seventh. The fear amongst Yamaha bigwigs that Buriram (a third and a fourth) was a fluke has now been confirmed.

With top chasers Dovizioso and Rossi off the podium today, a measure of Marquez’ dominance this year was to be found on the podium itself. If one were to take Cal Crutchlow’s point total for the year (148) and add it to Alex Rins’ (118), it would still fall short of Marquez and his 296.

Clearly, my prediction that Marquez would end 2018 with fewer than 298 points was worthless. At least he won’t be able to top Rossi’s 2009 total of 373. That would have been awful. 

The Big Picture 

Most sports leagues set up their season so that there are a few exhibition matches early on, with tension building up to the last game of the season, the one deciding the championship. MotoGP, due to the nature of the game in The Marquez Era, holds the climactic race in, like, Week 16 or 17, then plays a couple exhibition matches to close out the year. By which time most of the owners and fans have jumped on their yachts and sailed off for Barbados.

This is a pity for the fans attending the races in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia. There will continue to be the little “races within the race” that light up so many true believers. There will be, one expects, continuing efforts to set new track records at the remaining venues. For all involved, it’s kind of like macular degeneration. The big picture shrinks; the importance of team and individual accomplishments is elevated the moment the title moves out of reach. From then on, it’s pretty much down to Beat Your Teammate. Once the trophy has been won, most of the competitive air leaves the balloon.

When I was new to MotoGP I didn’t clearly understand what people meant when, at this point in the season, they would say, “Man, I can’t wait for the Valencia test.” I now know fully what this means. Between now and then I plan to post nothing but Monty Python and Peter Sellers videos. 

Tranches 

After Buriram

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Pedrosa

Tranche 3:   Zarco, Viñales, A Espargaro, Miller, Iannone, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami,

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Syahrin and Simeon

After Motegi

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Viñales, Crutchlow, Zarco, Rins, Bautista

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Morbidelli, Pedrosa, Iannone, Lorenzo, Miller

Tranche 4:   P Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, A Espargaro, Syahrin

Tranche 5:   Redding, Abraham, Luthi, and Simeon

Head Down, Keep Rowing

Next week in Australia, perhaps the most scenic venue on the calendar. The winds on the southern side of Australia can be fearsome, with cold temps, gray skies and seagulls. We will bring you a preview on Wednesday or thereabouts.

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