MotoGP: Sealed with a win: Marquez hits ‘Level 7’ as Dovi crashes out in Japan
A race-long battle with Dovi ends with the Italian crashing with two to go and the Spaniard taking title number seven
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) wrapped up a sensational seventh World Championship title at the home of Honda, Motegi, claiming a stunning victory at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan after a race-long battle with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). It didn’t end the way of Buriram, however, with the Italian crashing out of contention at Turn 10 with two laps to go and Marquez left with one lap alone in the lead to take the win and the crown. ‘DesmoDovi’ had to push to the limit, and that he did.
Marc Marquez- I feel really, really good. I would say it’s a dream came true, or better, that I’m living a dream. It’s something so special, here together with my team, all the Honda and HRC people, my family and my staff. It has been a great season, and ever since Aragon I’ve been tasting, imagining this title, because it was very close. Then I realized that this wasn’t my style, and I needed extra motivation, so I set the goal of trying to achieve it with my first match ball—in Motegi, by winning the race. This circuit was a challenging one to manage that, but it seems like when I’m under pressure, I feel better on the bike! Today the race was as I expected. I was prepared to make a good start and immediately make some passes. I got to second place at the end of the first lap, and then was able to follow Andrea and stay with him. I thought I could try and attack before the last lap because I felt I had something extra to give. He was pushing very hard and made a mistake, and that’s a shame because he deserved to be here on the podium. That’s also something that I think Dani would deserve at least once this season. Anyway, when I crossed the finish line it was an explosion of joy. My people prepared this Level7 celebration, but I didn’t know anything ahead of time. I never want to know, but I think it’s because I used to play that kind of game a lot. Now it’s time to celebrate this seventh title and enjoy these final three races.
Dovizioso got the perfect launch from P1 as Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) just came into contact off the front row. Marquez, meanwhile, kept the inside line from P6 to get himself into P3 before dispatching Miller at Turn 9 for P2 – and Dovi’s qualifying advantage had disappeared after just half a lap. Crutchlow then got past Miller to latch onto Marquez and Dovi, with Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) making a great start from P9 to get himself up to fourth as he passed Miller into Turn 11.
The three at the front then put the hammer down as Dovizioso slammed in a 1:45.7 on Lap 6 though, and Crutchlow and Marquez kept tabs on the Italian but fourth place Rossi suddenly found himself over eight tenths back. The pace was fluctuating but the leading trio started to edge away from the nine-time World Champion bit by bit, who in turn had two Team Suzuki Ecstar riders homing in on him.
With 11 to go, the two Hamamatsu factory machines passed Rossi and were closing in on the front three, with fifth place Alex Rins setting a lap nearly a second quicker than race leader Dovizioso. Then, Marquez made his first move on Lap 14 at Turn 9, but on the exit of Turn 10 he ran wide and onto the dirt. That was the first blast of drama at the front as the moment kicked up a huge puff of dust and dirt to hamper his exit, allowing Dovizioso to re-take the lead into Turn 11. The Suzukis were firmly in the fray at this point but then disaster struck for Andrea Iannone; the Italian crashing out at Turn 10.
With eight to go, Dovizioso and Marquez exchanged 1:45s with Crutchlow a whisper behind but a lap later the number 35 was two tenths slower as the front two started to make the decisive break. Dovi’s intent was clear: a fastest lap of the race, hammer firmly down and the pin pulled. And so it was, Dovizioso vs Marquez on the final five laps. Marquez sat behind the Desmosedici before making a move into P1 at Turn 9 – no immediate reply for Dovi. With three to go the Ducati was swarming, but there was no way past with two to go.
Cal Crutchlow – Everyone saw it was a good battle today. We’re pleased with the result at Honda’s home race and the Team’s done a fantastic job. The problem we had was that Dovi (Andrea Dovizioso) kept slowing down the pace so it allowed the people behind to catch up, but I think we did a great job managing the situation. I was struggling a little bit on the left hand side with the rear grip so I was trying to save the tyre for the end of the race and keep (Alex) Rins at bay, that’s all I needed to do. Then Dovi crashed and I took second place so in the end I was very pleased. At the moment we’re riding very, very well, we’ve had some good results lately and now we head to Phillip Island in good spirits.
Then, a huge moment and one that decided the 2018 title. Pushing hard to keep with Marquez, Dovi tucked the front of his GP18 at Turn 10 with just over two laps to go, crashing out of the race to leave Marquez with a healthy margin to Crutchlow and Rins. Pushing to the limit to deny the Spaniard the Italian found that limit and just stepped over it, and Marquez was left chasing the crown in clear air.
A huge wheelie over the line was his first celebration as he took an eighth win of the year and his seventh Championship, breaking yet more records. The youngest to take five premier class crowns and seven titles overall, Marquez also joins the exclusive club of riders with five premier class titles or more – alongside Valentino Rossi, Mick Doohan and Giacomo Agostini.
Alex Rins – I’m feeling really happy and so are the team, especially as Japan is the home race for them. We did a great race; I was able to overtake riders at the start, and have good race pace. After Andrea crashed I assessed the situation and thought Crutchlow might be too far in front, but I decided to try and catch him. But it was difficult to pass him because he was braking really hard. But finally we got 3rd and we’re so pleased. I’m still learning, and for sure it’s fun to fight with the other riders, even if it’s very hard. We’ll try to end this season with more podiums!
Crutchlow held off Rins for P2 at the line, with Rins less than two tenths behind the British rider to secure a phenomenal home podium for Suzuki. Rossi brought his YZR-M1 home in a second consecutive P4, with Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) claiming P5 in Japan after a strong latter half to the race – an equal best result of the season for the Spaniard. Zarco couldn’t recover from a difficult start, he ended P6, with fellow Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) seventh.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) crossed the line eighth on his last Grand Prix visit to Japan, the ‘Little Samurai’ having a healthy five-second gap back to ninth place Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) – and the Italian losing ground to Crutchlow and Zarco in the Independent Team Championship. Battle of the rookies was won by tenth place Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), the Malaysian beating Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) by less than a second.
Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and teammate Pol Espargaro were line astern in P12 and P13, with Yamaha wildcard Katsuyuki Nakasuga (Yamalube Yamaha Factory Racing) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) claiming home turf points in P14 and P15 respectively. Miller crashed midway through the race, with Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Team) also crashing – riders ok. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) retired in the early stages.
That’s it from Japan and now we pack up and prepare for Phillip Island. The Championship is over but the on-track battles will remain as breathtaking as ever – so join us again in a week when the pressure, and the gloves, will be off.