That was some next-level special, wasn’t it? Wet races are usually nail-biters, with the riders skating on the knife-edge of disaster at every corner and unless you’re leading you’re riding blind, wet and crazy and really earning your money…but what I saw on Sunday will stay with me a long time.
The two title contenders were at it like snakes in a puddle, with a last lap and last corner which was a replay of what happened in Austria, but in a downpour. How Marquez didn’t crash will remain a mystery for the ages. The fact he almost did a few corners before the end meant Dovi could catch him and pass him and ultimately bring it home for a hugely deserved win.
But it did not start like that…
Motegi had been wet for days. All the practice sessions were wet, and the pointy end of the grid was a weird place.
Zarco had secured pole, followed by Petrucci, Marquez, a doubtlessly pleased Asparagus A, an equally pleased Lorenzo in fifth, and followed by an amazed Bradley Smith who had not been up this end of the grid since he was 15 and riding minibikes.
Asparagus P and his KTM were in eighth, and there was Dovizioso, languishing in ninth and keeping his powder as dry as he could. Rossi was back in 12th, having been outpaced by a now fit Rins in 10th and Iannone in 11th – a scenario which doubtlessly pleased the men from Hamamatsu. Vinales was back in 14th, slowly coming to terms with the fact that people are starting to think he can’t ride in the wet. But it’s obvious both the factory Yamahas struggle in the rain, and as the season has developed, with more than its fair share of wet races, it’s become a pit fight between Ducati and Honda.
And this was a pivotal race for the championship.
MotoGP 2017 – Motegi Qualifying Classification
Johann ZARCO FRA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 1’53.469
Danilo PETRUCCI ITA OCTO Pramac Racing +0.318
Marc MARQUEZ SPA Repsol Honda Team +0.434
Aleix ESPARGARO SPA Aprilia Racing Team Gresini +0.478
Jorge LORENZO SPA Ducati Team +0.766
Dani PEDROSA SPA Repsol Honda Team +0.873
Bradley SMITH GBR Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +1.403
Pol ESPARGARO SPA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +1.437
Lorenzo, once again, peaked very early and speared into the lead. Not a fan of the wet, Jorge has nonetheless seemed more confident on the Ducati in bad weather than he had been on his previous bike. The trouble is, as I said, he seems to peak too early, and this is what happened on Sunday.
Marquez, Petrucci and Zarco also got good starts and Lorenzo had handed the lead to Danilio Petrucci by the end of the first lap. Lorenzo then spent the next few laps going backwards through the pack, and after Zarco duffed him up in a corner on lap three and shoved him back into sixth, decided he was going to speak to Race Direction about the Frenchman’s riding, which Lorenzo likened to playing Playstation. But then lots of other riders passed Lorenzo as well, and he was wallowing around back in ninth place for most of the race until attrition and Spanish stubbornness saw him finish the race in sixth – a mere 24-seconds behind his team-mate. It’s possible Race Direction will be seeing lots of Lorenzo towards the end of this season.
Up the front, Petrucci tried very hard to gap Marquez and Dovizioso in conditions that were seriously difficult, and it was not unusual to see pursuing riders pull out of the slipstream of the bike in front for a brief glance at where the hell they were going.
But it was not to be for Danilo. There was a championship at stake and the two blokes contesting it, Marquez and Dovizioso, let Petrucci’s big heart sing with top-step-podium hope for almost exactly half the race, before tearing it out and throwing it into the sea.
Marquez passed him first, and then it was Dovizioso’s turn. Petruccui was relegated to third as the two championship leaders began their run to the finish line.
Behind the leading trio, Alex Rins was making a name for himself by pursuing Zarco who was in fourth, and his team-mate, Iannone, was also using the rain to shine a little brighter than he has all season for Suzuki.
Rossi highsided himself out of the race and totally out of championship contention, while Crutchlow managed, once again, to crash twice in one race. Pedrosa retired, while Abrams, Bautista and Japanese wild-card Kohta Nozane tasted the hard wet rocks bordering the hard wet bitumen. Both Redding and Lowes impressed everyone by finishing the race.
The last seven laps were impossibly epic, and capped by a final lap that will go down as one of the most thrilling ever.
At one stage, Dovi had opened up a gap of eight-tenths of a second on Marquez. But Marquez…well, what can I tell you about Marquez you don’t already know or haven’t already seen? The kid is a carved from the very soul of motorcycle racing itself and he chewed on Dovi’s rear wheel, before passing him on Lap 22 and leading through Lap 23.
As the final lap began, it looked like Dovizioso would be standing on the second step of the podium. At Turn 8, Marquez, riding with more testicles than any man should ever really have, had a moment. His feet came off the pegs and his back wheel looked like it was about to overtake his front wheel. This broke his rhythm and gave Dovi a chance to use the Ducati’s grunt to pull alongside him on the back straight, and pass him cleanly under all the brakes ever made.
But once again, Marquez made a mad Hail Mary lunge at the Italian in the last corner (you’d think it was Marquez chasing Dovi for the title rather than the other way around), but it didn’t stick, and Andrea Dovizioso won his fifth MotoGP race of the 2017 season.
A tiny 11 points separate the two, and there’s still 75 to play for. Vinales, who lumbered home in ninth is arguably too far adrift in the points (41 shy of Marquez to be exact) to make a play for the title this year.
All things being equal, it looks like young Marquez may secure the tile again this year. But all things are rarely if ever equal in MotoGP, and Dovizioso has repeatedly shown he has all the mongrel he needs to make a real fight of it.
Phillip Island and its seagulls and ice-storms is next. I’m going to need some Valium…
MotoGP 2017 – Round 15 – Motegi Race Results
DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 25 Ducati Team 47’14.236
MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 20 Repsol Honda Team 0.249
PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 16 Octo Pramac Racing 10.557
IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA 13 Team Suzuki Ecstar 18.845
RINS Alex 42 SPA 11 Team Suzuki Ecstar 22.982
LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 10 Ducati Team 24.464
ESPARGARO Aleix 41 SPA 9 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 28.010
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.
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