After seventeen years visiting the Twin Ring Motegi for the Grand Prix of Japan the stars and athletes of MotoGP are more than familiar with the juddering layout and hard braking of the Honda-owned course over 100km northeast of Tokyo. With the changes to technical regulations and the emphatic bearing of Michelin tyres coming into play through an unpredictable 2016 season then the sun-kissed edition of a key date in the Grand Prix agenda – as well as the opening salvo of three overseas events in a row – was a different prospect for many on the grid.
San Marino victor Dani Pedrosa was the first to be bitten through the weekend when a spectacular aerial dismount led to a broken right collarbone, snapped in four places, and instigated a trip back to Barcelona for surgery. The Spaniard dominated news feeds emanating from Motegi in the early phases of the fifteenth round of eighteen but it was his teammate who created a wave of attention by the end of 24 laps on Sunday. Marc Marquez won for the fifth time this year to seal his third MotoGP crown and the fifth of his career by the age of 23. The Honda-man was assisted to an early wrap of the series because of mistakes by his two closest pursuers in the championship. Valentino Rossi lost the front end of the works M1 Movistar Yamaha while in second spot and chasing Marquez on lap seven of twenty-four. Teammate and outgoing World Champion Jorge Lorenzo suffered a similar fate just five laps from the chequered flag while also in the runner-up slot. Rossi and Lorenzo are split by 14 points with just 75 left to go in a resigned tussle for second place in the MotoGP tale of ‘16.
“I was able to push a lot to try and catch Marquez but unfortunately I lost the front,” said Rossi. “Sincerely, I felt nothing like going into the corner too wide or too deep, but I lost the front.”
“I‘m very disappointed; I tried to push too much when the bike was not working well with the tyres,” admitted Lorenzo. “In Aragon we made a good decision with the tyres and this time it was the opposite. I didn‘t have a good feeling, that‘s why I couldn‘t keep up with the pace of Marquez. It‘s a pity, because I think we had the potential to fight for the victory with the right front tyre, but it was impossible today and we lost a great opportunity to be second in the championship. I want to congratulate Marquez because he didn‘t have an advantage from his bike this year and he was the most consistent rider, so he deserves this championship.”
LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow grabbed fifth place for the second time in a row and for the fifth occasion in the last seven races despite an off-track ‘salida’ that cost him valuable time and the chance at another top three. Monster Tech3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro was just over four seconds adrift in sixth. “Today was a good finishing position for me and the team, but I made a mistake in the middle of the race,” Crutchlow offered. “I ran off the track…I lost eight or nine seconds on that lap. It was my own fault, but I managed to stay on the bike as I went through the gravel, which was the main thing. We still managed to finish in a strong position, but evidently we are a bit disappointed as we could have battled for the podium today.”
Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS’ Franco Morbidelli walked the podium in third place for his second grasp of Moto2 silverware in succession and his fifth champagne spray of the term. The result came after a fantastic duel with Taka Nakagami that went down to the final corners of the last lap. A positive run of form in the closing stages of 2016 means the Italian is within just 5 points of Federal Oil’s Sam Lowes; the Aragon Grand Prix winner casting his title hopes overboard with a crash on the second lap of the Japanese affair. Over in Moto3 there was joy for Sky Racing Team VR46’s Nicolo Bulega; the teenager lapping up his second rostrum of a debut season in the class.
MotoGP gets busy with the freight for the trip south and to the scenic setting of Phillip Island in Australia and for the most thrilling racetrack on the calendar next weekend.