Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) contests Honda’s home Grand Prix this weekend with the aim of further increasing his advantage in the battle for the 2017 MotoGP crown.
The reigning World Champion, who has won three of the last four MotoGP titles, goes into the Twin Ring Motegi event holding a 16-point advantage over Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), after winning the last two races, at Misano and Aragon. So far this year Marquez has won five races, with just three rounds remaining after Sunday. He has ridden brilliantly and worked superbly with HRC and his Repsol Honda crew to keep improving the RC213V.
Team-mate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) currently holds fourth place in the championship, after claiming an excellent second-place finish at Aragon. Together the two Spaniards hope to increase Honda’s lead in the Constructors World Championship and the Repsol Honda Team’s advantage in the Teams World Championship to deliver the triple crown.
Marquez and Pedrosa arrive at Motegi after visiting Honda Motor Co., Ltd Head Office in Tokyo, where they met fans on Tuesday, along with Japanese Moto2 star Takaaki NAKAGAMI (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia Kalex).
Motegi has good memories for Marquez: last October he wrapped up the 2016 MotoGP title at the Japanese venue, situated in the hills to the north east of Tokyo. At the same time he achieved his first MotoGP victory at the track, bettering his second-place MotoGP finishes in 2013 and 2014, which followed two earlier victories in the smaller classes, in Moto2 in 2012 and 125cc in 2010.
The 24-year-old’s latest GP win at Aragon was his 60th across all classes and his 34th in MotoGP, which makes him Honda’s second most successful premier-class rider after Mick Doohan, who dominated much of the 1990s aboard a Repsol Honda NSR500.
Thirty-one-year-old Pedrosa has also enjoyed success across all three classes at Motegi, which was constructed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Honda Motor Company in 1998. He won the 125cc race at Motegi in 2002, the 250cc race in 2004 and the MotoGP race in 2011, 2012 and 2015.
Marquez and Pedrosa have both mastered Motegi despite very contrasting riding styles – whereas Marquez has a more aggressive, spectacular technique, Pedrosa is very smooth and inch-perfect. This is one of the great attractions of motorcycle racing – that different riders can use different ways of riding to the same effect.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda RC213V) comes to Japan hoping to be in the battle for another podium finish. Honda’s top independent-team rider has already come close to claiming a top-three finish at Motegi, when he ran out of fuel on the last lap of the 2012 Japanese GP, some years before he joined Honda. Last year Crutchlow finished Motegi in fifth place, the first non-factory rider. This year the 31-year-old Briton should once again have the speed to fight towards the front of the pack.
Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda RC213V) will miss this weekend’s action after breaking the tibia bone in his right leg in a trials-bike mishap. His place will be taken by former 250 World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda RC213V).
The 35-year-old from Chiba contested his last full MotoGP season in 2014, riding a Honda RCV1000R, after enjoying a long career in Grand Prix racing. The highlight, of course, was when he won the 2009 250 title, riding a Honda RS250RW. Aoyama won nine 250 GPs, aboard Honda and KTM machinery, including the 2005 and 2006 Japanese GPs at Motegi.
Last year Aoyama rode two MotoGP races, taking the place of injured Pedrosa at the Japanese and Malaysian GPs, scoring one point at Motegi, with a 15th-place finish. In 2015 he rode three races for the Repsol Honda Team, while Pedrosa recovered from surgery, scoring an excellent 11th-place result at COTA. Aoyama currently does important testing working with HRC.
Miller’s usual team-mate Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda RC213V) scored points last time out at Motegi, finishing last year’s race in 14th place. The former Moto2 World Champion has scored points at nine of this year’s races and has tasted champagne at Motegi, twice finishing in the Moto2 top three.
This year’s Moto2 World Championship leader Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Kalex) brings a 21-point advantage to Japan, following another brilliant win at Aragon three weeks ago. A fortnight before that the talented 22-year-old had crashed out of the lead at a soaking-wet Misano, allowing his main title-challenger Thomas Luthi (CarXpert Interwetten Kalex) to close the points gap.
Morbidelli has been this year’s star turn in the Honda CBR600-powered series. He took his very Grand Prix victory in Qatar back in March and has scored a further seven wins since then. Meanwhile Luthi has won only once, at August’s Czech GP, but has scored well with his consistency, with only one DNF so far, compared to Morbidelli’s two DNFs.
The Italian and Swiss riders are both fast at Motegi. Last year Luthi won the Japanese Moto2 round, while Morbidelli finished third. Whichever of them wins this year’s championship, this will most likely be their last chance, because they both graduate to MotoGP in 2018, riding Honda RC213V machines for the Belgian-based Marc VDS squad.
Morbidelli and Luthi are so far ahead of the rest of the pack that their title battle is a two-way affair, leaving Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Kalex) and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo KTM) duelling for third overall.
Marquez, younger brother of Marc, had been in the Moto2 title fight until a couple of crashes cost him too many points. He was injured during Misano practice, which forced him to miss that race. He bravely returned for the subsequent race at Aragon but had to withdraw while riding with the front-runners, due to the effects of the injury. Those two no-scores allowed Oliveira to move into third overall. The Portuguese and Spaniard come to Motegi separated by two points.
Star rookie Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46 Kalex) holds fifth overall, with three podiums so far. Next is Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team Kalex), winner of June’s Italian Moto race and scorer of four pole positions. The Italian veteran is just seven points ahead of Nakagami, who won his first race of the year at Silverstone and will be doing everything in his power to win again in front of his home crowd at Motegi. This is the 25-year-old’s last chance to win his home Moto2 race before he graduates to MotoGP next year, joining Crutchlow at LCR Honda.
The Moto2 top ten is completed by Simone Corsi (Speed Up Speed Up), Misano winner Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing Suter) and reigning Moto3 World Champion Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo KTM).
Binder won’t be reigning Moto3 king for much longer. The amazing Joan Mir (Leopard Racing Honda NSF250RW) brings an astonishing 80-point championship lead to Motegi. All the 20-year-old Spaniard needs to do to claim the 2017 Moto3 World Champion is finish Sunday’s Moto3 race with a 75-point lead.
This year no other rider across all three classes has dominated like Mir, and this despite the fact that Moto3 regularly delivers the closest racing in MotoGP, with the difference between winning and losing often no more than a few hundredths of a second.
Mir isn’t the only outstanding performer in Moto3. Honda NSF250RW’s has utterly dominated the 2017 championship, winning all bar one of the 14 races so far and currently filling the top six positions in the points standings.
Mir’s closest rival is COTA and Misano winner Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda NSF250RW), who has 191 points, compared to Mir’s 271. Fenati isn’t entirely safe in his quest for the runner-up spot. The 21-year-old Italian has 17-year-old Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda NSF250RW) just 18 points behind. Canet won his first Grand Prix at Jerez in May and has climbed to the top step of the podium twice since, at Assen and Silverstone.
Canet is well clear of Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Racing Moto3 Honda NSF250RW) and Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Racing Moto3 Honda NSF250RW), who are just three points apart in their battle for fourth overall. Both riders have been podium regulars this year, although Martin missed two midseason races through injury.
The final rider in Honda’s mighty half dozen is John McPhee (British Talent Team Honda NSF250RW), who has finished on the podium at three races this year. The Briton holds a single-point advantage over seventh-placed Marcos Ramirez (KTM).
Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda NSF250RW) had a difficult start to 2017 but has recently turned a corner to take two podium finishes from the last three races. This weekend Bastianini believes he can take the next step to victory, because he scored his last Moto3 win at Motegi last October.
Moto3’s top Japanese rider of 2017 is Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse Honda NSF250RW) who has scored five top-ten results this year, with a best of three eighth-place finishes in Argentina, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The 19-year-old from Chiba is placed 15th overall, with rookie Ayumu Sasaki (SIC Racing Team Honda NSF250RW) in 21st. The 16-year-old from Yokosuka is enjoying a promising first year in GPs, with five points-scoring finishes so far, including a best of eighth place at the Italian GP, where he finished just seven tenths of a second behind the winner!
Japan has hosted a round of the motorcycling World Championships on and off since 1963, when the Japanese GP was held at the brand-new Suzuka circuit, the country’s first roadrace venue. Honda founder Soichiro Honda built Suzuka to give his countrymen the chance to compete on a real racetrack, helping to improve Japanese riders and Japanese machinery, and to bring GP racing to Japan. Motegi staged its first World Championship race in 1999. The track is a great test for riders and machines, with braking stability and acceleration performance especially important.
MotoGP’s Asia-Pacific adventure continues next weekend in Australia and the following weekend in Malaysia. The season concludes at Valencia, Spain, on November 12.
Honda MotoGP rider quotes
Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team:
“There are four GPs to go in the season, and we must give 100 percent at every one, starting with the three flyaway rounds. These races are always demanding due to the different time zones and conditions, and this year with the Championship so close, they’ll be even more of a challenge. The most important thing for us is that since Montmelo, we’ve been on the podium in every race but Silverstone. We’ve done a good job of managing different conditions and different circuits, which gives us confidence and shows that we’re at a good level everywhere. We have some great memories in Japan, because we won last year and got the title there twice, but every season is a new story and we must remain focused and ready to handle every situation. Track conditions in Motegi can vary dramatically, and we’ll have to work hard on the setup to find a good compromise for the hard acceleration and braking. We’ll give our best effort and push hard to get another good result in front of Honda’s home fans.”
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team:
“I look forward to racing at Honda’s home circuit in Japan! Not only are the fans very special – they are incredibly passionate and in love with Honda and with the sport which makes you feel very welcome – but also the circuit is great. I’ve had a good feeling with the track from the first time riding there, when I was 15 years old. It suits my riding style and I enjoy the track a lot. Last year unfortunately I had a big crash and suffered a serious injury but I hope this season we can keep up the good momentum and have a strong race. We’ll definitely give our 100 percent to make it happen!”
Cal Crutchlow, LCR Honda:
“We had a disappointing race with a DNF at Aragon, so I am really looking forward to putting that result behind me at Motegi. This is Honda’s home race, so we always try to put on great show there, for Honda and for all the Japanese fans. It’s a track that I like, and last year we had quite a good result there, so the aim this time is to improve on that and do a good job for the team. I got a bit bashed about at Aragon, so I hope to be injury free this weekend.”
Hiroshi Aoyama, Estrella Galicia Marc VDS:
“Firstly I want to wish Jack a speedy recovery and I hope he will be fit to race in his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island. It’s never nice to replace an injured rider but I hope that I can do a good job for both Jack and the team in Motegi. I also want to thank Michael Bartholemy and Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS for giving me the opportunity to race once again in front of the Japanese fans. I have not raced yet this season, so it will take some time to get back the feeling. The fact that I already know a lot of the crew, having worked with them in the past, will help a lot, as will having a rider with Tito’s experience on the other side of the box. I am looking forward to the weekend ahead!”
Tito Rabat, Estrella Galicia Marc VDS:
“Given our situation I’m fairly satisfied with the last three races, especially Aragon where I finished closer to the winner despite a difficult weekend. Now we head to the three flyaway races, my favorite part of the season, and our goal is clear; to do the best job we can and to pick up as many points as possible. Motegi is a tricky circuit with a lot of heavy braking, but I’m confident that together with my crew we can quickly find a good set up and push for a good qualifying position, which is so important on such a stop and go track layout.”
Moto2 rider quotes
Franco Morbidelli, Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS:
“We’re heading into a key part of the championship; with three races in three weekends where anything can happen. The championship is obviously our priority, but so is continuing in the way that’s been so successful for the team and me this season. Yes, I could go into the next four races with the aim of riding cautiously just to pick up points, but that’s not my way and that wouldn’t be working to our strengths. This year we’ve been strongest when fighting at the front of the race so, if it’s possible to win in Japan, then I will push to the maximum to win. If it’s not possible to win then that’s a different scenario and picking up maximum points will be important, but this is something we won’t know until we line up to race on Sunday.”
Thomas Luthi, CarXpert Interwetten:
“Now we have three weekends and three races. I always like this last part of the championship. I’ve had a lot of success at Motegi, but also at Phillip Island and at Sepang in the past, so let’s hope we will continue like that. Motegi is a very special track, with many heavy braking points. I know we can also have some special weather conditions there, but I’m ready. I have finished with the championship just yet. Twenty one points is a lot, but it’s also nothing, with four races to go. As usual, we will stay focused, enjoy the work with my crew and hopefully get a good result.”
Miguel Oliveira, Red Bull KTM Ajo:
“Now we are in third place overall, and I think this will be our fight for the rest of the season. It will be a tough battle with Alex for third overall, but we are getting better all the time, so I am confident that we have a very good chance. Our bike has yet to complete a full season, so that every new track is hard work for us, so we will have to work very cleverly this weekend because we have no data from Motegi. However, we have already shown what we can do this year, even if the bike is new.”
Honda Moto3 rider quotes
Joan Mir, Leopard Racing:
“This weekend we face ‘match point’ for the first time, but I think the best thing to do is to not think too much about the championship. Instead I think the best way to work is to work like we always do, because so far this season this system has worked well. Motegi will be a tough track for everyone and I expect another close race, so it’s impossible to predict if I will be champion or not on Sunday.”
Romano Fenati, Marinelli Rivacold Snipers:
“The triple-header of races is very demanding, but always a great experience! I’ve been training a lot to prepare for this part of the championship in the best way and now I am looking forward to getting back on track. I really like the three circuits; in particular Motegi and Phillip Island. Even Sepang is good, the only negative point there is the heat and humidity. We are ready to face the last part of the season, the morale is high and we hope to get the best possible results.”
Aron Canet, Estrella Galicia 0,0:
“The Japanese Grand Prix is a very different race. It takes place outside Europe, with a very special circuit and a great atmosphere. The fans support the riders unconditionally at Motegi and we sign more autographs there than at any other race. It’s a very beautiful experience to engage with a culture as unique as Japan. The layout of Motegi is quite tricky because it has very tight corners and it’s difficult to stop the bike on the speed turns, but this year we have improved a lot in this respect, so hopefully this time around things will go much better. Last year the time difference affected me a lot, but now I think I’m better prepared to face the situation.”