Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso set up a thrilling finale to the 2018 MotoGP world championship with a stunning win in wet conditions in today’s Japanese Grand Prix at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit.
The Italian had trailed world champion Marc Marquez by 16 points as the series headed to the three back-to-back ‘flyaway’ races and the pair were to prove head and shoulders above the opposition at the Honda-owned venue, with the Ducati man snatching the win in a dramatic last lap.
Dismal weather greeted the riders throughout the weekend, with every single practice and race session being held in wet conditions. That dealt a blow to outside title contenders Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, who have both struggled for grip from their Yamahas in the wet all season. Japan was to prove another damp squib for the early season pacesetters. Vinales came home in a meek ninth place and is 41 points behind Marquez with three places remaining, while Rossi’s 2017 title bid is mathematically over after he crashed out from the mid pack on lap six. He’s now 76 points behind the championship leader, with 75 available from the last three races. Dani Pedrosa was another retiree, suffering race-long rear tyre problems, to all but extinguish his own title bid, leaving Japan 74 points adrift of his Repsol Honda team-mate.
From the start it was Jorge Lorenzo who set the pace on his factory Ducati, before Danilo Petrucci took over the running on his similarly specced Pramac run machine on lap two. The tall Italian gave a confident performance at the front of the field, leading for over 10 laps as Marquez and Dovizioso acclimatised to the conditions in the background.
Marquez made his move on lap 13, with Dovizioso pushing past Petrucci a few corners later. The title fighters pulled away from Petrucci, who maintained a solid pace to take third, and set up a thrilling last 10 laps. The pair traded places but just as Marquez looked like he’d edged out a small advantage, the Spaniard had a big slide as he rounded turn eight for the final time. That gave Dovizioso the opportunity he needed and he was able to draw alongside his rival down the back straight and outbrake him in a brave move. Marquez didn’t give up though and made a strong lunge at the corner to draw alongside his rival, but the Ducati man was expecting the move and adjusted his line to get better drive out of the corner and take the win by 0.249 seconds.
“It was a difficult race because at the start there wasn’t much grip and I didn’t have a good feeling with the bike but I never gave up, not even when I was losing ground, and this made all the difference,” said Dovizioso. “Marc was really quick and he tried right until the end, but there were some places where I could attack and he also made a small mistake on the last lap which gave me a chance to catch him again and try and pass him at Turn 11. I knew that he was going to attack me in the final two corners but I was prepared for this, I closed the door on him and he had to go a bit wide to pass me. It was absolutely vital to win here and I’m really so pleased for the whole team and for the championship.”
Despite missing out on the win, Marquez had the consolation of taking his 100th career Grand Prix podium and was beaming at having served up such a thrilling race.
“Of course I tried and gave it my 100%, fighting until the last lap and the last corner,” he said. “It was an amazing race with the two guys fighting for the championship fighting for the win. Today there was a lot of water on track and for some reason I was struggling a little more than expected. I tried to push and be smooth but Andrea was very fast too for the entire race. Entering the last lap, I knew I had only a very small advantage ahead but then I made a small mistake in turn eight, well, quite a big mistake actually, and he caught me. After he passed he was very strong on the brakes and I wasn’t able to match him. In the last corner I tried again but it was not possible to pass him again. Today he did an incredible race and won but anyway I’m happy with our result as I was expecting him to be very fast here. We scored some good points and made a good show for the fans so it’s ok”.
It was a tough weekend for British racers in Japan. Sam Lowes was surprisingly the best of the Brits, coming home for just his second points scoring finish in 13th, dropping a place on the last lap as his Aprilia ran low on fuel. Scott Redding had a miserable weekend and finished in 16th, one place ahead of Bradley Smith, who had impressed in qualifying when he took seventh and KTM’s best ever grid slot. There was some consolation for the Oxfordshire rider though, as the Austrian manufacturer confirmed that he would be remaining with them as a race rider in 2018. The other British rider in the race, Cal Crutchlow, crashed twice but will be looking forward to next weekend’s race, the Australian Grand Prix, which he won in 2016.