Andrea Dovizioso kept his slim MotoGP title hopes alive after winning the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang.
The Italian had proved fastest in qualifying, held in dry conditions, but a heavy shower just after the Moto2 race meant that the track was wet for the 20-lap race.
Once again, Johann Zarco grabbed the early lead, which he held for the first eight laps, before the factory Ducatis of Jorge Lorenzo and Dovizioso overhauled him and pulled away.
With Marquez running in fourth, Dovizioso needed the win to keep any championship hopes alive and he was able to take the lead when Lorenzo had a front wheel slide through the final turn on lap 16. Lorenzo rode shotgun for his team-mate to the flag, confirming that he could well have pushed harder had the rider in front not been his title chasing colleague.
“It was a truly perfect weekend: we were quick in every session, both in the dry and in the wet, and today in the rain we dominated,” said an ecstatic Dovizioso.”Here at Sepang Jorge and I really had a bike advantage, because our Desmosedici was very fast, and we managed to administer the gap in the best possible way even though track conditions were very difficult because there wasn’t much grip. I’m very pleased for the win which keeps my hopes alive for the title, and even though I know it will be very difficult at Valencia because it’s a track where Marquez always goes well, we’ll be going to Spain with confidence to try and bring home the victory.”
Marquez had arrived in Malaysia with a 33 point advantage, meaning that he needed to finish at least second to wrap up the title with one round remaining, although his fourth place was good enough to ensure that Honda wins the manufacturer’s title. He said: “Today the race was the most difficult one we could have had for the championship because we had rain conditions and the track was extremely slippery. Anyway, I got a good start, and I tried to push at the beginning because I didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of the group. Then I tried to find the feeling and the pace but I saw that both the Ducatis were very fast, so I decided to not take too many risks, to be calm, and to get good points for the championship. I thought about trying to get Zarco but the risk was too big just to have an advantage of 24 points instead of 21. This wasn’t the race to win the title but rather one to get closer to it. I’m happy because after a difficult weekend, at a track where we always struggle, we still managed to finish fourth. Of course now we need to keep focused, to train well this week, and to work to be at 100% on Sunday in Valencia without relaxing too much with the advantage we have. Today we won the constructor title, and that’s a first step!”
Bradley Smith was the best of the British racers in Malaysia. The KTM rider ran as high as sixth early in the race but slipped back to 12th at the flag. He finished one place ahead of Scott Redding, who was also in the top six at one point during the first half of the race. Cal Crutchlow endured a tough race, taking one championship point for 15th, while Sam Lowes, who had been fast in Friday’s wet practice, crashed out early on.
The final round of the 2017 MotoGP world championship takes place in Valencia in two weeks time. The mathematics are simple. Marquez has a 21 point advantage, meaning that Dovizioso needs to win at the Spanish circuit to overhaul Marquez’ current haul of 282 points. Even if he does, Marquez needs just five race points, the equivalent of 11th place, to win his sixth world title and his fourth in the premier class.