Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez wrapped up a sensational 7th MotoGP World Championship title at the home of Honda after claiming a stunning victory at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan in Motegi, a race-long battle with Ducati Corse’s Andrea Dovizioso ended with the latter crashing out of contention at Turn 10 with 2 laps to go, handing the title to the number 93. Dovizioso got the perfect launch from P1 on the line as Johann Zarco and Jack Miller came into off the front row. Meanwhile, Marquez kept the inside line from P6 to get himself into P3 before dispatching Miller at Turn 9 for P2 – Dovi’s qualifying advantage disappearing after half a lap.
Crutchlow then got past Miller to latch onto Marquez and Dovi, with Valentino Rossi making a great start from P9 to get himself up to fourth as he passed Miller into Turn 11. The three at the front then put the hammer down as Dovizioso slammed in a 1:45.7 on lap 6, Crutchlow and Marquez kept tabs on the Italian but 4th place Rossi suddenly found himself over eight-tenths back. The pace was fluctuating but the leading trio started to edge away from the 9-time World Champion bit by bit, who in turn had 2 Team Suzuki Ecstar riders right on his tailpipes.
With 11 laps to go, the two Hamamatsu factory machines passed Rossi and were closing in on the front three, with fifth place Alex Rins setting a lap nearly a second quicker than race leader Dovizioso. Then, Marquez made his first move on lap 14 at Turn 9, but on the exit of Turn 10 he ran wide and onto the dirt, kicking up plenty of dust to hamper his exit, allowing Dovizioso to re-take the lead into Turn 11. The Suzukis were firmly in the fray at this point but then disaster struck for Andrea Iannone, the Italian crashing out at Turn 10.
With eight to go, Dovizioso and Marquez exchanged 1:45s with Crutchlow a whisper behind – a 1:46 flat, but a 0.5 second gap appeared between the LCR rider and Marquez. A lap later the number 35 was two tenths slower as the front two started to make the decisive break, with Rins ready to pounce on Crutchlow. Dovizioso’s intent was clear: a fastest lap of the race, hammer firmly down and the pin pulled.
And so it was, Dovizioso vs Marquez on the final five laps. Marquez sat behind the Desmosedici before making a move into P1 at Turn 9 – no immediate reply for Dovi. With 3 laps to go the Ducati was swarming, but there was no way past for the Italian. Then, a huge moment and one that decided the 2018 title. Pushing hard to keep up with Marquez, Dovi tucked the front of his GP18 at Turn 10 with just over 2 laps to go, crashing out of the race to leave Marquez with a healthy margin to Crutchlow and Rins. The #93 taking title number seven at the home of Honda, his 8th win of the season.
Crutchlow held off Rins for P2 at the line, with Rins less than two tenths behind the British rider to secure a phenomenal home podium for Suzuki. Rossi brought his YZR-M1 home in a second consecutive P4, with Alvaro Bautista claiming P5 in Japan after a strong latter half to the race – an equal best result of the season for the Spaniard. Zarco couldn’t recover from a difficult start, he ended P6, with fellow Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales 7th.
Dani Pedrosa crossed the line eighth on his last Grand Prix visit to Japan, the ‘Little Samurai’ having a healthy five-second gap back to ninth place Danilo Petrucci – the Italian losing ground to Crutchlow and Zarco in the Independent Team Championship. Battle of the rookies was won by tenth place Hafizh Syahrin, the Malaysian beating Franco Morbidelli by less than a second.
KTM Racing’s Bradley Smith and teammate Pol Espargaro were line astern in P12 and P13, with Yamaha wildcard Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Takaaki Nakagami claiming home turf points in P14 and P15 respectively. Miller crashed midway through the race, with Karel Abraham also crashing – riders ok. Aprilia Racing’s Aleix Espargaro had retired in the early stages.