One of the most stunning dogfights of the modern era lit up Phillip Island last time out, and it was reigning Champion and points leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) who emerged triumphant from the melee – breaking away from Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) to take the flag. And it was a tough day out for title rival Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), as he suffered an early run off and was forced to fight back from P20; making it to thirteenth.
That leaves Marquez 33 points clear as we touch down in the melting pot of Sepang. Searing heat, humidity, uncertain weather and a challenging and technical track make for a mammoth weekend on which the crown will first be in play, and there’s one thing squarely on Dovizioso’s side despite the pendulum having swung the other way: the Italian won there last season.
Then, it was his first win since 2009. Now, it’s the first of six in a year – and a tough weekend at Phillip Island does little to diminish the Italian’s claim to the crown. Dovizioso won’t go down without a fight, and this is his final stand.
The standings may be a two horse race for the title, but the race itself will surely not be. Rossi and Viñales were back on the podium at Phillip Island in style, and both will be aiming for the top once again. The rider from Tavullia has won at Sepang more times than anyone. Zarco – who won the Moto2™ crown there in 2016 – is another who fought it out on the Island, and another who will be fired up to do it again. Likewise Andrea Iannone, as he looks to keep the momentum going after two top six finishes in two races – and some stunning moves in Australia.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) could be a dark horse for the win. Pedrosa is the next most successful rider at the venue after Rossi, and has taken five wins – three of which have been in MotoGP™. Wet or dry, Pedrosa has reigned. He also equals Rossi’s pole position count – four – and has the pole record: a searing 1’59.053 lap of the venue in 2015.
Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) is the race lap record holder and will want to bounce back after Phillip Island, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) continues making huge progress and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing likewise – with another triumph at Phillip Island as they took two top ten finishes and had both bikes in Q2.
Independent Team riders Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) will be back chasing Zarco for the honour of being the first in that fight, and there will be a new name on the grid: Michael van der Mark.
Originally called up to replace Rossi at Aragon, the Dutch WorldSBK rider will instead make his debut at Sepang replacing the absent Jonas Folger at Monster Yamaha Tech 3. The 2017 Suzuka 8H winner and former WorldSSP winner at Sepang races with no pressure, ready to get his first taste of the premier class.
33 points separate the title contenders, two races remain and Sepang will bring it to boiling point: will Marquez hold his nerve, or can Dovizioso strike back? Action begins on Friday as the field prepare for battle.
Courtesy of MotoGP