MotoGP Motegi: Race preview

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Picture: GeeBee Images

The fight for the MotoGP Championship arrives in Japan for the second round of the triple-header with just 17 points between the leading trio.

The headlines overflowed at MotorLand Aragon, and now the paddock packs up and heads east for the Motul Grand Prix of Japan with three riders split by 17 points and everything to play for. Not since 2019 has MotoGP been able to race at the venue, which in some ways now seems like a different era. Three years on, the immediate memory that comes back bodes well for the luckless duo from Aragon: Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez vs Monster Energy Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo.

Quartararo now has only ten points in hand at the top of the table, but it was through no fault of his own and he’ll be more eager than ever to push to extend it again. He also arrives knowing that his last performance at Motegi, vs Marquez, was one of those that cemented his growing legend. So will that experience count? With action beginning later than usual, on Friday afternoon, he will be hoping it helps him hit the ground running - as will Yamaha as they race on home turf for the first time in a few seasons.

Elsewhere at the Iwata marque there remains plenty to talk about. WithU RNF’s Cal Crutchlow was the first Yamaha home after that bad luck for Quartararo, and the Brit has therefore contributed Constructors’ points already - no mean feat as El Diablo was the sole scorer until last Sunday. Crutchlow has plenty experience at the venue too. For Franky Morbidelli, meanwhile, that was bad news - and he needs to find his way back into the form that’s seen him win races.

After the dust settled at MotorLand, we were left with even more questions about Marquez as the number 93 failed to make it out of Q1 due to yellow flags, and then failed to make it far into the race with that bad luck. Where would he have finished? There remain some cards close to the Repsol Honda rider’s chest and home turf for the factory is an interesting place to have to play them. As a true veteran now, Marquez knows the track better than everyone on the grid - so what can we expect? And can Pol Espargaro move forward on the other side of the garage?

For Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol), meanwhile, Motegi has always been a good track and the number 73 has multiple wins in the smaller classes. But he’s also riding it for the first time in MotoGP, as are many on the grid, so it will be an interesting one. There is also plenty on the line for Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Idemitsu) as he even faces his own race to fitness. Getting caught up in that early race crash has left him with an injured hand and he’ll need to pass a medical - but he also has some serious experience at Motegi so what can he do on home turf?

There will be home representation too for Tetsuta Nagashima as he wildcards with HRC, while Takuya Tsuda will be replacing Joan Mir at Suzuki Ecstar as they face a bittersweet final weekend on home turf and Alex Rins looks to add another podium.

Meanwhile, Ducati march on. After the duel at Misano, Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo) and Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing) did it again at MotorLand for another spectacular finish, and this time with Bastianini on top. But Motegi could be a different story as the ‘Beast’ rides the track for the first time in the premier class. Bagnaia, however, has only one outing of his own in MotoGP under his belt at the venue. That’s also true of Quartararo, but the two had very different races. How will that ten-point gap look this Sunday?

Elsewhere at the Borgo Panigale factory there are plenty of talking points as well. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo) has solid experience of Motegi, Prima Pramac’s Johann Zarco too, but not with Ducati. While teammate Jorge Martin will be heading in to taste the track for the first time in the premier class, alongside Mooney VR46’s Luca Marini. With so much having changed since 2019, will that prove a sort of reset? Marco Bezzecchi will hope it will as he looks to move forward again too, although the rookie continues to impress.

That phrase applies to Aprilia Racing and Aleix Espargaro even more. After a longer stint off the podium than the Spaniard would have liked, and having watched that gap grow, MotorLand saw a return to the rostrum after a weekend of ups and downs. That seems a statement of intent from the number 41 as he pulled it out the bag when needed on race day, and he’s back to within 17 points of those ahead. Will the lesser experience for everyone on the grid also play into their hands? The RS-GP is a newer bike, and Motegi leaves everyone in need of data on the machinery they return with. Maverick Viñales will hope so. Although the number 12 was caught up in avoiding that early race incident, he’ll most definitely want more from Japan after his recent podium pace took a dip.

Red Bull KTM will be interesting to watch, too. Brad Binder put in a stunner at Aragon to come home fourth, having held third for much of the race. That’s their best result since teammate Miguel Oliveira won in Indonesia, and they’ll want to back it up. Oliveira has ridden Motegi in the premier class and Binder hasn’t, so there could be some opportunity on the horizon again as returning to the track for the first time since 2019 promises a shuffle. Can the Mattighofen factory fight for the podium again?

Quartararo, Bagnaia and Espargaro are now split by just 17 points, Marquez remains a somewhat unknown quantity, and we’re heading onto home turf for Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki. There’s plenty at stake in the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, so make sure you don’t miss it as we go racing on Sunday!