Yamaha Factory rider Jorge Lorenzo took his seventh win of 2013 in the weekend’s Grand Prix of Japan at the Twin ring Motegi, holding off a determined challenge from works Honda team mates Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa to ensure that the MotoGP title battle would go down to the wire for the first time since 2006.
The Motegi weekend was very much shaken up by inclement weather conditions, leading to the cancellation of all track action on Friday as well as radical changes to the Saturday timetable. Ironically, Sunday’s race was run under clear blue skies.
Spanish rider Pol Espargaro (Kalex) won a shortened Moto2 race to clinch his maiden World title in fine style, while South African Steven Odendaal (Speed Up), who had never seen the Twin Ring circuit before, and whose total experience at Motegi amounted to an hour of qualifying on Saturday and a 40 minute warm-up session on race day, battled home 19th, almost a minute behind Espargaro – but he finished.
On one way he was luckier than Mahindra rider Brad Binder from Potchefstroom, who went out for the Moto3 race having ridden exactly three laps of Motegi in the dry – on a bike which is new this year and for which the team had no baseline settings for any of the circuits.
Forced wide in a Turn 1 collision that took out KTM rider Zulfami Khairudden, Binder fought his way back from 19th, passing two riders on the final lap to finish in the top 10.
Lorenzo grabbed the hole shot from his fourth pole position of the year and held the lead all the way for a lights-to-flag victory to move one win ahead of Marquez in the 2013 season. Team mate Valentino Rossi looked to be providing a buffer between the current titleholder and the pair of factory Hondas, but suffered braking issues at Turn 11 twice and fell back down the order, running as low as 11th at one point before fighting his way back to 6th.
Lorenzo came under severe pressure from Marquez in the middle stages of the race, with Pedrosa always threateningly close – until Marquez overdid in both Turn 11 and Turn 1, allowing Lorenzo to break the tow and come home 3.188 seconds clear.
Pedrosa’s third place marked his 12th podium finish of the season, but robbed him of a hat trick of Motegi victories, as his chances for the 2013 World title officially evaporated.
Honda privateers Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl rounded out the top five, two seconds ahead of Rossi, while Cal Crutchlow, who his Yamaha Tech suffering from overheating brakes, got the better of impressive team mate Bradley Smith in seventh and eighth spots.
Ducati Team riders Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso completed the top 10.
200TH PREMIER-CLASS WIN FOR YAMAHA
Lorenzo’s victory at Motegi was Yamaha’s historic 200th win in the premier class of motorcycle Grand Prix racing, starting in 1973 when Chaz Mortimer posted the Triple Tuning Forks’ first win in the then 500cc class at Montjuic park in Spain.
The most successful rider in Grand Prix history, Giacomo Agostini, took six of his 122 GP wins on 500cc Yamaha two-strokes in the 1970s, followed by three Americans. Kenny Roberts, the pioneer of knee-dragging wild riding, took three consecutive 500cc championships from 1978 to 1980. “Steady Eddie” Lawson followed, adding 26 wins to the total and claiming three titles for Yamaha in 1984, 1986 and 1988.
Wayne Rainey scored an impressive 24 race victories on his way to taking the world title in 1990, 1991 and 1992. A tragic accident in 1992 brought an end to Rainey’s racing career, and the focus returned to Europe with Luca Cadalora and then Max Biaggi taking up the charge; ironically Biaggi had to fight off Honda’s Valentino Rossi for the eight victories he scored.
When The Doctor moved to Yamaha in 2004 it was the start of a love affair with the YZR-M1 that has endured to this day. By 2007 Rossi had made it 150 wins for Yamaha at the historic Dutch TT, his own 28th MotoGP win.
2008 saw the emergence of another remarkable talent in the Yamaha stable, in hot-headed Mallorcan Jorge Lorenzo. Between Lorenzo and Rossi added two further world titles for Yamaha and another 30 race wins to Rossi’s personal tally (which now stands at 80, making him by far the most successful premier-class rider in GP history), with one more coming from American Ben Spies, who announced his retirement at Motegi.
The Motegi win moved Lorenzo to within 13 points of Marquez with only the Valencia MotoGP remaining - the first final-race MotoGP title-decider since 2006, when Honda’s Nicky Hayden took his maiden title from then reigning World champion Rossi.
1 Jorge Lorenzo (Spain) Yamaha – 42min34.291
2 Marc Marquez (Spain) Honda +3.188sec
3 Dani Pedrosa (Spain) Honda +4.592
4 Alvaro Bautista (Spain) Honda +19.755
5 Stefan Bradl (Germany) Honda +22.81
6 Valentino Rossi (Italy) Yamaha +24.637
7 Cal Crutchlow (Britain) Yamaha +27.496
9 Nicky Hayden (United States) Ducati +37.010
10 Andrea Dovizioso (Italy) Ducati +42.944
POINTS after 17 of 18 rounds
1 Marc Marquez (Spain) Honda – 318
2 Jorge Lorenzo (Spain) Yamaha – 305
3 Dani Pedrosa (Spain) Honda – 280
4 Valentino Rossi (Italy) Ducati – 224
5 Cal Crutchlow (Britain) Yamaha – 188
6 Alvaro Bautista (Spain) Honda – 160
7 Stefan Bradl (Germany) Honda – 146
8 Andrea Dovizioso (Italy) Ducati – 133
9 Nicky Hayden (United States) Ducati – 118
10 Bradley Smith (Britain) Yamaha – 107
The 600cc race came to an abrupt halt at the second corner when a multiple collision took out Kalex riders Alex Marinelarena, Tito Rabat and championship contender Scott Redding, none of whom made it to the re-start.
Espargaro, the title in his sights, took the lead from former 125cc title-holder Mika Kallio on the first of 15 laps for the shortened race, and would not be headed for the rest of the afternoon. Kallio chased him all the way to finish only 1.344sec in arrears, with Suter rider Thomas Luthi on the podium for the third consecutive race and the sixth time this season.
More Kalex riders - Xavier Simeon and Julian Simon – rounded out the top five ahead of Nico Terol on a Suter, veteran Speed Up rider Alex de Angelis and Takaaki Nakagami (Kalex) – the leading Japanese rider in his home event.
1 Pol Espargaro (Spain) Kalex - 28min15.162
2 Mika Kallio (Finland) Kalex +1.344sec
3 Thomas Luthi (Switzerland) Suter +3.379
4 Xavier Simeon (Belgium) Kalex +8.420
5 Julian Simon (Spain) Kalex +10.315
6 Nicolas Terol (Spain) Suter +11.364
7 Alex de Angelis (San Marino) +12.718
8 Dominique Aegerter (Switzerland) Suter +15.609
9 Takaaki Nakagami (Japan) Kalex +18.414
10 Mattia Pasini (Italy) Speed Up +20.679
19 Steven Odendaal (South Africa) Speed Up +54.433
KTM rider Alex Rins started the junior GP at Motegi from his seventh pole position of the season but championship leader Luis Salom on the works KTM (fourth on the grid) would nail the title if he won with Rins 11th or lower.
Then, just seconds after Khairuddin and Binder collided, Salom was skittled in V corner by the FTR Honda of Isaac Vinales. Salom re-joined the race, fighting his way back up the order at lap-record pace, only to highside out of contention at Turn 4 on Lap eight.
That meant Rins would top the points table if he finished where he was, third behind Vinales and team mate Marquez after an entertaining race-long dice for the lead – only for Rins to throw it all away on the penultimate lap.
He re-joined the race but finished 24th, out of the points.
Vinales led into the final tour, but overdid at the Turn 10 hairpin – and that was all the invitation Marquez needed. The younger brother of MotoGP World championship leader dived into a lead he would hold to the line, to take his first GP win by just 0.027sec, with Kalex KTM privateer Jonas Folgar a lonely third, almost eight seconds adrift, and the same distance ahead of works Mahindra rider Miguel Oliveira.
Three seconds later, however, three Kalexes finished almost in line abreast as Romano Fenti, Jack Miller, John McPhee and Niklas Ajo came home in that order in 0.116sec!
The dramatic events at Motegi set Moto3 up for a triangular final-round shootout for the title at Valencia, with Salom two points ahead of Vinales and Rins only a further three in arrears.
1 Alex Marquez (Spain) KTM – 39min45.953
2 Maverick Vinales (Spain) KTM +0.027sec
3 Jonas Folger (Germany) Kalex KTM +7.750
4 Miguel Oliveira (Portugal) Mahindra +15.889
5 Romano Fenati (Italy) FTR Honda +18.323
6 Jack Miller (Australia) FTR Honda +18.432
7 John McPhee (Britain) FTR Honda +18.439
8 Niklas Ajo (Finland) FTR Honda +25.608
9 Niccolo Antonelli (Italy) FTR Honda +25.590
10 Brad Binder (South Africa) Mahindra +29.748