After 17 hard-fought rounds, it all comes down to this – the final showdown between Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso to decide who will be crowned the 2017 MotoGP™ world champion.
Marquez, the phenomenally gifted Spaniard, has already surrendered one ‘match point’ on his Repsol Honda after Dovizioso (Ducati Team) was victorious in the wet at Sepang two weeks ago.
Marquez was fourth, which allowed Dovi to trim Marquez’s lead to 21 points (282 to 261) and take the championship down to the wire – the 18th occasion the premier class will host such a cliff-hanger since the world championship was introduced in 1949.
It is also the fourth time in the MotoGP™ era that it will all come down to the final race; the last one in 2015 between then Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.
Marquez, a MotoGP™ winner at the tight and twisty Valencia circuit in 2014, will take the title if Dovizioso does not win the race, or if Dovizioso does win and Marquez finishes 11th or better.
Moreover, the Spaniard has taken 20 out of 29 wins on anti-clockwise tracks – Valencia one of them – since he moved up to the premier class in 2013. This season he has won on them all.
Although Marquez is feeling the pressure, he says it has been like that for a while now.
“Of course, it will be natural to feel some pressure in Valencia with so much at stake, but honestly there has been pressure for the entire second part of the season,” said Marquez, already a three-time MotoGP™ world champion.
“And the fact that we’ve been able to manage some tricky situations, as was the case at the last race in Malaysia, gives me a positive feeling.
“I feel good because I like Valencia. It’s an anti-clockwise circuit, which normally suits me.
“It’s also good to have a points advantage to manage. That said, we won’t think too much about any of those things.
“We definitely don’t think it will be easy, so we won’t go to Valencia with any extra confidence.”
Marquez and Dovizioso have both spent the early part of this week at the massive EICMA motorcycle show in Milan, where they were joined by a bevy of other factory riders as their respective employers launched their new production and concept machinery.
Now they are both back in race mode, with Dovi looking forward to getting down to business in a championship that is still very much Marquez’s to lose.
“We arrive at Valencia on a track where Marc is very strong, so we know it will be a very difficult task,” said Dovizioso.
“The only strategy for me, with this gap, is to try to win and then see where Marc finishes.
“The Ducati is strong on every circuit, so we approach this weekend with optimism as we have always done lately.”
Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha, 226 points) will finish third in the championship regardless of what happens on Sunday, while Rossi (197) holds the upperhand over multiple Valencia winner Pedrosa (184) in the battle for fourth.
Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 154 points) is next in line, followed by 2016 Valencia winner and lap record holder Lorenzo (Ducati Team, 137), Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Ducati, 121), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda, 104) and the ill Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 84), whose seat will again be taken by Dutchman Michael van der Mark.
Aussie Jack Miller (EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) is 12th in the standings, and a top result could see him sneak into the top 10 in what is his last ride for the Belgian-based team.
“Finishing 10th in the championship is a big ask, but anything is possible,” said Miller.
“At least the weather looks good, with the forecast promising dry conditions all weekend.
“I like the Valencia circuit, which is one of the few left-hand circuits we race at during the season, and I'm feeling good on the bike after the flyaway races, so let's see how we go.
“Obviously I want to finish out the season strong and mark my last race with Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS with a good result on Sunday.”
Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) wrapped up the title at Sepang after key rival Tom Luthi (CarXpert Interwetten) was declared unfit, and now competes in his final Moto2™ race at Valencia before graduating to MotoGP™ in 2018 – alongside Luthi.
Luthi will again miss this weekend, but the main dangers for Morbidelli probably already lurk in the pack – Red Bull KTM Ajo pair Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder.
They have finished one-two in the last two races, and even if Valencia is not the same dominating result, they have already fired the warning shots that KTM is in for a huge 2018.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda), Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), Xavi Vierge (Tech 3 Racing), Jorge Navarro (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) could also be serious threats at the front – especially Marquez, who is extremely potent on home soil.
A solid result for Aussie Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing) could see him finish the season in the top 20, as he looks to make some huge inroads – with the same team – in 2018.
In Malaysia, world champion Joan Mir (Leopard Racing Honda) became the first rider since Marc Marquez to take 10 victories in one season in the lightweight class, and one more at Valencia will equal Valentino Rossi’s effort from 1997.
With the pressure off, Mir will be going all out in his Moto3™ swansong, as will his biggest rival this yea – Italian Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda).
Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3™ Honda) remains on the hunt for his maiden win, and his home turf would be a good place to do it.
Italian Fabio Di Giannantonio, Martin’s teammate, is more in enemy territory – but is similarly searching for his maiden victory.
Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda teammates Aron Canet and Enea Bastianini and John McPhee (British Talent Team Honda) will also want to finish the season on a high, while 2017 CEV Moto3™ junior world champion Dennis Foggia will be a wildcard after having destroyed the field in stunning style in both CEV races at the track this season.
The three world championship races at Valencia will be held over the following distances and times on Sunday:
- MotoGP™: 30 laps, 120.2km, starting at 2.00pm local time (Monday 12.00am AEDT)
- Moto2™: 27 laps, 108.1km, starting at 12.20pm local time (10.20pm AEDT)
- Moto3™: 24 laps, 96.1km, starting at 11.00am local time (9.00pm AEDT)