Fresh from taking out the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2017, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) heads into this weekend’s penultimate round of the 2017 MotoGP™ season at Sepang with another world title in his sights.
After a brilliant late surge at Phillip Island on Sunday delivered him victory over Movistar Yamaha pair Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales, Marquez now leads the championship by 33 points over Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) with only two rounds remaining.
The first hit-out will be in the intense heat and humidity of Malaysia, and there are a number of permutations that will see Marquez win a fourth world title by the age of 24 – victory obviously the most emphatic of them all.
Even if Sepang fails to produce the desired result, Marquez still has the final round at Valencia on November 12 to finish the job.
The Malaysian round is always unpredictable affair with extremely high temperatures, torrential downpours and constant humidity, and the tyres must also work exceedingly hard on the abrasive surface.
That is why Marquez is not getting ahead of himself, well aware that Sepang is a massive test of rider and machine.
“We are happy, of course, to go to Malaysia having won at Phillip Island,” said Marquez, who tried his hand at badminton on arrival in Kuala Lumpur this week.
“I knew that it was very important to get a good result in Australia and try to open a bit of a gap before Sepang, which is a demanding round, and where Dovi (Andrea Dovizioso) won last season – his first victory for Ducati.
“One of the main things there is the humidity. And the high temperatures, of course.
“One good thing is that the tarmac is good now as it has been resurfaced. The grip also is nice.
“We’ll see how the situation will be and will try to manage it.”
Marquez holds all the aces after a disappointing 13th place for Dovizioso at Phillip Island saw him only add three points to his championship tally.
Dovizioso is on 236 points, behind Marquez (269) and in front of Vinales (219), Rossi (188), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda, 174) and Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 138). Australia’s Jack Miller (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is 12th on 65 points.
While he knows his situation is difficult, Dovizioso is remaining buoyant.
“Unfortunately, I lost a lot of points at Phillip Island and now my shot at the title appears to be compromised,” he said.
“But I always think positively and we are here in Malaysia at a very challenging circuit, together with the heat, where I won last year and where anything can happen.
“If Marquez keeps on being as fast in the last two races, it’s going to be a tough task, but at this point we must only try and bring home the best possible result and we are going all out to do that.”
Even though Dovizioso won at Sepang in 2016, the riders with the best historic form at the 5.5km venue are Rossi and Pedrosa, who have nine wins between them.
Sunday’s thrilling MotoGP™ race at Phillip Island saw a number of riders work back into some strong form, including Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Zarco, Miller and Ecstar Suzuki pair Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins.
Red Bull KTM Racing duo Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith were also impressive in ninth and 10th respectively, and they will also want to finish the year off in good shape to lay the foundations for a big 2018.
Meanwhile, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) will miss Sepang after suffering a fracture to the fourth metacarpus of his left hand after his crash at Turn 1 at Phillip Island. He will undergo surgery in Barcelona, with the goal of returning for Valencia.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 will also welcome Yamaha WorldSBK rider Michael van der Mark as a replacement for Jonas Folger. Aussie Broc Parkes filled the seat at Phillip Island.
Phillip Island was all about KTM, which not only won its first intermediate race but went one-two with Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder.
Now it’s time for Malaysia, as the battle for the championship continues between Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Tom Luthi (CarXpert Interwetten).
Morbidelli, after completing the podium at Phillip Island, is now 29 points clear.
The Italian must leave Sepang with a 25-point advantage to win the title, with Luthi now out of time to equal Morbidelli’s win count should they end up equal in the standings at the end of the season.
Oliveira is third in the standings, just one point ahead of Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS).
Given the possibility of changeable weather, Malaysian Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) could be one to watch as he excels in those conditions, as does Aussie Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing).
Joan Mir (Leopard Racing Honda) hits Malaysia as the first world champion in 2017 after his win at Phillip Island.
With the pressure now off, Mir may be more of an indomitable force than ever, although it’s sure to be another slipstreaming battle of the highest order.
If Mir can win the final two races, he will equal Valentino Rossi as the rider with the most wins in one year in the lightweight class.
Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda) was the only rider capable of defeating Mir in the 2017 championship, but with that carrot gone he too can ride without pressure.
Other riders in the mix will include qualifying star Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3™ Honda) and his teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio, Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda) and Malaysian Adam Norrodin (SIC Racing Team Honda).
The three world championship races at Sepang will be held over the following distances and times on Sunday:
- MotoGP™: 24 laps, 115.2km, starting at 3.00pm local time (6.00pm AEDT)
- Moto2™: 23 laps, 110.4km, starting at 1.20pm local time (4.20pm AEDT)
- Moto3™: 20 laps, 96km, starting at 12.00pm local time (3.00pm AEDT)