Points leader faces his first chance at the title - and has another shot at taking his first win at the home of Honda
The Twin Ring Motegi has made a legend for itself since its construction in 1997. Built by Honda as a test facility, MotoGP™ touched down on the circuit for the first time at the turn of the millennium and the first part of what has now become a multi-chapter action adventure was written. Honda hold the record of the most wins at their home track in the MotoGP™ era - six - but compatriot rivals Yamaha are close, on four. Geographically the home GP of three manufacturers, Motegi has a unique character as Yamaha and Suzuki race at home - yet in enemy territory. The home glory of the land of the rising sun shines brighter on those who do battle on a Honda.
The lap record holder at Motegi is however the reigning Champion, Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), and the 'Spartan' is tied on premier class wins at the track with great rival Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) - 3 each. 'Baby Samurai' Pedrosa pulls ahead when a 250 and 125 victory are added to his tally - but Lorenzo counts on more recent dominance with lights to flag victories at Motegi in 2013 and 2014. Pedrosa then hit back with his 2015 heroics, making up more than 16 seconds on initial leader Lorenzo as the track dried and the Samurai came alive; a win that was crucial for the 2015 title fight as points leaders Lorenzo and teammate Valentino Rossi were left to battle over the podium. Motegi will surely prove crucial once again this season - and both Lorenzo and Pedrosa will be sure to make the Championship leader's life a little more difficult. Incredibly, that leading rider has never won a MotoGP™ race in Japan.
Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez has two tracks at which victory has eluded him. The Red Bull Ring in Austria is one - but the MotoGP™ paddock have only visited the venue once to date. The victory to have eluded Marquez thus far since the year he graduated to the premier class is the top step at the home of Honda - the Twin Ring Motegi.
The Japanese exploits of the Championship leader have not been without success, with a podium in 2013 and then a safe ride home in 2014 to take the glory - just not from the top step. After his incredible winning run in 2014, Marquez played it safe in Japan and ensured he took the crown; focused on the title and title alone. Arriving in 2016 with a 52 point advantage over Rossi and more over Lorenzo, Marquez can either play the long game once again - with his patience this season proving him more than capable - or he can roll the dice and go for that one tick of the box he has yet to conquer. Very aware of those choices will be the man waiting in the wings - Valentino Rossi.
The Italian legend is another of those with a fantastic record at Motegi, although his most recent win at the track pre-dates the first time Lorenzo or Pedrosa won in Japan as Rossi took the victory in 2008. However, 2016 has seen the rider from Tavullia in the hunt for victory more often than not, and untouchable on some venues that had seen his younger contemporaries previously dominate, such as at Jerez. Rossi is the closest challenger to Marquez - and the 9-time World Champion will do anything to keep it so once the lights go out.
The four horsepower men of the Championship lead are not the only riders who will have their eyes on the prize in Japan, either. Team Suzuki Ecstar and Maverick Viñales are now heading into their final four races together ahead of the Spaniard's departure for Yamaha to replace outgoing Lorenzo, and Viñales - now a race winner and far from a rookie - will have his eyes on that top four in the title as the paddock touches down in Japan. Not only that, the event marks the Suzuki rider's 100th GP start.
More home manufacturer glory will be up for grabs for leading Independent Team rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), as it will for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 squad of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. Espargaro will be back on track in Japan for the first time since winning the Suzuka 8H for the second time this year, and teammate Smith will be back from injury after a difficult crash in practice for the Oschersleben 8H saw the Brit out of action.
Assen winner Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) is another who should be back out to do battle, as well as Ducati Team's Andrea Iannone, both of whom have been out of action of late. The man to have given Ducati their best results at Motegi since Stoner's 2010 win, Andrea Dovizioso, will also prove a force to be reckoned with - as could home wildcard entry Katsuyuki Nakasuga, riding for Yamalube Yamaha Factory Racing.
The Twin Ring Motegi: the ultimate test facility turned legendary racing venue, ready to welcome MotoGP™ once again - and maybe crown another Champion on its famous soil. The stage is set and the curtains are ready to go up - will Marquez keep his costume of the cool, collected Championship leader? Or will he push to the limit once more, with a margin to play with and an empty space in his trophy cabinet labelled 'Japan'?
FP1 sees MotoGP™ head out on track on Friday 14th October at 9:55 local time (GMT+9), before qualifying on Saturday and Marquez’ first title chance on Sunday 16th October - in Honda’s backyard.
*Article courtesy of motogp.com