Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) wrapped up a sensational seventh MotoGP world championship title at the home of Honda after claiming victory at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, after a race-long battle with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) ended with the latter crashing out of contention at Turn 10 with two laps to go, handing the win, and title, to the No. 93.
Dovizioso got the perfect launch from P1 on the line as Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) came into off the front row. Meanwhile, Marquez kept the inside line from P6 to get himself into P3 before dispatching Miller at Turn 9 for P2 – Dovizioso’s qualifying advantage disappearing after half a lap.
Crutchlow then got past Miller to latch onto Marquez and Dovizioso, with Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) making a great start from P9 to get himself up to fourth as he passed Miller into Turn 11.
The three at the front then put the hammer down as Dovizioso slammed in a 1m45.7s on Lap 6, Crutchlow and Marquez kept tabs on the Italian but fourth place Rossi suddenly found himself over eight tenths back. The pace was fluctuating but the leading trio started to edge away from the nine-time world champion bit by bit, who in turn had two Team Suzuki Ecstar riders right on his tailpipes.
With 11 to go, the two Hamamatsu factory machines passed Rossi and were closing in on the front three, with fifth place Alex Rins setting a lap nearly a second quicker than race leader Dovizioso. Then, Marquez made his first move on Lap 14 at Turn 9, but on the exit of Turn 10 he ran wide and onto the dirt, kicking up plenty of dust to hamper his exit, allowing Dovizioso to retake the lead into Turn 11. The Suzukis were firmly in the fray at this point but then disaster struck for Andrea Iannone, the Italian crashing out at Turn 10.
With eight to go, Dovizioso and Marquez exchanged 1m45s with Crutchlow a whisper behind – a 1m46s flat, but a half-second gap appeared between the LCR rider and Marquez. A lap later the number 35 was two tenths slower as the front two started to make the decisive break, with Rins ready to pounce on Crutchlow. Dovi’s intent was clear: a fastest lap of the race, hammer firmly down and the pin pulled.
And so it was, Dovizioso vs Marquez on the final five laps. Marquez sat behind the Desmosedici before making a move into P1 at Turn 9 – no immediate reply for Dovizioso. With three to go the Ducati was swarming, but there was no way past with two to go.
Then, a huge moment and one that decided the 2018 title. Pushing hard to keep with Marquez, Dovizioso tucked the front of his GP18 at Turn 10 with just over two laps to go, crashing out of the race to leave Marquez with a healthy margin to Crutchlow and Rins. Marquez cruised home to title number seven and his eighth win of the season.
Crutchlow held off Rins for P2 at the line, with Rins less than two tenths behind the British rider to secure a phenomenal home podium for Suzuki. Rossi brought his YZR-M1 home in a second consecutive P4, with Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) claiming P5 in Japan after a strong latter half to the race – an equal best result of the season for the Spaniard. Zarco couldn’t recover from a difficult start, he ended P6, with fellow Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) seventh.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) crossed the line eighth on his last Grand Prix visit to Japan, having a healthy five-second gap back to ninth place Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) – the Italian losing ground to Crutchlow and Zarco in the Independent Team Championship. Battle of the rookies was won by 10th place Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), the Malaysian beating Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) by less than a second.
Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and teammate Pol Espargaro were line astern in P12 and P13, with Yamaha wild card Katsuyuki Nakasuga (Yamalube Yamaha Factory Racing) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) claiming home turf points in P14 and P15 respectively.
Miller crashed midway through the race, with Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Team) also crashing, without injury. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) retired in the early stages.