Franco Morbidelli arrives in Japan with a 21-point advantage over closest rival Thomas Luthi, who has established himself as a master of the Twin Ring Motegi due to his past performances. With 4 riders matematically in the title fight, a home hero at his final occasion to delight the crowd, few veterans searching for some past glory and some rookies looking to impress, the Moto2 Japanese GP announces to be one for the history books.
Tom Luthi is the en-titre winner at the track. The Swiss rider won here in 2016 after a duel with eventual World Champion Johann Zarco, a win that proved crucial in his dash for the runner-up spot. This year, Luthi already has control over that runner-up spot, but he will be looking for more as the championship lead is only 21 points away. He also triumphed here in 2014 and finished 3rd in 2011 and 2013. During his period in the lightweight class, Luthi scored a 2nd place finish in Motegi in the year in which he clinched his first and, up to now, only World Championship (2005). Will we see a repeat story in 2017?
Championship leader Franco Morbidelli was also on the podium here in 2016, having taken 3rd place from Takaaki Nakagami for a little more than one tenth of a second. The Italian will search for that podium again because, as he found out several times this year, his point lead is vulnerable ahead of an extremely constant Luthi. The Marc VDS rider arrives in Asia with good morale after the stunning win from Aragon, so we can expect Morbidelli to play an important role in the battle for the win.
Still with mathematic chances at clinching the title are Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Miguel Oliveira and Morbidelli s teammate, Alex Marquez.
The Portuguese currently sits 3rd, 91 points behind ”Frankie”, with 100 still up for grabs. Mission impossible for Oliveira some might say, but, in 2015, while in Moto3, he managed to take 69 points from Danny Kent across the last 4 races. Of course, Moto3 is not Moto2, 91 is not 69 and Franco Morbidelli is not Danny Kent, but, as we have seen many times in the history of the World Championship, anything can happen. Oliveira arrives in the Land of the Rising Sun after a great performance in Aragon, where he crossed the line in 3rd after having started from pole. Aki Ajo s rider is yet to take a win in the intermmediate class, but that win might come in the Asia-Pacific triple header, a period full of beautiful memories for him. In 2015, he scored two wins and one 2nd place across these 3 races.
As for Alex Marquez, the Spaniard sits 93 points behind his teammate. The younger kid of the Marquez family is travelling a rough period as he has gathered only 2 points across the last 3 GPs. His main goal will be to recover his 3rd place in the standings from Oliveira and to come back to podium ways on the track on which he scored his very first career win. That happened in 2013 in the lightweight class, when, after a hard-fought duel with current MotoGP title contender Maverick Vinales, A. Marquez walked away victorious for only 0.027.
Although these 4 men hold the headlines ahead of the week-end, for the Japanese crowd this race will be all about one man – local hero Takaaki Nakagami. This will be Taka s last representation in front of his home fans in the intermmediate class as from next year we will see him at the board of the LCR Team s Honda in the premier class. Out of the title fight and with a contract assured for 2018, Nakagami has no pressure at all on his shoulders and has all the reasons to bring the best out of him and push for the win – just like he did in Silverstone. Last year at Motegi, he missed out on the podium for less than 2 tenths of a second, so his motivation will be even higher.
Another one to definitely keep our eyes on is veteran Mattia Pasini. The ItalTrans rider came back to podium ways in Aragon. Having battled for the win with Morbidelli, ”Il Paso” fell short for just 0.145. This will surely motivate him even more ahead of the Japanese round, a GP that he has beautiful memories with. He won here in 2007 in the 125cc class after having started from pole position. Simone Corsi will be another interesting veteran to follow this week-end, as this is the venue where the 2008 125cc runner-up scored his very first career podium. This happened very long time ago, in 2004 more exactly, when Corsi battled countrymen Fabrizio Lai and Mirko Giansanti for the 2nd place. He crossed the finish line in 3rd.
Apart from veterans, it will also be much ”fresh blood” lining up with confidence on the Japanese grid. With the ”Rookie of the Year” title pretty much in the bag, Pecco Bagnaia will try to continue his good run of form, as Valentino Rossi s protegee has finished inside the top 5 on 4 of the last 6 races. Brad Binder is also showing signs of improvement, as the 2016 Moto3 World Champion locked out the top 5 in each of the last 2 GPs. Last year he finished 2nd in the Moto3 race, so there are many reasons for whom Binder should play an important role in the battle for top positions.
The Moto2 race is scheduled to kick-off at 12:20 local time (GMT +9) on Sunday.
photo credit – motogp.com