Unprecedented weather at Motegi this weekend had seen every session declared wet – the first time in the MotoGP era – and race day was no exception as the skies opened and a torrential downpour covered the 4,801m Japanese circuit.
With rain in the air, the riders lined up on the grid, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech3) took pole position after setting the best time in yesterday’s qualifying. As the lights changed Marquez was ahead in the first corner, but was soon passed by Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team). The Spaniard held this position until Lap Two, before Danilo Petrucci (OCTO Pramac Racing) took his place at the head of the field. Petrucci then began stretching his lead at the front, as the remainder of the pack got involved in their own battles behind him.
As the race progressed, Marquez closed on the leader and overtook him on Lap 13, before Dovizioso snatched the lead from the reigning World Champion on Lap 19, with what was to be the first of many changes of leadership between the pair as the race drew to a close. Dovizioso’s surge to the front resulted in him setting the fastest time of the day, and the top-two in the championship then went head-to-head over the remainder of the race, before heading into the last-lap with Marquez out in front.
With rain still falling, Dovizioso lined up a successful pass at the 90° corner, only to see Marquez come past him straight away, before the Ducati-rider again got the best of the Honda-mounted man to take victory at the end of a scintillating race. Marquez crossed the line in second and saw his title-lead cut to just 11-points, with three races remaining. Petrucci finished third and had the distinction of taking the First Independent Rider honours.
Dovizioso said: “It was a difficult race because at the start there wasn’t much grip and I didn’t have a good feeling with the bike but I never gave up, not even when I was losing ground, and this made all the difference.
“Marc was really quick and he tried right until the end, but there were some places where I could attack and he also made a small mistake on the last lap which gave me a chance to catch him again and try and pass him at Turn 11.
“I knew that he was going to attack me in the final two corners but I was prepared for this, I closed the door on him and he had to go a bit wide to pass me. It was absolutely vital to win here and I’m really so pleased for the whole team and for the championship.”
The race was watched trackside by 52,439 fans who braved the awful weather and they were treated to battles throughout the race that almost matched the excitement at the front. Andrea Iannone (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR) took fourth, just ahead of team-mate Alex Rins (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR), both recording their best results of the season so far. Lorenzo was sixth, followed home by Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). Zarco took eighth and continues to lead both the Independent Team Rider and Rookie Championships. Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) was ninth, with Loris Baz (Reale Avintia Racing) rounding out the top-ten.