This year’s Moto2 World Championship leader Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Kalex) brings a 21-point advantage to Japan, following another brilliant win at Aragon three weeks ago. A fortnight before that the talented 22-year-old had crashed out of the lead at a soaking-wet Misano, allowing his main title-challenger Thomas Luthi (CarXpert Interwetten Kalex) to close the points gap.
Morbidelli has been this year’s star turn in the Honda CBR600-powered series. He took his very Grand Prix victory in Qatar back in March and has scored a further seven wins since then. Meanwhile Luthi has won only once, at August’s Czech GP, but has scored well with his consistency, with only one DNF so far, compared to Morbidelli’s two DNFs.
The Italian and Swiss riders are both fast at Motegi. Last year Luthi won the Japanese Moto2 round, while Morbidelli finished third. Whichever of them wins this year’s championship, this will most likely be their last chance, because they both graduate to MotoGP in 2018, riding Honda RC213V machines for the Belgian-based Marc VDS squad.
Morbidelli and Luthi are so far ahead of the rest of the pack that their title battle is a two-way affair, leaving Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Kalex) and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo KTM) duelling for third overall.
Marquez, younger brother of Marc, had been in the Moto2 title fight until a couple of crashes cost him too many points. He was injured during Misano practice, which forced him to miss that race. He bravely returned for the subsequent race at Aragon but had to withdraw while riding with the front-runners, due to the effects of the injury. Those two no-scores allowed Oliveira to move into third overall. The Portuguese and Spaniard come to Motegi separated by two points.
Star rookie Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46 Kalex) holds fifth overall, with three podiums so far. Next is Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team Kalex), winner of June’s Italian Moto race and scorer of four pole positions. The Italian veteran is just seven points ahead of Nakagami, who won his first race of the year at Silverstone and will be doing everything in his power to win again in front of his home crowd at Motegi. This is the 25-year-old’s last chance to win his home Moto2 race before he graduates to MotoGP next year, joining Crutchlow at LCR Honda.
The Moto2 top ten is completed by Simone Corsi (Speed Up Speed Up), Misano winner Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing Suter) and reigning Moto3 World Champion Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo KTM).
Japan has hosted a round of the motorcycling World Championships on and off since 1963, when the Japanese GP was held at the brand-new Suzuka circuit, the country’s first roadrace venue. Honda founder Soichiro Honda built Suzuka to give his countrymen the chance to compete on a real racetrack, helping to improve Japanese riders and Japanese machinery, and to bring GP racing to Japan. Motegi staged its first World Championship race in 1999. The track is a great test for riders and machines, with braking stability and acceleration performance especially important.
MotoGP’s Asia-Pacific adventure continues next weekend in Australia and the following weekend in Malaysia. The season concludes at Valencia, Spain, on November 12th.