Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing) won Sunday’s AirAsia Grand Prix of Japan fighting off a stiff challenge from Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa to ensure that the MotoGP title battle goes down to the wire for the first time since 2006.
Starting from pole position Lorenzo led the race from start to finish over the 24 lap contest, eventually crossing the finishing line 3.188s ahead of Marquez – to take the title fight to Valencia.
The Yamaha rider and his crew made a last minute switch to an extra soft tyre option shortly before the race and the gamble paid off.
Jorge Lorenzo: “Looking at the race classification all the top five after me were Honda riders and normally this track is better for them. So winning at Honda’s home track when we also took a risk with the soft tyre, was a pleasure. It was a hard race physically but I kept my concentration and I really wanted this victory.”
“We made the decision late (to an extra soft tyre option) because just before the race the temperature was 10 degrees warmer than in morning practice and I felt better on the softer tyres. I think it was the right choice for me on the Yamaha but maybe for the Hondas they were better on a different tyre.”
Marquez suffered a high speed crash during the warm-up session on a cold front tyre and was fortunate to avoid serious injury – he received an injection before the race to numb the pain.
Marc Marquez: “Second place today is a very good result. After my crash in warmup, I knew that it would be difficult to be consistent – because in the morning I hadn’t managed that either. This was my first time at this track with a MotoGP bike and in practice I was unable to get any references in the dry, leaving me with only the warmup and the race in which to find my way.
“I saw that Jorge was a little stronger than us here and I had a couple of scary moments, making me decide that twenty points and the gap being reduced by only five points would be a decent result. There is only one race remaining – the most important of the year – so we shall try to be more focused than ever at Valencia”
Lorenzo and his crew made a last minute switch to an extra soft tyre option shortly before the race and the gamble paid off, from his fourth pole position of the year, it would be a lights-to-flag victory to move one win ahead of Marquez in the 2013 season. Team-mate Valentino Rossi looked to be providing a buffer between the current title holder and the pair of factory Hondas, but made two mistakes at Turn 11 and fell back down the order.
Lorenzo would come under severe pressure from Marquez at the mid-way point of the race, with Pedrosa in hot pursuit. However, the Mallorcan was spared some breathing space as Marquez made mistakes at both Turn 11 and Turn 1. The 20-year-old would never be as close to Lorenzo again, eventually ending the day 3.1 seconds in arrears.
Pedrosa’s third place marked his 12th podium finish of the season, but he was unable to complete a hat-trick of Motegi victories as his chances for the 2013 world title officially evaporated.
Dani Pedrosa: “It was a bit of a boring race for me, because I tried to give everything but I had a lot of problems exiting the corners; I was unable to get on the gas fully and I lost a lot of time to Marc and Jorge. I was third for the entire race, trying to hold onto them. However, at the midway point of the race my pace started to become slower than theirs. Now we have to focus on the next race, in Valencia, where we shall try to do as well as possible”
Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl rounded out the top five, with the GO&FUN Honda Gresini rider having slipstreamed his way past the LCR Honda MotoGP bike at the start of the eighth lap.
Rossi fought back to sixth place after running as low as 11th, while Cal Crutchlow got the better of impressive Monster Yamaha Tech3 teammate Bradley Smith in seventh and eighth spots.
Crutchlow’s seventh position moves him to 188-points in the Championship rankings and with just one race remaining, Alvaro Bautista can no longer catch him to claim the accolade of being the top non-factory rider this season.
Valentino Rossi: “I made a great start but on the second lap when I arrived at Turn 11 I did not have enough power on the brakes, went too deep and lost two positions,” the Italian explains. “On the next lap it was the same. It was my mistake then because I should have remembered from the lap before that I didn’t have enough on the brakes. I couldn’t stay on the track and lost a lot of positions.
“After that I tried to do the maximum. My pace was quite good and think I could have been in fourth place, but it wasn’t enough to get on the podium.”
Cal Crutchlow: “It was a very difficult race because from the first lap I realised I was having an issue with the front brake overheating and choosing the harder rear tyre was not the best choice. Bradley used the softer tyre and in the first few laps, the problem with the brake meant I was having to focus on not running into is the back. My tyre was good for the second half of the race and I could pass Bradley but when Valentino came through he was a bit faster.
“We were just missing a few things to be more competitive but even with the soft tyre like Lorenzo, I wasn’t going to be racing at his pace. He really did a great job. The positive is with today’s result assured the fifth position in the Championship, and my target before the first race was to finish best non-factory rider. Now we can go home and get some rest after a tough period before trying to end the season strongly in Valencia.”
Ducati Team completed the top ten with Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso, while 11th place was taken by wildcard Katsuyuki Nakasuga for Yamaha YSP Racing Team.
In 12th was lead CRT rider Colin Edwards (NGM Mobile Forward Racing), with Power Electronics Aspar’s Aleix Espargaro having become the third of three retirements courtesy of a high-speed accident from which he escaped unharmed. Lukas Pesek (Came IodaRacing Project) was first to retire, while Cardion AB Motoracing’s Luca Scassa pulled into the pit lane with a loose right foot peg.
The Australian pair of Damian Cudlin (Paul Bird Motorsport) and Bryan Staring (Go&Fun Honda Gresini) finished 21st and 22nd respectively.
Sunday’s result – marking the 200th premier class race victory for Yamaha – sees Lorenzo move to within 13 points of Marquez with just the Gran Premio Generali de la Comunitat Valenciana remaining.
This signals the first final-race MotoGP title-decider for seven years; in 2006 it was also a duel between the Honda and Yamaha factory teams, with the crown won by Nicky Hayden as the American picked up a maiden title from the then reigning World Champion, Valentino Rossi.
1. Jorge Lorenzo ESP Yamaha Factory Racing (YZR-M1) 42m 34.291s
2. Marc Marquez ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 42m 37.479s
3. Dani Pedrosa ESP Repsol Honda Team (RC213V) 42m 38.883s
4. Alvaro Bautista ESP Go&Fun Honda Gresini (RC213V) 42m 54.046s
5. Stefan Bradl GER LCR Honda MotoGP (RC213V) 42m 57.101s
6. Valentino Rossi ITA Yamaha Factory Racing (YZR-M1) 42m 58.928s
7. Cal Crutchlow GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 43m 1.787s
8. Bradley Smith GBR Monster Yamaha Tech 3 (YZR-M1) 43m 5.260s
9. Nicky Hayden USA Ducati Team (GP13) 43m 11.301s
10. Andrea Dovizioso ITA Ducati Team (GP13) 43m 17.235s
11. Katsuyuki Nakasuga JPN Yamaha YSP Racing Team (YZR-M1) 43m 27.636s
12. Colin Edwards USA NGM Forward Racing (FTR-Kawasaki CRT)* 43m 37.504s
13. Randy De Puniet FRA Power Electronics Aspar (ART CRT) 43m 41.131s
14. Andrea Iannone ITA Energy T.I. Pramac Racing (GP13) 43m 42.509s
15. Yonny Hernandez COL Ignite Pramac Racing (GP13) 43m 52.531s
16. Hector Barbera ESP Avintia Blusens (FTR-Kawasaki CRT)* 43m 53.399s
17. Hiroshi Aoyama JPN Avintia Blusens (FTR-Kawasaki CRT)* 43m 55.465s
18. Danilo Petrucci ITA Came IodaRacing Project (Suter-BMW CRT)* 44m 4.837s
19. Michael Laverty GBR Paul Bird Motorsport (ART CRT) 44m 57.649s
20. Claudio Corti ITA NGM Forward Racing (FTR-Kawasaki CRT)* 1 lap
21. Damian Cudlin AUS Paul Bird Motorsport (PBM-ART CRT)* 1 lap
22. Bryan Staring AUS Go&Fun Honda Gresini (FTR-Honda CRT) 1 lap
Aleix Espargaro ESP Power Electronics Aspar (ART CRT) DNF
Luca Scassa ITA Cardion AB Motoracing (ART CRT) DNF
Lukas Pesek CZE Came IodaRacing Project (Suter-BMW CRT)* DNF
* Standard ECU.
1. Marc Marquez 318 pts SPA HONDA Repsol Honda Team
2. Jorge Lorenzo 305 pts SPA YAMAHA Yamaha Factory Racing
3. Dani Pedrosa 280 pts SPA HONDA Repsol Honda Team
4. Valentino Rossi 224 pts ITA YAMAHA Yamaha Factory Racing
5. Cal Crutchlow 188 pts GBR YAMAHA Monster Yamaha Tech 3
6. Alvaro Bautista 160 pts SPA HONDA Go & Fun Honda Gresini
7. Stefan Bradl 146 pts GER HONDA LCR Honda MotoGP
8. Andrea Dovizioso 133 pts ITA DUCATI Ducati Team
9. Nicky Hayden 118 pts USA DUCATI Ducati Team
10. Bradley Smith 107 pts GBR YAMAHA Monster Yamaha Tech 3
11. Aleix Espargaro 88 pts SPA ART Power Electronics Aspar
12. Andrea Iannone 57 pts ITA DUCATI Energy T.I. Pramac Racing Team
13. Michele Pirro 50 pts ITA DUCATI Ignite Pramac Racing Team
14. Colin Edwards 40 pts USA FTR-KAWASAKI NGM Mobile Forward Racing
15. Randy De Puniet 36 pts FRA SUZUKI Suzuki Test Team
16. Hector Barbera 31 pts SPA FTR Avintia Blusens
17. Danilo Petrucci 24 pts ITA IODA-SUTER Came IodaRacing Project
18. Yonny Hernandez 21 pts COL DUCATI Ignite Pramac Racing Team
19. Hiroshi Aoyama 13 pts JAP FTR Avintia Blusens
20. Claudio Corti 11 pts ITA FTR-KAWASAKI NGM Mobile Forward Racing
21. Ben Spies 9 pts USA DUCATI Ignite Pramac Racing Team
22. Katsayuki Nakasuga 5 pts JPN YAMAHA Yamaha YSP Racing Team
23. Karel Abraham 5 pts CZE ART Cardion AB Motoracing
24. Alex De Angelis 5 pts RSM DUCATI Ignite Pramac Racing Team
25. Michael Laverty 3 pts GBR PBM Paul Bird Motorsport
26. Bryan Staring 2 pts AUS FTR-HONDA Go & Fun Honda Gresini
27. Javier Del Amor 1 pts SPA FTR Avintia Blusens
28. Martin Bauer 0 pts AUT S&B SUTER Remus Racing Team
29. Lukas Pesek 0 pts CZE IODA-SUTER Came IodaRacing Project
30. Luca Scassa 0 pts ITA ART Cardion AB Motoracing
31. Ivan Silva 0 pts SPA FTR Avintia Blusens
32. Damian Cudlin 0 pts AUS PBM Paul Bird Motorsport