Dovizioso's last stand: Marquez under siege at Sepang

2017-10-24 13:00
The reigning Champion stands on the verge of a sixth world title - but Dovizioso won't go down without a fight
One of the most stunning dogfights of the modern era lit up Phillip Island last time out, and it was reigning Champion and points leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) who emerged triumphant from the melee – breaking away from Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) to take the flag. And it was a tough day out for title rival Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), as he suffered an early run off and was forced to fight back from P20; making it to thirteenth.

That leaves Marquez 33 points clear as we touch down in the melting pot of Sepang. Searing heat, humidity, uncertain weather and a challenging and technical track make for a mammoth weekend on which the crown will first be in play, and there’s one thing squarely on Dovizioso’s side despite the pendulum having swung the other way: the Italian won there last season.

Then, it was his first win since 2009. Now, it’s the first of six in a year – and a tough weekend at Phillip Island does little to diminish the Italian’s claim to the crown. Dovizioso won’t go down without a fight, and this is his final stand.

The standings may be a two horse race for the title, but the race itself will surely not be. Rossi and Viñales were back on the podium at Phillip Island in style, and both will be aiming for the top once again. The rider from Tavullia has won at Sepang more times than anyone. Zarco – who won the Moto2™ crown there in 2016 – is another who fought it out on the Island, and another who will be fired up to do it again. Likewise Andrea Iannone, as he looks to keep the momentum going after two top six finishes in two races – and some stunning moves in Australia.

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) could be a dark horse for the win. Pedrosa is the next most successful rider at the venue after Rossi, and has taken five wins – three of which have been in MotoGP™. Wet or dry, Pedrosa has reigned. He also equals Rossi’s pole position count – four – and has the pole record: a searing 1'59.053 lap of the venue in 2015.

Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) is the race lap record holder and will want to bounce back after Phillip Island, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) continues making huge progress and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing likewise – with another triumph at Phillip Island as they took two top ten finishes and had both bikes in Q2.

Independent Team riders Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) will be back chasing Zarco for the honour of being the first in that fight, and there will be a new name on the grid: Michael van der Mark.

Originally called up to replace Rossi at Aragon, the Dutch WorldSBK rider will instead make his debut at Sepang replacing the absent Jonas Folger at Monster Yamaha Tech 3. The 2017 Suzuka 8H winner and former WorldSSP winner at Sepang races with no pressure, ready to get his first taste of the premier class.

33 points separate the title contenders, two races remain and Sepang will bring it to boiling point: will Marquez hold his nerve, or can Dovizioso strike back? Action begins on Friday as the field prepare for battle.

MotoGP World Championship Classification
1 - Marc Márquez (SPA - Honda) 269 points
2 - Andrea Dovizioso (ITA - Ducati) 236 points
3 - Maverick Viñales (SPA - Yamaha) 219 points
5 - Valentino Rossi (ITA - Yamaha) 188 points
5 - Dani Pedrosa (SPA - Honda) 174 points
Morbidelli faces down his first shot at the crown
With 29 points separating the top two, the Championship is on the line

KTM upstaged the fight for the crown last time out, as they took their first victory in the intermediate class – and their first 1-2, with Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) following Miguel Oliveira across the line. Now it’s time for Malaysia, and the two men will be looking for a repeat as they race with no title pressure – and the battle hits boiling point for Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten). Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) could play a role too, and he’s chasing Oliveira for third in the standings.

But Morbidelli, after completing the podium at Phillip Island, is now 29 points clear – with his Swiss rival having had a tough weekend and crossed the line in P10. The Italian must therefore leave Sepang with at least 25 points of advantage – with Lüthi now out of time to equal Morbidelli’s win count should they end up equal on points. Last season, the EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider was beaten only by Zarco – with Lüthi crossing the line in sixth. The Swiss rider will want a turnaround on his last stand.

One big force at the front could come from a home hero – especially given the possibility of changeable weather in which Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) excels. With two podiums in the last three races, his confidence will be high ready to fly the flag at home – and he came fifth last season. Compatriot Khairul Idham Pawi (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) is another on home turf, and he'll want to put together a solid result with so much home support.

Hot, humid, changeable and challenging, Sepang is the perfect stage for a final showdown – and it may prove just that, with Morbidelli focused on the crown and ready to head out on track from Friday.

Moto2 World Championship Classification
1 - Franco Morbidelli (ITA - Kalex) 272 points
2 - Thomas Lüthi (SWI - Kalex) 243 points
3 - Miguel Oliveira (POR - KTM) 191 points
4 - Álex Márquez (SPA - Kalex) 190 points
5 - Francesco Bagnaia (ITA - Kalex) 150 points
Sepang: Moto3 prepare for a slipstream showdown
The pressure's off for Mir - so will the gloves come off?

Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) now has his first chance to fight for a win as the reigning World Champion after wrapping up the title last time out. It won’t be easy, with two long straights at Sepang International Circuit to contend with – sure to be another incredible slipstreaming battle. But the pressure is now off, and the gloves can come off too.

That’s true of Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers), too. With the title fight now over, the two riders are fighting for the record books ahead of their graduation to Moto2™. Fenati took his tenth win at Motegi to become the rider with the most in Moto3™, and Mir hit back at Phillip Island to equal it. But Mir has taken nine of those this season, so if he can win the final two, he will equal Valentino Rossi as the rider with the most wins in one year in the lightweight class. One more, and he’s the first rider since Marquez to win ten in a year. But the weather in Malaysia is never sure, and could swing the pendulum one way or the other.

Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) could have something to say about that. On pole once more in the Australian GP – having gone fastest in qualifying for the eighth time this season – the Spaniard is still lacking his first win. He has two chances remaining to break that run, and will be aiming to do it in Malaysia. His teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio is also looking for that first win, and the two are close in the fight behind Mir at the top of the standings. Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) – currently third in the table – will also want more than in Australia to be able to lock that honour down, and John McPhee (British Talent Team) wants to bounce back.

The home crowd will be cheering Adam Norrodin (SIC Racing Team), as the Malaysian arrives at his home GP following a fantastic top ten result at Phillip Island. With the team riding at home – SIC standing for Sepang International Circuit – they’re sure to have a lot of support for his teammate, too. That’s Ayumu Sasaki, former Asia Talent Cup and Red Bull MoroGP Rookies Cup winner, who was likewise on top form at the Island. And there's a wildcard entry: Kasma Kasmayudin (Petronas Sprinta Racing), who makes an appearance away from his key duties in the FIM CEV Repsol.

The pressure is off, but that won’t change the awesome action throughout the Moto3™ field. Especially with the layout of Sepang - it’s sure to be a classic.

Practice starts on Friday at 9:00 local time (GMT +8).
Moto3 World Championship Classification
1 - Joan Mir (SPA - Honda) 296 points
2 - Romano Fenati (ITA - Honda) 226 points
3 - Aron Canet (SPA - Honda) 184points
4 - Jorge Martín (SPA - Honda) 151 points
5 - Fabio Di Giannantonio (ITA - Honda) 146 points

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