The reigning Champion vs the once dark horse will be decided in the season finale - and it may be 21 points in it, but anything can happen.
The twists and turns of 2017 have seen contenders flicker and fade; wins celebrated, cava sprayed and the wounds of defeat healed bar the points that have escaped some into the gravel. After 17 race weekends and thousands of laps since those first forays on track at Valencia last year, there remain two contenders as MotoGP™ returns to the venue: reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), who holds a 21 point lead, and dark horse turned key challenger Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) - the only man in between Marquez and a sixth world title.
Marquez’ path to the finale began off the podium in the season opener, before a crash at Argentina seemed to spell doom for his early hopes of retaining the crown. But the King of COTA returned to his throne in Austin, and the number 93 was on the podium next time out at Jerez. Then the tale twisted once more with a crash at Le Mans and a more difficult Mugello, before the fuse was lit and Marquez took five podiums in a row, including back-to-back wins at Sachsenring and Brno. Silverstone is what brought that run to an end as the Repsol Honda rider suffered a mechanical failure and retired. Losing out on the chance of a big chunk of points there, the following wins at Misano and Aragon were victories that put him back up at the front. His Phillip Island stunner then sealed his status as leader and made Sepang his first shot at an unbelievable sixth crown. But the man on his tail couldn’t be shaken off and Dovizioso turned a must win race in Malaysia into 25 points. Now, here we are.
Dovizioso, unlike Marquez, began the season on the podium. In Argentina he was collected in another rider’s crash, and since then the Italian has avoided a single DNF. Solid mid top ten results prefaced his first win of the year at Mugello – an incredibly special victory on home turf – before the Italian cemented his status as a true threat by taking the next victory too, at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. And he did it again when he took back-to-back wins at the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone – the former proving one of the duels of the century. Few people have beaten Marquez on the last lap or last corner, and Dovizioso made himself one of them. Later in the season, as the battle boiled down to two, ‘DesmoDovi’ would do it again: another spectacular duel between the two lit up the Twin Ring Motegi, this time in the pouring rain – and Dovizioso went from one of the men to have beaten Marquez on the final lap to the only man to have done so when the reigning Champion began that lap in the lead. Now, it makes a statistic and a race that history will remember – then, it was the Italian simply using what he says is his key characteristic, and outthinking the opposition.
There are only three men who have overturned a deficit in the season finale. The most recent is Dovizioso’s now-teammate Jorge Lorenzo in 2015, and Wayne Rainey did the same in 1992 to become the first. The late, great Nicky Hayden is the other man to have achieved the feat, in the famous final race of 2006. Dovizioso’s shot is long, and he must win the race to have a chance. But from dueling the same ‘Kentucky Kid’ and hopping over the kerbs at Indianapolis when the two were fighting for ninth in 2013, every shot seemed a long one for the Borgo Panigale factory. Those days are over. They have been long years of hard work for Ducati to claw their way back to the top, but back at the top they are. Sometimes motorcycle racing is decided by luck and circumstance. Sometimes it is decided by sweat. At Valencia, Dovizioso will be hoping both ring true for the red corner, and Marquez will do anything to keep the crown with him and Honda.
A two horse race is, of course, not the reality out on track. Marquez is gunning to be the youngest winner of six titles and the youngest winner of four in MotoGP™, but there are decorated veterans for both Dovizioso and the reigning Champion to overcome. Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team), their respective teammates, both have good records at Cheste – what role could they play? Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) too has good form at Valencia, and the cast from here have no interest in the title fight. His teammate Valentino Rossi has found it a more challenging track than some at times, but the ‘Doctor’ is never to be counted out. Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), confirmed as top Independent Team rider, will come out swinging. More than 20 riders representing Honda, Ducati, Yamaha, Suzuki, Aprilia and KTM will make it a race to remember, as has been the case throughout this incredible season.
But for Marquez or Dovizioso – or both for opposing reasons – it will be more than a good memory in a photo album of 2017, or a milestone on the way to the next. It will be the day for one to continue rewriting the possible in the premier class since he took his first and rookie title at the same venue in 2013, or a doggedly-fought and definitive first MotoGP™ crown for the man who would be the oldest since Mick Doohan in 1998 to achieve the feat.
The throne cannot be shared, but after 2017, the glory surely has been. The coronation begins on Sunday at 14:00 (GMT +1).
MotoGP World Championship Classification
1 - Marc Márquez (SPA - Honda) 282 points
2 - Andrea Dovizioso (ITA - Ducati) 261 points
3 - Maverick Viñales (SPA - Yamaha) 226 points
4 - Valentino Rossi (ITA - Yamaha) 197 points
5 - Dani Pedrosa (SPA - Honda) 185 points
Morbidelli and Nakagami look to bow out on a high
Next year's MotoGP graduates ready for a final showdown in the intermediate class - with plenty of competition in the way
After wrapping up the title in Malaysia even ahead of the race after key rival Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) was declared unfit, Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is now gearing up for graduation to MotoGP™ and has one last intermediate class chance to win. Lüthi won’t be present ahead of his move, replaced by Ricky Cardus, but there will be two more names looking to make a last mark: Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) and Xavier Simeon (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2).
Morbidelli will want to win, as will Nakagami. Simeon is coming back from injury and will aim as high as possible. But after the last two races have been dominated by Red Bull KTM Ajo, Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder could be about to spoil the party once more and end the season with three highs in a row.
Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is another big consideration at the front, having won both races on Spanish soil that he’s contested injury-free. Added to a stunner in the wet at Motegi, it has been a good year for the 2014 Moto3™ World Champion and he will want to bounce back after a crash in Malaysia to get as close as he can to Oliveira in the points. More home heroes like Xavi Vierge (Tech 3 Racing) and local man Jorge Navarro (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) are gunning for the same glory, too, and Navarro returns from injury. His fellow rookie and Rookie of the Year Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) is another to watch – always a dark horse to make a serious dent at the front.
As well as the usual cast of close-fighting rivals in the class, there’s also the addition of Eric Granado (Promoracing) – the European Moto2™ Championship leader in the FIM CEV Repsol and full-time rider at world level next season – and Jake Dixon (Dynavolt Intact GP), who wildcards. More interesting battles throughout the field are assured, as well as the customary fight at the front after a stunning 2017 season – with Morbidelli and Nakagami wanting to bow out on a high.
Moto2 World Championship Classification
1 - Franco Morbidelli (ITA - Kalex) 288 points
2 - Thomas Lüthi (SWI - Kalex) 243 points
3 - Miguel Oliveira (POR - KTM) 216 points
4 - Álex Márquez (SPA - Kalex) 190 points
5 - Francesco Bagnaia (ITA - Kalex) 161 points
Graduation day: Mir and Fenati on the hunt for history
Mir has a chance to equal Rossi, and Fenati the chance to equal Mir
Last time out, 2017 World Champion Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) pushed to the limit in the Malaysian GP to hunt down early leader Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3). In doing so and taking his tenth win of the year, he became the first rider since Marc Marquez to take ten victories in one season in the lightweight class - one more and the Majorcan equals Rossi in 1997. Mir already has 11 wins overall, too, with one added from last season - making him the rider with the most victories in Moto3™ since its introduction in 2012. Fenati is on 10, so there is some history at stake for the two before they graduate to Moto2™.
Martin, meanwhile, remains on the hunt for his maiden win. After getting closer than ever at Sepang, he will want to round out the year not just with another pole position, but also with a number one spot on Sunday. Home turf would be a good place to do it. Fabio Di Giannantonio, his teammate, is more in enemy territory – but is similarly searching for his maiden victory. Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) is the man just ahead of both in the standings and is back on home turf, and he’ll also want to go out with a bang to gear up for a push at the title next season. And on the other side of his garage is Enea Bastianini, who completed the podium last time out and is on form as we get to Cheste.
Close behind in the final rush for points is British Talent Team rider John McPhee, who took a front row start and top five at Sepang. He’ll be pushing to both catch the ‘Beast’ and put some distance in the points between himself and Mugello winner Andrea Migno, who is only five points behind.
There are many home heroes on the grid looking for a final celebration in the season, too, and Maria Herrera will be back on track in the extra entry MH6 team. 2017 FIM CEV Repsol Moto3™ Junior World Champion Dennis Foggia will also be wildcarding, and he could prove an interesting addition - having destroyed the field in stunning style in both CEV races at the track this season.
Home glory, history, points and the chance to close out the year on a high are all on offer – with the pressure off, and the gloves off too.
Moto3 World Championship Classification
1 - Joan Mir (SPA - Honda) 321 points
2 - Romano Fenati (ITA - Honda) 235 points
3 - Aron Canet (SPA - Honda) 192 points
4 - Jorge Martín (SPA - Honda) 171 points
5 - Fabio Di Giannantonio (ITA - Honda) 153 points