Victory in Sunday’s Australian GP at Phillip Island, his sixth of the season, has seen Marc Marquez put one hand firmly on the 2017 MotoGP World Championship title. But whilst his 33-point lead, with two rounds remaining, looks almost out of reach, he won’t be resting on his laurels just yet and this weekend’s penultimate round at Sepang in Malaysia is now more crucial than ever.
Rising to the occasion
It’s been far from a flawless season for Marquez and, just as he did in 2016, he’s had to settle for points and places on occasions as opposed to always contesting the race win. Fortunes have fluctuated throughout but he’s won some key battles and at key moments, none more so than in Phillip Island.
Victory for closest rival Andrea Dovizioso the week before in Japan had seen the Ducati man close to within 11 points of Marquez and the battle was truly on. But when the Italian crashed in practice at the Australian circuit, his confidence appeared to take a major knock and, with another mistake during the race, 13th was all he could muster.
Marquez recognised he’d been handed a major opportunity and he grabbed it with both hands. But it was certainly no given that he was going to take the win and the 25 points as the race turned into an eight-rider dogfight that went all the way to the end.
However, the Repsol Honda rider turned in a masterful ride and whilst his all-action style has seen him make mistakes in the past, he wasn’t about to do that this time around and he duly saw off the considerable challenges of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales. With three wins and a second in the last four races, the smiling Spaniard is certainly hitting his best form at the right moment.
Dovizioso to keep fighting
It certainly wasn’t Dovizioso’s weekend and all of the Ducati riders struggled throughout the weekend, Scott Redding in 11th giving them their highest finish in the race. As well as Dovizioso, team-mate Jorge Lorenzo and Danilo Petrucci also fell, the latter (having finished third in Japan) finishing down in 21st place so there’ll be keen to see the back of the Australian circuit.
It may not have been his weekend but Dovizioso has taken his riding to new levels in 2017. it may be his tenth year in the MotoGP class but prior to 2016, he’d only won one race and that came back in 2009 at a wet British GP. Now in his fifth year with Ducati, Dovizioso has stuck with the Italian manufacturer when others have walked away and he’s duly been rewarded.
Last year saw him win in Malaysia, which could bode well for next weekend, and the former 125cc World Champion has kicked on in 2017 taking an impressive five wins. His challenge may be coming to an end but returning to a circuit where he’s been successful in the past will certainly lift his spirits and he’ll be more determined than ever to take it to a decider in Valencia next month.
KTM continue to make progress
KTM’s progress in their first official season in the premier class has been a bit of a slow burner, particularly for Bradley Smith, but Pol Espargaro has been putting in the occasional impressive ride and with the British rider now seemingly buoyed by his new contract, the duo are now regularly challenging for top ten finishes.
At times this season, they’ve been more than two seconds off the pace but the development work has continued both on race weekends and with their test riders elsewhere during the year, and they’re now seeing the fruits of their labour.
Having given the team their first top ten finish, ninth, in the Czech Republic, Espargaro has finished the last five races inside the top eleven. He took another ninth place in Australia with Smith finishing one place further back, the first time both bikes have finished inside the top ten of a race.
Their speed is clear to see with the bike now working well at all tracks and whilst podiums are still in the distance, we can expect them to continue to make progress over the winter months in preparation for the 2018 season.
Can Marquez take the 2017 MotoGP World Championship title? Share your thoughts in the comments below…
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.