Paris (AFP) – Victory or nothing. For the return of the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix after two seasons of absence due to Covid-19, championship leader Fabio Quartararo will have a hard time facing Francesco Bagnaia and Aleix Espargaro, in a good position to dislodge him.
Five races from the end of the season, the Frenchman arrives in Asia with a lead of only ten points over the Italian Bagnaia (201 points), victorious in four of the last five GPs.
The Turinese himself is closely followed in the general by the Spaniard Espargaro (Aprilia), only seven points behind him (194 points) – a gap which rises to 17 units with the reigning world champion.
Knowing that a victory is worth 25 points, at the top of the hierarchy, the Yamaha rider knows that he no longer has the right to make mistakes if he wants to maintain the gap with the competition, after having lost big during the last race.
From the start of the GP of Aragon in Spain last Sunday, the Niçois fell heavily and retired after a collision with the six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez.
If Quartararo admits to having “came out well” physically – with some chest burns and leg pain – he especially saw his opponents slip past him overall (Bagnaia finished 2nd, ahead of Espargaro, 3rd).
“Too much to fill the gap”
Behind the leading trio, Enea Bastianini, 4th in the championship (163 points) – 48 points behind Quartararo – showed in Aragon that he still had some under his feet, snatching victory from the hands of Bagnaia in the last lap of the race.
What to invite, too, in the race for the title? “48 points is too many to close the gap,” conceded the Italian from Ducati-Gresini.
And to continue: “but I want to continue in this direction to be competitive in the last part of the championship”, he who will join the Ducati factory team in 2023, with Bagnaia.
On the side of Honda, Marc Marquez will be keen to finish his first GP after three months of absence due to an operation on his right arm, the fourth in two years.
Back in competition last week, the Spaniard had to throw in the towel after his clash with Quartararo.
If he says he is taking advantage of this end of the season to get back in shape before 2023, Marquez will always be able to cling to this statistic: he is the driver on the grid for whom the Motegi circuit is most successful, with five victories in all categories. , including three in MotoGP. He remains the last winner in Japan, in 2019, when he was still the boss of the discipline.
For “his” Grand Prix, the presence of the Japanese Takaaki Nakagami in the race on Sunday is not yet assured since his fall in Aragon. The Honda-LCR driver, hit by Marquez in the wake of his collision with the Frenchman, suffered from the right hand.
Another absentee, this one confirmed, the 2020 world champion Joan Mir will miss the round after an ankle injury in Austria last August. The Spaniard will be replaced on the handlebars of his Suzuki by the Japanese Takuya Tsuda, who was to benefit from a “wild card” for this event anyway.
In Japan, the second stage of a series of three races contested in three weeks (after Aragon and before Thailand), the paddock will see its usual program turned upside down this weekend for logistical reasons, in order to receive the equipment on time. shipped directly from Spain.
Thus, on Friday, only one free practice session counting for qualifying will be contested at 06:05 GMT.
The other two will take place on Saturday – the first at 01:50 GMT, the second at 05:25 – just before qualifying at 06:05 GMT.
Under the rain ? After the passage of typhoon Nanmadol last Sunday, the weekend should remain rainy according to the weather forecast, as in 2019.
© 2022 AFP