MOTEGI, Japan // The MotoGP world championship will go down to the final race of the season after Jorge Lorenzo won the Japan Grand Prix on Sunday ahead of title rival Marc Marquez.
Marquez, 20, bidding to become the youngest ever MotoGP world champion, is guaranteed to win the title if he places fourth or better in two weeks in Valencia, regardless of Lorenzo’s performance.
Marquez, who is still favourite to become the first rookie title winner for 35 years, leads the standings on 318 points, 13 more than fellow Spaniard Lorenzo.
Marquez said he struggled with his braking on the stop-and-go Motegi circuit, and decided to settle for second after judging that it would be difficult to catch his countryman.
“In the end, I saw Jorge started to push a little bit more,” Marquez said, adding he had pushed himself to the limit.
“So I said, 20 points (second place) for the championship. In Valencia there will be another race. It will be interesting, for sure.”
Valencia will be the first time in seven years that the world title has gone down to the wire.
Yamaha rider Lorenzo, 26, the current world champion, started from pole position and staged an impeccable display to tame Marquez, on a Honda, after a spectacular duel.
Third was Dani Pedrosa, also on a Honda.
This was Lorenzo’s 51st career win and seventh in this season, while Yamaha celebrated its 200th victory in the MotoGP class.
“It’s one of the happiest days in my MotoGP career,” said Lorenzo, adding the only disappointment is that he only made up five points on Marquez after picking up 25 points for the victory.
“Anyway, we tried our best. Things we could do, we did,” he said.
Pedrosa began to slip away on lap 15, leaving Lorenzo and Marquez to engage in a gruelling battle that gradually intensified.
On the previous lap Marquez closed in on Lorenzo from the outside, looking to take him on. Their bikes nearly touched but the Yamaha rider edged by to maintain his position.
By lap 20, Lorenzo had begun to widen his lead with Marquez navigating carefully around slower riders who had been lapped by the frontrunners.
Lorenzo steamed home in 42 minutes 34.291 seconds, followed by Marquez who finished 3.188 seconds later.
Conditions at the mountainous Motegi circuit were dry and sunny on Sunday, after dense fog and torrential rain forced the cancellation of free practice on Friday and Saturday.
Riders went straight into the qualifying session on Saturday afternoon on a wet surface.
Sunday’s dry weather forced the teams to change their settings at the last minute.
Hours before the race, Marquez crashed at high speed in a practice session although he walked away unscathed.
Marquez blamed the fall on a cold tyre and a sudden change of track temperature as it happened after his bike ran under a bridge.
He was treated for back pain, but Marquez said it did not bother him during the race.
Riders’ nerves were also tested when the track north of Tokyo felt strong tremors from a powerful undersea earthquake off the northeast coast early Saturday, although it caused no damage to the circuit or elsewhere.