It is so rare to get a head-to-head race between the best two men in the world at the moment with no interference from outside actors like injuries, machinery or tyres. It is rarer still when this encounter happens at a crucial stage on the championship, and even rarer when it is decided by a last lap of such epic proportions that even old hacks like myself struggle to recall its equal.
The Japanese Grand Prix of 2017 was such an event, won by Andrea Dovizioso with an impossibly precise maneuver down into one of the most difficult corners of the year in the worst weather you can run a motorcycle race in. The man he beat was Marc Marquez, who started the final lap with a small but significant lead. Everything changed at Turn 8 when Marc got on the gas too hard, too early and the rear stepped out. By his standards it was a minor indiscretion but it was enough to give Dovi a chance; a perfect entry onto the back straight put him in position to outbrake Marc at Turn 11. This is a downhill, off-camber, 90-degree right that demands total precision or your exit speed is destroyed. Under that pressure, in those conditions, Dovi made the move stick, which should have been it but Marc found another way to attack around the outside in the next left. As in Austria, although this was a much less dangerous move, Andrea was calm enough to let Marc make his lunge and use the right line to get tot he line first. Thus Marc’s championship lead was reduced to eleven points with three races left.
Who came third? Frankly, who cares? Actually it was Danilo Petrucci, and this time he did not feel as if he’d been robbed of the win. Suzuki had a fine race, with Iannone and Rins fourth and fifth. Yamaha suffered, with Zarco their best although he lost two places in the final laps he still finished in front of Vinales who saw his championship aspirations dissolve in the rain. If you discount Marquez, Honda had a horrible race; the second RCV home was Rabat in fifteenth.
Andrea Dovizioso has now won five races this year – there’s a fact to make you think. And two of those victories have come in last-lap, last corner duels with Marc Marquez. Dovi’ has always had the ability, now he has the self-belief.
You must watch this race.