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.
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