Factory Ducati #1 rider Andrea Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet Sepang circuit – win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale. Trailing defending champ Marc Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid having to endure another nauseating Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title will be decided in two weeks at Valencia, and is more likely to end with a whimper than a bang.

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Marc Marquez leaves Sepang with a 21-point lead over Andrea Dovizioso, which means the 2017 MotoGP title will be decided at Valencia.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday provided a dry session for FP1 and a wet session for FP2. Dovi topped the charts during both, looking very relaxed for a guy down 33 points with two races left. Marquez, typically, took his time in FP1, looking around, then got serious during the wet afternoon session and trailed only Dovizioso at the end of the day.

Saturday was hot and “dry” all day, if you think of 90% relative humidity as “dry.” FP3 was decisive in culling the herd, as all but two of the riders set their fastest times of the weekend in the morning, topped by Dr. Rossi, who came out of nowhere on Friday to headline FP3 on Saturday. Those passing directly into Q2 included both factory riders from the Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Ducati teams and the two satellite Hondas of Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller, who has been on something of a roll since breaking his leg.

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Jack Miller had a good start in Q2 while Marc Marquez crashed early in the session. Marquez was able to recover and qualify seventh.

Q1 was pretty orderly, as my boy Alex Rins and KTM heartthrob Pol Espargaro made it through to Q2, Espargaro directly after laying down his bike very late in the session. This set the stage for Q2, which I would like to summarize by simply listing the riders who sat pole during the 15 minute session:

  • Jack Miller (after Marquez crashed on his first flying lap)
  • Johann Zarco, looking fast all weekend
  • Dani Pedrosa, loving the hot track
  • Jorge Lorenzo, loving the dry track
  • Johann Zarco again, and for quite awhile. Then, quickly, as the session was ending
  • Dani Pedrosa
  • Valentino Rossi
  • Andrea Dovizioso
  • Johann Zarco once more, and, finally
  • Dani Pedrosa, for his first pole since Catalunya

The final minute of the session was a blur, one which pushed Marquez to the seven spot, topping row 3. After a first lap crash, he changed bikes, put in one fast lap in which he was out of shape most of the time, got off the bike and had it put away for Sunday. Previously, FP4 was the scene of what some are calling The Save of the Century, when he traveled perhaps 60 yards on his rear wheel and right knee, his front wheel, akimbo, laying down a thick black line, before righting himself and continuing gingerly down the road.

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Dani Pedrosa usually does well at Sepang, taking his fifth career MotoGP pole position in Malaysia.

So, Sunday’s race would feature Pedrosa, Zarco and Dovizioso on the front row and Rossi, Viñales and Lorenzo on Row 2, with Marquez, Rins and Iannone comprising Row 3. With loose cannons Zarco and Andrea Iannone in the mix heading into Turn 1, it seemed Sunday’s race, for some riders, could be rather brief. Not a good thing with a championship at stake late in the season. No one wants to be collateral damage, or the cause of it.

The Race

Once the red lights went out on Sunday, Marquez appeared to have been shot out of a howitzer, taking the hole shot into Turn 1 hot, then watching Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo slip by as he settled into third, Dovizioso trailing in fourth. On Lap 4, Dovizioso and Marquez did a little do-si-do after which Dovizioso took over third place and Marquez dropped back to fourth, where he would finish. So far so good for the Italian challenger, though Lorenzo and Zarco would still need to be dealt with. At that point, there was plenty of race left.

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Johann Zarco started strong and earned his second podium of the season, securing rookie-of-the-year honors.

By Lap 9, Zarco appeared to be having issues with his soft rear rain tire, as first Lorenzo, then Dovizioso, went through on him. (Though he would not win today’s race, Zarco did clinch the Rookie of the Year award, as well as the Top Independent Rider for 2017, and he will be a hot property in next year’s silly season.) Thus, with factory Ducati rider Lorenzo leading factory Ducati rider Dovizioso, the talk in the commentary booth turned to “team orders,” that euphemism loathed by racing fans in which money and/or politics is injected into the rather Darwinian proceedings on track, occasionally producing some perverse results. The Ferrari F1 team back in the 90’s, head and shoulders above the rest of the field, with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello driving, used to take turns winning races, to the disgust of fans around the world. Such concerns were alive and well in Malaysia today.

Lorenzo did not appear to be having any of it. The triple MotoGP champion, winless in 2017 with an ego as big as the great outdoors, had said, earlier in the year, that if Dovi needed “help” in Valencia he would try to provide it. This, however, was not Valencia, although it might as well have been. Had Lorenzo beaten Dovizioso today, with Marquez slotted fourth, the championship would have been decided.

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Team orders? What team orders?

Other than Alex Rins getting disqualified for taking a shortcut back to the pits on Lap 12, things proceeded apace until Lap 16. At turn 15, the hairpin between the back and front straights, Lorenzo lost his grits, ran wide, nearly came off, and left a bright red stripe on the asphalt where his left knee slider was all that stood between him and a painful visit to the kitty litter. While this was going on, Dovizioso quietly slipped through and took the lead he would not relinquish.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez’ ride today was reminiscent of his outing at Brno in 2014. He had won the first 10 races that year. He was virtually a mortal lock to win the title. He had been fast all weekend in practice. Yet, once the race rolled around, he appeared disinterested in challenging for the lead and an untouchable record 11th consecutive premier class win. Instead, like today, he rode a conservative, low-risk race to a 4th place finish with no harm done. His effort today sets up a deciding match in Valencia, but not the kind we were hoping for.

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While Marc Marquez probably would have liked to have wrapped up the championship at Sepang, he remains well positioned heading into the finale at Valencia.

Marc Marquez returns to Spain in two weeks leading by 21 points. The number of permutations and combinations on offer next time out plummeted today. Dovizioso must win the next race to have any kind of chance for the championship; should he finish second or worse, Marquez is champion again. Assuming, for a moment, that Dovi wins, Marquez would have to finish 12th or worse, the odds of which, with a title on the line, are incalculably high. Back in the day when I had a friendly bookie in St. Louis, such a parley – Dovi wins, Marquez scoring fewer than five points – would pay around 200-1. So, though we may have the pleasure of watching the title decided at the last race – our fervent hope all season – it holds about as much drama as watching iron rust.

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One world championship was decided at Sepang. A third-place result for Franco Morbidelli secured him the 2017 Moto2 title.

Preparing for Valencia

Here at MO, we have a number of things on our plate for the next two weeks. The final tranching of the riders. Trying to figure out a way to pump some drama into the last race of the season. Most worrisome of all, coming up with a classic quote that captures the essence of a great campaign that may have lasted two weeks too long. Andrea Dovizioso has enjoyed his finest MotoGP season ever this year, tripling his number of career premier class wins and pushing the eighth wonder of the world to the brink to the very end.

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No matter what happens at Valencia, Andrea Dovizioso can call 2017 a success, having set personal records for wins and points.

Andrea Dovizioso in 2017 is destined for one of two undesired labels. The first is “plucky,” which will be his if he finishes second this season. The second is “lucky,” which will be his if he wins in Valencia and Marquez finishes out of the points, having been collected, for example, by an Andrea Iannone or an Alvaro Bautista, each on his way to another undistinguished season. Riders in Valencia may be somewhat cautious around Marquez, not wishing to be the villain, or goober, who keeps him from his appointed fourth premier class title in 2017.

  • Jens Vik

    This race won’t be in the season highlight reel. What a let down after last weeks race.

    • BDan75

      Yeah. I guess they can’t all be winners. I’ve only been watching for a few years, admittedly, but I can’t think of a Sepang race I’ve found very interesting.

  • Old MOron

    Qualifying was almost as exciting as the race. In a way it was more exciting, with more riders proving competitive, and with more lead swaps. But Dovi’s run to the front on Sunday was a treat. I hope his pluck is rewarded with luck at Valencia.

    That was a clever use of rhyme, Brucey. Your rhetorical skills are beyond reproach. But your stats could use a little work. “Assuming, for a moment, that Dovi wins, Marquez would have to finish 12th or worse, the odds of which, with a title on the line, are incalculably high.”

    We could easily calculate the odds as the ratio of favorable outcomes to unfavorable outcomes. If 22 riders start in Valencia, then the odds of Marquez finishing 12th or worse are 1:1 – no really!

    But these would be false odds because the events of Marquez finishing in any position, 1 – 22, are not equally likely. Nevertheless, the odds can and will be calculated by every bookmaker on the planet 🙂

    • BDan75

      I’d say it pretty much boils down to the odds of MM crashing. There’s no way he’ll finish 12th or below unless he crashes and remounts. Unfortunately for Dovi, though, he seems to do all his crashing in practice these days. Two crashes in races this season, both in the early part of the year.

      But…he sure has a lot of close calls. Personally, I’d put the odds of a Dovi win at something closer to 20:1.

  • spiff
  • Starmag

    Congrats to the whole podium.

    Desmo Dovi comes through big when he needed to.

    Jorge almost wins in the wet(!). He must be tired of me referring to him as El Gato.

    Another great performance by the rookie Zarco on last years M1. He’s been making the Blues Brothers look bad at times.

    And…while Eminem didn’t sew this one up in the wet, that save in practice was mad, especially in slo-mo. I wonder if he put a flat spot on his front tire. It reminded me of a similar save in Brno 2016.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3qtN27EuV8

    • Allison Sullivan

      When I looked up the results and saw Lorenzo in second, I had to check I had the right year …one wonders what lit a fire under his butt this weekend.

  • BDan75

    Unless Iannone crashed and remounted, finishing behind van der Mark on the latter’s first MotoGP outing has gotta sting a bit. Especially after the previous two races.

  • spiff

    The announcers said if Dovi wins next time out, and Maquez is 12th they would be tied in points. Dovi would have more wins, and take the championship. So we need Marquez to have a minor lowside, and have him work his way back through the field.

    • Starmag

      lol. Who’s this “we” you speak of ? I think The Slip Sliding One has earned it the hard way this year. This was no easy 10 win season. For me, he’s much more entertaining to watch than Dovi. I can’t see rooting for crashes. That will be the only way Dovi pulls this out. The advance weather forecast predicts a sunny day at this point so Ducati won’t have that wet advantage available.

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.

      • spiff

        Who is we? My tiger and I.

        • Old MOron

          Don’t forget me, Spiff.
          Go, Dovi! End transmission.

          • spiff

            Careful OM. Pretty soon Bruce will be questioning everything you say. He has even made notion that Rossi is over th hill. Just saying.

          • Sorry, guys. I understand how you love this guy. His resume is incomparable. But with one win since Barcelona 2016? No titles, and the same number of DNFs as wins, since 2009? He needs a bike that will run in the rain (2016 did/does, 2017 doesn’t), and you guys need to prepare yourselves for him to start missing podiums after next season, assuming he stays in the game too long. Even if he loses his real Alien card in 2019, he will be an Alien for Life based upon his body of work, most of which came before 2010. Just sayin’.

          • Old MOron

            If you look at how Valentino is racing, it’s clear he’s still a badass. Look at how he was chopping and changing at Phillip Island. He still relishes the knife fight in a phone booth, and he can still hold his own. If Yamaha can get their bike’s water manners figured out next year, anything is possible.

          • spiff

            Take that Bruce!

          • Old MOron

            It’s kind of like starting an oil thread. Brucey knows that by baiting the yellow faithful, he’ll get a rise out of the crowd. And that’s okay. It’s his job to get something wrong, and take his yellow medicine.

          • Roses are red.
            Violets are blue.
            I’m a schizophrenic.
            And so am I.

  • schizuki

    “Dear Gigi… You suggest Map 8? I’m winning the f****n’ race, and you suggest Map
    8? Are you taking drogas? Are you soft in the cabeza?

    “What is this Map 8, anyway? I do not need a map. The Sepang circuit is simple. One direction, clockwise, I think. No turn-offs. Do not hit the palm trees. Do not run over the cobras. That is what you have written on my tank. No maps are needed. But you say to me on my dash, Suggest Map 8.

    “I say to myself, chinga du madre, Gigi! And you tell me this Map 8 basura when I am showing that sad-eyed idiot puta team-mate of mine how to ride his stupid motorcycle in the rain!? Your timing is mierda, Gigi. Mierda total!

    “But I am a professional! I look for this Map 8. I look under the screen. It is not there. I look on the tank. It is not there. I look in my pockets, then I remember I have no pockets, and I think maybe Gigi has put Map 8 into my boot. So I look there, and then I almost crash in Turn 15, because I am digging in my boot instead of paying attention to the race!”

    http://www.bikeme.tv/index.php/did-you-not-write-on-his-dashboard-puta-el-spartano-di-magnifico-is-looking-for-map-8-do-nothing-and-keep-a-respectful-distancia/

    • Killing me.

      • schizuki

        The saga of Ucciccio, the Best Luck Racing Monkey may have been my highlight of the MotoGP season.

        • Old MOron

          Holy crap! This guy is great. He’s taken up the mantle of the late, great motogpnews.com

          His comment section seems to be only for facebook putas, so I am unable to encourage him. But I’m going to read all his stuff.

        • Once MO puts me out to pasture, you appear to be the logical successor as MotoGP correspondent. Your extensive experience on two wheels, combined with your understanding of history in all its various forms, punctuation skills, and willingness to appear incoherent make you the prototype candidate

          • Old MOron

            But in the meantime you’re going to cover WSBK, too. Right?

          • Totally new ecosystem. New cast of characters to assassinate. Sounds like a lot of work to me. I’m gonna talk to The Dukester.

          • Old MOron

            He likes to be called, “Your Dukeness”.
            http://disq.us/p/1gd5x2b

  • Shlomi

    I think Marquez took a great risk at the start , racing to turn 1.
    That could have been his shortest race ever. Dumn, it’s seemed like everyone else were riding backwards before he entered turn 1.

  • JMDGT

    I doubt anyone will be running any interference for Dovi in Valencia. Congratulations to all the teams and riders. Moto GP is one of the greatest joys of racing.

  • Check this out: A dramatic, title-deciding last lap is on tap for Valencia. Just not between Marquez and Dovizioso. Read all about it. https://motogpindy.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/motogp-valencia-setup/

    • JMDGT

      I thought the same possibility. I’ll go with Zarco.

      • Gruf Rude

        +1 – He REALLY wants a win.

    • Old MOron

      That’s great thinking, Brucey. It’s Dovi against the field. C’mon, Deathwish Dovi!