Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) returns to the scene of his most recent World Championship success at the Chang International Circuit, which hosted the last Thai Grand Prix in 2019.
The 29-year-old Spaniard, who wrapped up his sixth MotoGP World Championship at Chang three years ago, arrives in South East Asia boosted by the fact that last weekend he completed his first MotoGP race since late May.
And Marquez didn’t merely complete the Japanese Grand Prix at Mobility Resort Motegi – he was very fast and super-encouraged that he felt no pain during or after the race, following the latest surgery to a troublesome right-arm injury. He sees the final few races of 2022 as a great chance to continue building his on-bike fitness after undergoing a humeral osteotomy in June.
There were plenty of signs during the Japanese GP weekend that Marquez and Honda are getting back up to full speed and showing front-running potential. In Saturday’s soaking-wet qualifying session Marquez claimed his first pole position in 1071 days – and the 91st of his GP career – before producing a hugely impressive performance in the race, beating two other riders in a close battle for fourth place, just seven seconds behind the winner.
He rode consistently throughout and most important felt physically strong enough to attack rival Miguel Oliveira for fourth place with a classy move three laps from the chequered flag.
Now Marquez returns to a track at which he has previously excelled. In the two Grand Prix held at Chang in 2018 and 2019, the 59-times MotoGP race winner twice triumphed in thrilling battles that were decided at the very last corner. However, he has cautioned against over-optimism this weekend because his primary objective is improving for the future, with his main goal 100% strength for next season.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) has also brought positives from Honda’s home race to Chang this weekend. At Motegi the 31-year-old Spaniard battled inside the top ten during the first half of the race before struggling with tyre wear, which dropped him to 12th, nevertheless his best race finish since May.
Espargaro also took heart from his Friday performance at Motegi, where he placed a competitive seventh in free practice, which earned him automatic promotion to Saturday’s Q2 qualifying session. This weekend he will be keen to improve on his previous best performance at Chang International Circuit, a 13th-place finish in 2019.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) will miss this weekend’s race due to injuries sustained to the fourth and fifth fingers on his right hand when he crashed out of the Aragon GP two Sundays ago, specifically a torn extensor tendon in the little finger. He will be replaced by official Honda MotoGP test rider Tetsuta Nagashima (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V), who performed admirably as a Wild Card rider at his home GP last week.
Nakagami’s efforts at home were nothing short of heroic as he fought against the pain from his injuries. The 30-year-old from Chiba battled to finish the race in 20th place. He will undergo surgery this Friday with the hope of returning to action at the Australian GP a fortnight later.
Nagashima’s MotoGP debut at Motegi was impressive, the 30-year-old from Kanagawa learning plenty while riding alongside full-time MotoGP riders for the first time. Sadly, he slid out of the race, but this weekend will allow him to gain further insights into racing a MotoGP bike, which will help accelerate development of the RC213V.
Nagashima contested five seasons of the Moto2 World Championship between 2014 and 2020, scoring one victory, in the 2020 Qatar GP. He has decent experience at the Chang International Circuit, scoring an eighth and a 15th in the 2018 and 2019 Moto2 races.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) arrives in Thailand for his first race at Chang on a MotoGP machine with some momentum behind him. A promising 13th-place finish at Motegi was his fourth consecutive point-scoring result. And he had to fight for it, after qualifying 17th in the rain the previous day. The younger Marquez brother qualified second for the Moto2 race at Chang in 2018 and took pole position the following year, when he finished fifth.
The Thai Grand Prix is one of the more recent additions to the MotoGP World Championship. The first Thai GP staged in October 2018 immediately established the event as one of the championship’s most exciting weekends. That year it was voted best Grand Prix of the season, achieving sell-out attendances in both 2018 and 2019. On race day along in 2019 more than 95,000 fans were there to enjoy the action.
The 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled due to the global pandemic, but a big attendance is expected this weekend, not least because of the recent successes of local Moto2 hero Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia Kalex), who in March became the first Thai rider in history to score a GP victory, when he won the Indonesian GP.
The state-of-the-art Chang International Circuit was opened in 2014 with the aim of attracting the world’s leading motorsport events to Thailand. The World Superbike Championship debuted at the track in 2015 before MotoGP arrived three years later. The layout is essentially a track of two halves. The first part is three straights punctuated by low-speed corners, which place the emphasis on braking stability and straight-line speed, while the final few sectors are fast and flowing.
Weather conditions can be another challenge, with temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius and humidity sometimes approaching 50%.
This year’s Thai Grand Prix is the third race on consecutive weekends following the Aragon and Japanese rounds. After Sunday the paddock has a well-deserved weekend off before back-to-back races in Australia and Malaysia. The season ends at Valencia, Spain, on 6 November.