Marquez One Place Off Motegi Podium In First Full Race Since Return
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) completed his first race since coming back from surgery in superb style today, finishing just one place off the Japanese Grand Prix podium in fourth place.
The six-times MotoGP World Champion returned to action last weekend at Aragon following a four-month absence but was put out of that race following a first-lap collision.
In yesterday’s heavy rain the 29-year-old Spaniard achieved his first pole position in 1071 days, much of that time spent recovering from the right arm injury he sustained at the start of the 2020 MotoGP season.
Marquez is still working hard at rebuilding the muscles in his right arm, so qualifying on a wet track, which greatly reduces the G-forces to which riders are subjected, suited him perfectly, allowing him to prove he has lost none of his extraordinary skills.
However, typhoon Nanmadol, which hit Motegi yesterday, made life complicated for the entire grid. Riders and teams had very little dry-track to prepare for the first Japanese Grand Prix since 2019, just a single 75-minute practice session on Friday and a 20-minute warm-up session this morning. Therefore they had to make some guesswork on settings and tyre choice for their machines, which have changed so much since 2019.
On the grid Marquez, making his 150th GP start, changed his rear tyre to the softer option Michelin, because he thought he would be strong in the early stages and then lose strength as his arm muscles weakened.
In fact the opposite proved to be the case. On the first lap he lost several places, due to a small technical glitch which he fixed by changing electronic maps. At the start of lap two he was fifth, but from there he was super-impressive, refusing to give any more ground.
And in the final few laps he remarkably found something extra, because he wasn’t suffering any pain, as he had before his most recent operation, so he closed the gap on Miguel Oliveira and retook fourth with three of 24 laps to go. In the circumstances this was a great result because Marquez fully understands that he is still in recovery mode, with his focus on returning to fitness for next year, so he can fight for the 2023 MotoGP World Championship.
He will now continue extensive therapy in the hope of going into next weekend’s Thai Grand Prix with a little more strength in the arm.
Team-mate Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who was also making his 150th GP start, rode a fiercely determined race, battling in the middle of the pack, always the hardest place to fight. The 31-year-old had qualified 11th, moved up to ninth and spent the rest of the outing swapping positions with his rivals, finally losing several positions in the second half of the race to cross the line in 12th, his best result since Le Mans in May.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol Honda RC213V) took the chequered flag one place further back in 13th, less than a second down on Espargaro. The 26-year-old Spaniard, a former Moto2 and Moto3 winner at Motegi, did a good job, because he came back from qualifying 17th in yesterday’s downpour, to take his fourth consecutive World Championship points score.
This weekend should have been a happy homecoming for local hero Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V), who was determined to reward his many Japanese fan with a strong race.
Sadly, his hopes went awry in last Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix, following a crash that was no fault of his own. It was a heavy fall and the 30-year-old from Chiba had to undergo surgery on Monday to fix tendon damage to the fourth and fifth fingers on his right hand,
Nakagami has been incredibly brave throughout the weekend, resisting serious pain and shrugging off the effects of a qualifying crash, which further aggravated his injury. It would have been easy for him to withdraw, but he was determined to take the start. However, he was far from his best and finished 20th, nonetheless a triumph in the circumstances.
Wild Card rider Tetsuta Nagashima (HRC Team Honda RC213V) made his MotoGP debut today and was determined to ride a good race after qualifying an impressive 19th quickest yesterday. The 30-year-old from Kanagawa, who is an official Honda MotoGP test rider, was hoping 24 race laps around MotoGP would teach him plenty to help further the development of the RC213V. However, luck was not on the side of the former Moto2 race winner and he slid out on lap ten.
Today was the second consecutive race Sunday in three weeks, between the Aragon and Thai Grands Prix. Riders and teams then get one weekend off before the back-to-back Australian and Malaysian GPs and then return to Europe for the season finale at Valencia, Spain, on 6 November. The 2023 MotoGP season effectively starts two days later with a one-day post-season test at Valencia, the last time riders will ride their MotoGP bikes before the first pre-season tests at Sepang, Malaysia, next February.