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MotoGP: Andrea Dovizioso, Sepang ghosts stand between Marc Marquez and world title

With a 33-point cushion and two races to go, Repsol Honda’s defending world champion Marc Marquez could seal the 2017 title at the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang Circuit this weekend, while Ducati’s veteran rider Andrea Dovizioso plans to spoil the party at his ‘favourite’ track

other sports Updated: Oct 27, 2017 17:46 IST
Leslie Xavier
Leslie Xavier
Hindustan Times, Kuala Lumpur
MotoGP,Andrea Dovizioso,Marc Marquez
Marc Marquez sits inside his team garage during the first practice session of the Malaysia MotoGP at the Sepang International circuit.(AP)

Marc Marquez, with a 33-point lead in the championship standings, could seal the MotoGP world crown at the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend. However, despite being on the cusp of another title -- his fourth in top flight -- the Repsol Honda rider seems a bit jittery.

The 24-year-old Spanish ace has a few ghosts from the past to contend with at Sepang, besides the looming figure of Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, the Italian who has been pushing Marquez right through the season.

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Yes, it’s the same old rivalry on track -- Spaniard versus Italian -- just that Valentino Rossi (injured and back in action on Yamaha) and Jorge Lorenzo (out of title contention on Ducati) are not the lead characters.

Final flourish

The 18-race championship season has just two rounds left -- the Malaysian GP on Sunday and the Valencia GP at Circuit Ricardo Tormo on November 12. Marquez could go to his “home” Grand Prix for a victory parade if he wins in Sepang or even finish on the podium. As much as the Spaniard would love that, Malaysia poses tough challenges for Marquez.

No wonder he eased off the throttle while talking to the media ahead of the practice sessions. “One of the main targets is try and finish,” Marquez said. “I’ll try to be on the same level, with the same mentality, but you feel a little bit different and it’s a special weekend.”

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Honda’s champion drifted away, referring to his, perhaps ominously, unhappy memories at Sepang.

“Here in the past I’ve had some ups and downs, it’s not one of my best tracks,” said Marquez, who has only won two races in his career in Malaysia (one each in 125cc class and MotoGP). “We will see where we can arrive. But I have a good advantage, there are two races remaining, and we’ll try to be on a good level and think about the championship. But if I need to fight, I will fight.”

Track record

While Marquez has gremlins at Sepang, his title rival, Dovizioso, has great memories of the track. He won last year’s Malaysian GP after a nail-biting tussle with Rossi and the 31-year-old Spaniard remembered the occasion while promising to go all out on his Ducati. In fact, last year’s victory at Sepang marked a change in fortunes for the 2004 125cc world champion, who has won five races since then, vrooming into title contention this year.

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“Last year, it was an amazing victory and battle with Valentino and (Andrea) Iannone of Suzuki,” said Dovizioso. “I have good memories and I really enjoy riding on this track.”

The Italian added it is not going to be easy in the final two races as his title chances do not just depend on victories but on how and where Marquez finishes. “We know it’s difficult,” he said. “But the championship is open and we’ll try everything and get the best result, and then we’ll see what happens with Marc and the other riders.”

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Also, the other challenge Sepang Circuit throws at the riders -- the sudden changes in weather and the switch from dry to wet conditions -- could make the equation interesting. Since Malaysia was a venue for testing, almost all the teams know the prime set-ups for their machines. And many riders -- including Rossi, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) -- have all been fast during the tests.

All these factors point at one direction -- it is not going to be a cakewalk for Marquez to his fourth MotoGP world title.

First Published: Oct 27, 2017 16:56 IST