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Now 80 points clear after a record-breaking Aragon where he became the first rider to win eight or more races in one season of Moto3™ - and equaled the all-time victory count since the class was introduced in 2012, with nine – Motegi gives Leopard Racing’s Joan Mir his first shot at the crown. To be World Champion, he has to have an advantage of 75 points or more by the end of the race. So, what does that mean?
The nearest challenger is Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) – the man 80 points in arrears – and so the man Mir must mark to ensure he takes the crown. The Majorcan must lose no more than five points to the Italian at the Japanese GP, and he’s Champion. If Fenati wins, Mir must be second. If Fenati is second, Mir must come third – and so the maths continues to fluctuate as the relative points rewards diminish. If the Spaniard wins the race or is ahead of the Italian, however, the outcome is simple: game over and a new man on the Moto3™ throne.
For Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0), the situation is simpler and it’s a must-win to stay in the chase. If the Spaniard takes the victory, Mir must come fifteenth or fail to score to mean Canet remains in the running. Canet will know it’s a long shot and his focus will be on winning races and on preparing for 2018 – but anything can happen.
Last year’s winner at Motegi was Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0), and the Italian has been a key frontrunner once again of late – including a stunning podium at MotorLand Aragon, only a hair’s breadth behind compatriot Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3). They will surely be strong once again, as well as ‘Diggia’’s teammate Jorge Martin – with the Gresini duo split by only a handful of points in fourth and fifth in the Championship. John McPhee (British Talent Team) is next up as he battles with Marcos Ramirez (Platinum Bay Real Estate), Mugello winner Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46) and the aforementioned Bastianini for the top six – and then there are the home heroes to contend with.
Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) is the highest-placed ahead of the Japanese GP, and will be hoping to lead the charge. Ayumu Sasaki (SIC Racing Team) has also shown incredible flashes of pace and will push, as will compatriot Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia). With nothing to lose, the local heroes will surely give it everything.
Whether to give it everything will be the question on Mir’s mind. Does he attack or defend? Go for glory or play the patient, waiting game? Motegi will tell us – and there’s one added extra challenge as the Leopard Racing rider readies himself for match point: a six-place grid penalty for his last lap manoeouvres at Aragon. The points margin is certainly on his side, but can he hold his nerve? We’ll find out on Sunday at 11:00 (GMT +9).
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