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Morbidelli’s check mate or Lüthi’s last stand?

The flyaways will be crunch time for the Championship – beginning in Japan

After a stunning duel with Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) at MotorLand, Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) heads into the flyaways with a 21 point lead – and although mathematically the title remains a four horse race, there remain only two men in the ring who are likely to lift the crown. Morbidelli and Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten): a master of Motegi.

In 2014, Lüthi won. In 2015 he crashed out in the rain, but in 2016 he won once again – a crucial part of his incredible run of form in the latter half of last season as he moved up to take the runner up spot in the title fight. In 2011 and 2013 he was on the podium in Moto2™, he has top tens in the 250 World Championship, and a podium on a 125. The Twin Ring Motegi is a venue that Lüthi will have penciled in as a good shot at the victory.

Morbidelli was also on the podium last year, and he has much less to lose with the 21 point cushion. But there are more rivals lining up to stage an attack in Japan – including the home hero.

Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) has a good top ten record at home, and will be racing without the pressure of the title fight. Now out of it, the Japanese rider – who also graduates to the premier class next year alongside Morbidelli and Lüthi – can push 100% for home glory. That’s sure to be his plan of action, and with a win and four podiums so far this year, Nakagami can be a real threat.

Then there’s Pasini, the man who has had a habit of starting from pole and proving a real protagonist this season regardless of the formbook by venue. And the man who just pipped him to pole at Aragon, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo), can never be counted out. Oliveira has a podium at Motegi in Moto3™ and Pasini is a winner at the track in the lightweight class – as is Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS).

Marquez tooks points as a wildcard in 2012, won his first Grand Prix at the Twin Ring Motegi as a rookie in 2013, and then followed it up a year later with another win at the venue on his way to the Moto3™ World Championship. He will be hoping to arrive fitter and able to stay at the front. Injuring himself at Misano, the rider from Cervera sat out the San Marino GP before returning for Aragon and qualifying on the front row – but after fighting for the podium in the initial stages, he was forced to retire. If back full force, Marquez could play a role.

Alongside the usual suspects, there are more home heroes too: Nakagami and Tetsuta Nagashima (Teluru SAG Team) will be joined by wildcards Ikuhiro Enokido (Moto Bum Honda) and Ryo Mizuno (MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO) as the paddock touches down for one of the biggest events of the year.

Will it be a chance for Morbidelli to turn the screw and increase his lead? Or will Motegi prove the start of Lüthi’s last stand as the Swiss rider looks to overhaul that 21-point gap.