Could this be the weekend Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) bags his maiden MotoGP™ victory? The Frenchman was in the Motul Grand Prix of Japan Press Conference alongside 2019 World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and home hero Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and the rookie was in high spirits about being at a circuit he “loves”.
You probably don’t need reminding about what happened last time out in Thailand, as Quartararo ran Marquez all the way to lose that illustrious first premier class win on the last lap. Not dampened by his latest loss – if you can call it a loss – the 20-year-old now arrives at a Twin Ring Motegi track that he gets on very well with. ‘El Diablo’ crossed the line first in the Moto2™ race last season in Japan, only for the 25 points to be taken away from him after the race for a tyre pressure infringement.
Fast forward back to this season and Quartararo hasn’t been fazed by circuits that aren’t ‘Yamaha’ tracks. Austria is arguably the best example of when Quartararo has been on form on a non-Yamaha track, and Motegi is another that, on paper, isn’t well suited to the YZR-M1. Quartararo isn’t taking any notice of this ahead of the weekend though as he aims for another victory attack.
“I think this year a lot of the time the Yamaha has not been suited to some circuits, but we’ve managed to get on the podium so honestly now I don’t think about a Yamaha track or a Honda track,” began the number 20 rider in the Press Conference. “I need to be focused this weekend, it’s a track I love. We will try our best. The forecast for Saturday is maybe rain so we’ll need to learn the track quite quick tomorrow.”
Of course, Quartararo isn’t going to have it easy, nor will he be the only challenger to Japan’s top step on Sunday. Others are confident too. Marquez being one, the newly crowned eight-time Champion is eying the triple crown for Honda and having won in the Japanese manufacturers' backyard in two of the last three years, a fully focused number 93 will be up the sharp end for sure. But, he knows there are several riders who will be strong this weekend.
“Yeah of course Dovi last year was a nice fight here. Unlucky for him that he crashed with two laps to go, but he will be fast. It’s one of the circuits he rides in a very good way and especially also Fabio it’s one of his favourite circuits. He shows the level and performance that he is riding very fast. But we will not forget Viñales, Rins, all the riders that will be very fast,” said Marquez.
Dovizioso beat Marquez in that 2017 epic and crashed out of P2 with two laps to go last season. It’s a track that typically suits the Desmosedici’s favoured stop-go mould, and the Italian is expecting to be strong.
“Here I expect us to be strong and our bike to work very well, there’s a lot of stop and go, but in some corners where we need more speed we struggle compared to the competitor,” said Dovizioso. “I think my style from 250cc two-stroke when the chassis was good, my braking was really good and I’ve kept that style with other bikes and it’s my way to approach this track. When I have to do hard braking and stop and go, I’m quite good and our bike also suits that style too so that’s why I think we can be strong here.”
Viñales, a podium finisher in three of the last four races, is also very upbeat coming into the weekend. Rins is also hoping he can replicate the podium he achieved at Suzuki’s home race last season this time around, with the duo locked in a dog fight for third in the Championship.
The scene is set in the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s time to let the horsepower do the talking as Quartararo aims to pocket that first win. FP1 gets underway at the slightly later time of 10:50 local time (GMT+9), tune in on Friday to see who draws first blood at the Japanese GP.