MOTEGI (Japan) • Honda rider Marc Marquez secured his third MotoGP championship in four years yesterday by winning the Japanese Grand Prix after his nearest rivals Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo both crashed out.
The Spaniard had only an outside chance to seal the title with three races to spare but his win at Motegi gave him an unassailable 77-point lead over Rossi, who started on pole but slid into the gravel early.
The 23-year-old became the youngest man to win three premier-class world titles, and did so at Honda's home circuit, where he had never won before.
He finished the 24-lap race in 42min 34.610sec in dry, sunny conditions, 2.992sec ahead of Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso and 4.104sec ahead of Suzuki's Maverick Vinales.
"Obviously, amazing... Amazing feeling," Marquez said immediately after his victory with a big smile.
"Every year is really hard and you always give your maximum... but this year, the pressure I felt, especially in the beginning of the season, was really really high.
"I felt more pressure but it gave me extra motivation. This combination kept me really focused."
He knew he had a chance to claim the trophy but that would require Yamaha duo Rossi and Lorenzo to perform uncharacteristically slowly. So, Marquez focused on expanding his 52-point lead against Rossi.
He started second on the grid, with Lorenzo also on the front row.
Marquez took the first corner, but was quickly overtaken by Lorenzo, who had a commanding lead in the race's early phase.
In the fourth lap, Marquez closed in on Lorenzo to take the lead and gradually expanded the gap.
With 19 laps to go, Rossi also passed Lorenzo to pursue Marquez.
But, in the following lap, the Italian slipped at a hairpin bend on Turn 10 for reasons that even the nine-time world champion could not immediately identify himself.
He got up on his own only to withdraw from the race.
Lorenzo, who suffered a terrifying crash in practice on Saturday and was airlifted to hospital where he was declared fit for the race, then battled to keep within touching distance of Marquez.
But, with five laps remaining, the Spaniard, under pressure from a hard-charging Dovizioso, also slipped on the track, this time at the V-shaped left-handed Turn 9.
Marquez, who has a total of 273 points, said losing the championship to Lorenzo last year taught him how to handle pressure.
"Sometimes I forget to enjoy because the pressure is too high. The team were a big help this year, with them I forget the pressure," said the youngest rider to win a MotoGP race and the title in his maiden season in 2013.
"A real champion is when you can keep the pressure. Okay, you can do the same mistakes again but last year, I paid an expensive price to learn that consistency is very important. But I learnt."
Lorenzo, third in the standings on 182 points, said a wrong tyre choice and pain from the practice crash led to his problem in the race.
Rossi said he was trying to focus on the remaining three races.
"I was strong. The pace was good," he said. "Fortunately, we have other races."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE