TOKYO: With his sixth MotoGP world title already secured, Marc Marquez will head into this weekend’s Japanese race already planning for next season where he will aim to close in on Giacomo Agostini’s all-time record of eight elite level championships.
Spain’s Marquez claimed his sixth MotoGP crown in seven seasons last time out in Thailand, with four races to spare, and eighth overall.
A race victory on Sunday would be his 10th of the season but the 26-year-old Honda rider is already thinking of next year where another title would take him level with Valentino Rossi, who won the last of his seven world championships in 2009, one back from Agostini, whose record eighth came in 1975.
“The target now is to win the ‘Triple Crown’,” said Marquez. “The constructors championship is there but the team championship will be difficult, we’ll never give up. 2020 starts in Motegi.”
Marquez clocked the third fastest time in free practice on Friday.
“Today was not the best day for us,” he said. “But anyway we did a great job.”
His focus on next year comes as a consequence of the pressure being applied by fast-improving French rookie Fabio Quartararo.
The Petronas Yamaha rider has suffered two narrow defeats to the world champion in recent races with victory only decided on the closing laps.
“I didn’t expect this guy,” Marquez said of Quartararo. “He will be a very tough contender next year for the championship.”
The 20-year-old Frenchman, who has had four pole positions and five podium slots so far, posted Friday’s fastest lap.
“I’m quite happy but for sure we have to improve,” Quartararo said, with rain forecast in the region for Saturday’s qualifying session.
Quartararo’s rookie season has seen him climb to seventh in the rankings, and in the second half of the season he has emerged as Marquez’s biggest rival.
Behind Marquez all riders down to Quartararo are still in with a chance of the runners up position for the 2019 season.
However, Ducati’s 33-year-old Andrea Dovizioso, who won in Japan in 2017, can seal second place on Sunday.
“I’m expecting to deliver a big performance, it’s a stop-start kind of course with fast acceleration key and our machine likes that even if some of the bends suit other bikes,” said Dovizioso, who was 125cc champion back in 2004 but never yet won the title in the top category.
The season wraps up with a 21st race at Valencia in mid-November after visits to Australia and Malaysia.