Marc Marquez seventh in return from arm injury in MotoGP Portuguese Grand Prix

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Marc Marquez finished seventh in his return from injury to the MotoGP series in the Portuguese Grand Prix in a field of 21 riders – and he could not have been happier. This is only the fifth time in a 130-race MotoGP career that he has finished worse than sixth.

Marquez was set to defend his 2019 championship last July when he crashed twice in the season opener. He recovered from the first incident and was challenging for a podium finish when the second accident shattered his right arm. In fact, Marquez was set to defend the last four championships at this level. He has six MotoGP titles to his credit and a second-place finish in the points in seven seasons.

A successful surgery fueled speculation that he might still be able to compete last year in a season delayed and shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, but further evaluation necessitated a second surgery and the loss of the remaining races.

Finally, Marquez was able to race in the Portuguese Grand Prix. He admitted to being a little rusty and uncomfortable in the opening stages of the race, but when the checkers waved, he was riding comfortably.

“When I felt better was in the mid part of the race when I was alone,” Marquez said after the race. “I was riding. In the first part of the race I felt like when you’re playing in school with the big guys that you don’t know (and) where they are much better than you.

“That is what I felt at the first part of the race.”

For his seventh-place finish, Marquez earned nine points. He trails points’ leader Fabio Quartararo by 52 points and sits 14th in the standings. But that was not the most important takeaway from the race.

“Just to finish the race – doesn’t matter the position – but to finish on the lead lap, 15 seconds behind the lead rider was something impossible to dream,” Marquez said.

Marquez was actually 13 seconds behind the winner Quartararo – in a safe bubble. Aleix Espargaro was five seconds ahead of him and just under five seconds back lay his brother Alex Marquez.

Marquez injury MotoGP
It took a few laps for Marc Marquez to feel comfortable in traffic after missing nearly all of 2020, but he was happy with a seventh-place finish. (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

“It was a mix of emotions this weekend,” Marquez said. “A lot of emotions this weekend.

“When I arrived in the box, I exploded. I’m a person who likes to keep everything inside, but I wasn’t able to control. I had something inside I needed to take care of. During this time I felt a lot of support from everyone, Honda, my family and friends.

“Of course I suffered. I didn’t enjoy (the race), but it was the most important step for my recovery.”

Marquez hinted that fans should not expect miracles.

While his arm injury has healed sufficiently to allow him to race, doctors do not want him practicing between rounds so that it can heal completely.

The next race will be held on Marquez’s native track at Circuito de Jerez in Andalusia, Spain. Marquez will be able to stay close to home with Round 5 being hosted in LeMans, France and Round 6 at the Mugello Circuit in Italy.

And then Marquez will return to Spain for MotoGP Round 7 at Catalunya in Barcelona in June, giving him something to work toward even in the majority of his practice comes in race conditions.

“Now it’s important to take a rest,” Marquez said. “I’m in a difficult period because I’m able to race, but at home I need to take a rest. I cannot train on another bike. This is what is from the doctors and these next two months will be like this. Just riding race by race, then home to take a rest. The body is okay, but I cannot extend too much.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.