Bangkok (AFP) - A tropical storm forecast to batter Thailand this weekend could shake up the three-way fight for the MotoGP world championship after leader Fabio Quartararo failed to capitalise in Japan.
The French reigning world champion could only finish eighth at Motegi on Sunday in a race to forget for the title-chasing trio.
That was at least better than chief rivals Francesco Bagnaia, who crashed out on the last lap trying to overtake Quartararo, and Aleix Espargaro, who came 16th after a malfunction with his Aprilia.
Quartararo extended his championship lead over Italy's Bagnaia from 10 points to 18 in Japan, despite being well off the pace of race winner Jack Miller.
The Yamaha rider has not won a race since June in Germany and seen his lead at the top whittled away.
Heavy rain and lightning badly impacted practice at Motegi and the elements look set to play another significant role in Thailand for all three days including Sunday's race.
Super typhoon Noru is expected to bring rain and storms as MotoGP returns to the International Circuit at Buriram, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) northeast of Bangkok, for the first Thai GP since 2019 after Covid.
"We will have to push to the maximum," said Quartararo, who has been suffering in the second half of 2022, recording only one podium finish in the last six races.
The title race is in the home straight and too close to call.After Thailand there are only grands prix in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia.
Prior to Motegi, hard-charging Bagnaia appeared to be the rider to beat despite being second in the standings.
Going into Japan he had won four of the last five races, but crashing out last weekend checked his momentum.
"I made an overambitious manoeuvre," said Bagnaia in a Twitter apology to his Ducati team."I will reflect on my mistake."
Spain's Espargaro had to dump his ailing Aprilia after the Motegi warm-up lap and jump on his spare bike.He could not recover from emerging last and now sits 25 points behind Quartararo.
Australia's Miller took advantage of the top trio's woes to scorch from seventh on the grid to a fourth MotoGP victory and is fifth in the standings, but out the title running.
Italian Danilo Petrucci, a two-time MotoGP race winner, is lined up to stand in at Suzuki for Spain's Joan Mir, who is recovering from an ankle injury sustained during the Austrian GP in August.
"I'm really curious to jump on the GSX-RR and try it.It looks very fast and we know it's a winning machine," Petrucci said.
Six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, who won the last Thai MotoGP in 2019, holds the lap record of 1min 31.471sec around the 12-turn, 4.554km Buriram circuit.
The Spanish great started in Japan from pole -- his first in three years -- and finished fourth.