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MotoGP Breathtaking: a word that perfectly encapsulates the first ever PTT Thailand Grand Prix in which Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) emerged victorious to take... PTT Thailand Grand Prix, raceday roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3

MotoGP

Breathtaking: a word that perfectly encapsulates the first ever PTT Thailand Grand Prix in which Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) emerged victorious to take another giant leap towards the 2018 MotoGP™ World Championship. The battle in Buriram went down to the wire between the Spaniard and second place Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), with Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales claiming a valiant comeback podium in third.

It was Marquez who got the holeshot from pole as the lights went out, with Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) tucked in behind his arch nemesis from P2 on the grid. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) launched well from P5 to slot into third, before Dovizioso re-took P3 into Turn 3 as the front three in qualifying held station, spearheading the field into a high-speed game of chess at Chang International Circuit.

Everyone held position before Rossi got past Marquez on the run down to Turn 3, ‘The Doctor’ back up the sharp end and looking strong to control the pace. With tyre life a major factor in the soaring Thailand temperatures, no one wanted to force their hand. That was until Lap 11, when Rossi couldn’t get his M1 firing out the first corner and the Ducati of Dovi and Honda of Marquez swept past the nine-time World Champion – and the number 04 emerging in charge of controlling the 200mph freight train.

With laptimes fluctuating and a front group of eight now packed together, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was the man to lead Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) and Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) up to trail Viñales in fifth. It was only a matter of time before the pin was pulled, however, and with 11 laps to go, Dovizioso upped the pace. Marquez and Rossi stayed in touching distance, with fourth placed Crutchlow slipping back down the order from P4 to P7…

Then, however, laptimes slowed again as Viñales bridged the gap to the leading trio. Pedrosa crashed out at Turn 5 with eight laps remaining as he and Zarco got a whiff of a potential podium, the duo closing down the leaders by half a second on the previous lap, before the race then entered a critical stage at the front. Dovizioso and Marquez who started to fight it out for the lead and pull away, with Rossi then starting to lose touch as teammate Viñales moved through to get a front-row seat for another Ducati vs Honda battle. With four to go, Marquez played his first hand, but he braked deep into Turn 3 in the attempted pass and ran wide – allowing Dovizioso back through.

The move set the scene for a breathtaking final three laps in Buriram. On the same lap, Marquez sliced his way through at Turn 8, but Dovi snapped straight back at Turn 9 and it was déjà vu a lap later as the Repsol Honda grabbed the lead into Turn 8, but there was no way through for the Ducati this time at Turn 9. A pass into Turn 12 was made to stick heading onto the last lap, however, before the chosen corner for a Marquez assault proved to be Turn 5 – a great move from the six-time World Champion seeing Dovizioso unable to squeeze back under at Turn 6. This set us up for another final corner epic between the two.

Dovi got the run out Turn 11 to brake late into the final corner and get alongside Marquez, but the Italian couldn’t quite drop anchor quick enough – with a flash of orange cutting back underneath the Italian as Marquez did exactly what he’d been victim to in Austria in 2017, Motegi that same season and Qatar at the start of 2018. The Spaniard crossed the line just ahead, and the roles were reversed in perfect symmetry.

The two did have some company, however. Viñales was just 0.270 away from the win in third as he got back on the rostrum and almost managed to capitalise on the last corner drama, with Rossi coming home fourth as he faded slightly in the latter stages. Fellow M1 and leading Independent Team rider Zarco got the better of Rins to close out the top five, with Crutchlow ending the race seventh, finishing 0.171 ahead of Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team). The two Alma Pramac Racing riders completed the top ten – it was P9 for Danilo Petrucci and P10 for Jack Miller.
Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) couldn’t repeat his Aragon heroics and took P11, with Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) taking top rookie honours that saw the Malaysian return to form in P12 in his best finish since Le Mans. Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro crossed the line P13, the only rider to not run the hard rear tyre in the race, with Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completing the points in P14 and P15 respectively.

A seventh win of the season draws Marquez level with the absent Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) on 68 Grand Prix wins, while it also gives him a magnificent chance to wrap the title up at Honda’s home round – Motegi. The 2017 Japanese GP was the scene of another iconic Marquez vs Dovizioso tussle…will we be treated to another sensational spectacle in two weeks’ time?

Find out at the Twin Ring Motegi from the 19th to 21st October.

Moto2

Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) claimed a magnificent seventh win of 2018 at the PTT Thailand Grand Prix to claim the 800th Italian Grand Prix win, finishing ahead of teammate Luca Marini by 1.5 seconds after the latter got the better of Bagnaia’s title rival Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) on the final lap. Teamwork makes the dream work in terms of the standings.

In Thailand, temperatures were soaring and so was the battle on track between the Moto2™ Championship protagonists, who were joined at the front by Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) in a proper dogfight. Uncharacteristically though, Bagnaia ran wide at Turn 12 on a couple of occasions and almost collected the rear of Oliveira as the trio ran in close into the tricky Turn 3, before Binder then lost control under braking into Turn 5, narrowly avoiding his teammate to drop to P3…tensions were running fairly high on circuit.

Bagnaia, however, had composed himself and started to reel in Oliveira after the Portuguese rider had been able to grab a half-second lead, and the Italian struck for P1 with 13 laps to go. It was then a case of the Italian finding his rhythm out front, slamming home two consecutive fastest laps to stretch the gap to over a second with 10 laps to go.

The lead slowly edged out to 1.5 seconds with four laps to go, and Marini was starting to look menacing in P4. Closing down Binder as he eyed his first podium finish since Austria, the Italian clawed the gap down to nothing with three to go and then made his move into Turn 12. The number 10 then locked his radar on Oliveira heading into the last lap.

Turn 3 saw the Portuguese rider run wide and Marini swept through, holding station to play the perfect wingman to teammate Bagnaia as the latter crossed the line to take his seventh win of the season. The team gained in their Championship and Bagnaia is now 28 points clear heading into the final four races of the year.

Binder eventually crossed the line fourth to finish just off the podium in another solid ride for the South African, with Fabio Quartararo (MB Conveyors – Speed Up) finishing in a somewhat lonely fifth place after an early battle with Marini. After looking strong across Free Practice and qualifying, Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) picked up a P6 in Thailand, with Iker Lecuona (Swiss Innovative Investors) claiming his first top ten since Austria in P7. Eighth was Tetsuta Nagashima (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) in a career-best finish for the Japanese rider before he heads to his home GP at Motegi, with Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team) and Simone Corsi (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2) completing the top ten at the Chang International Circuit.

Some famous names are missing from that list and it was a race of attrition for a few riders. There was first lap drama with Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) and Augusto Fernandez (Pons HP 40) going down at Turn 3 after Mir lost the front, leaving Schrötter and Fernandez with nowhere to go, and pole man Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40) crashed out of contention at Turn 1. Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) had lost the front heading into Turn 5 two laps earlier; both pushing to keep tabs on the leading trio.

After a masterful ride, Bagnaia now takes charge of the intermediate class title race. However, with the trio of flyway races next and with Oliveira winning the final three races of 2017, the Championship certainly isn’t done and dusted. On to Japan we go, for more spectacular Moto2™ action in two weeks.

Moto3

Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) claimed his second career victory in what was an explosive Moto3™ race at the PTT Thailand Grand Prix. The Italian produced a stunning final lap to beat compatriot Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) into second as major drama unfolded at the last corner – with Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) taking out pole sitter and Championship contender Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP). That meant points leader Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) extended his lead with a phenomenal P4 finish despite serious struggles with the fitness of his left hand in Thailand.

The breathtaking action started from the word go as Bezzecchi got the perfect launch from pole to lead into the first corner, with Kazuki Masaki (RBA BOE Skull Rider) and Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) slotting in behind the Italian as the freight train thundered down into Turn 3. But despite his best efforts, Bezzecchi wasn’t able to make the break as the top 18 locked horns for a classic lightweight class battle. Di Giannantonio soon made his way to the front after being forced wide by the aggressive starting Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), the South African looking strong before getting caught up in a tangle with Albert Arenas (Angel Nieto Team Moto3) with both riders going down on lap four. The battle raged on back on track as the race lead swapped and changed countless times, lap after lap, with Martin sitting patiently just inside the points with 10 laps gone.

In typical Moto3™ style, with just six laps to go in Thailand, 1.8 seconds covered the top 18 – the winner being anyone’s guess at this stage. Heading into the final lap though, it was Bezzecchi who had the advantage and he managed to use the KTM grunt to hold it into Turn 3, but then Di Giannantonio and Dalla Porta slipped by on the run back up to Turn 4. That pushed the Italian into the grasp of Bastianini, Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PruestelGP) and Martin.

After executing the final sector to perfection, Di Giannantonio was able to hold the inside line at the tight final corner to take the win but the race would end in disaster for some of those just behind. Bastianini ran in too hot, tucking the front as he pulled up behind teammate Dalla Porta and then left as a passenger as he slid out and collected Bezzecchi.

That meant Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) was able to stay out of trouble to claim a maiden Grand Prix podium in third, with the Italian staging an incredible comeback from P25 on the grid. Martin, putting in another stunner of a performance, crossed the line in fourth to capitalise and extend his lead in the Championship to 26 points.

Just behind the Spaniard, Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Skull Rider) was another on a charge and in the hunt throughout, eventually taking home P5, with rookie Vicente Perez (Reale Avintia Academy 77) picking up his best result of the season in sixth and yet another rider to put in a sensational performance.

Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) claimed his first top ten of the season in seventh, with Marcos Ramirez (Bester Capital Dubai) eighth. Wildcard Somkiat Chantra (AP Honda Racing Thailand), meanwhile, was one of the riders of the day as he took ninth – a magnificent ride from the Thai rider in his home race and first appearance. Kornfeil, who ran wide at the final corner to avoid Bezzecchi and Bastianini, crossed the line 10th.

There was heartbreak for Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) as the Japanese rider put on a great Sunday show after top pace throughout the weekend and then crashed out courtesy of some slightly too-close racing, with drama also hitting Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) as he suffered an incident with Albert Arenas (Angel Nieto Team).

That’s it for the lightweight class at the PTT Thailand Grand Prix, with Martin securing what looked like an unlikely title race lead: 26 points is now the gap back to Bezzecchi. Race winner Di Giannantonio is just three points behind his compatriot in the overall standings now too, and Japan awaits the field next time out. Will there be another twist in the Moto3™ Championship tale?