MotoGP: Another duel to remember as Marquez emerges victorious in Thailand
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?