Mar­quez and Dovizioso star to kick­start life in Thai­land

Autosport (UK) - - WORLD OF SPORT -

Marc Mar­quez ver­sus An­drea Dovizioso may not be widely re­garded as one of grand prix mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing’s clas­sic ri­val­ries, but on the ev­i­dence of the in­au­gu­ral Mo­togp race in Thai­land per­haps in the fu­ture it will come to be re­mem­bered fondly.

Af­ter all, in the past two years there have been some sen­sa­tional du­els be­tween Mar­quez and Dovizioso. The first ever grand prix event at the Buri­ram track was yet an­other barn­stormer – with Honda rider Mar­quez this time get­ting the up­per hand to score vic­tory in a bat­tle that went all the way to the fi­nal cor­ner.

More than 100,000 fans filled the grand­stands at the new-for-2018 track, and they were served up a thriller, al­beit yet an­other race dom­i­nated by tyre preser­va­tion in the early stages in the blis­ter­ing 32C heat. But those who turned up hop­ing to see Dovizioso’s Du­cati sta­ble­mate Jorge Lorenzo make it a three­way fight for hon­ours were dis­ap­pointed.

The Spa­niard de­cided to com­pete in Thai­land af­ter suf­fer­ing foot in­juries in his first-cor­ner crash at Aragon two weeks ear­lier. He was un­for­tu­nate enough to have an­other huge ac­ci­dent dur­ing Fri­day af­ter­noon’s se­cond prac­tice ses­sion, one that left his Des­mosedici GP18 in pieces strewn across the track.

Lorenzo sus­tained a hair­line frac­ture to his left wrist in the ac­ci­dent, and opted to re­cover for the next race at Motegi. That left Dovizioso alone to take the fight not only to Mar­quez, but also to a resur­gent Yamaha. Af­ter sev­eral races in the dol­drums, both Valentino Rossi and Mav­er­ick Vi­nales fea­tured to­wards the sharp end. Rossi qual­i­fied a close se­cond to Mar­quez.

Af­ter Mar­quez led the open­ing laps, Rossi even en­joyed a spell out front – slip­stream­ing by his for­mer arch-ri­val on the long run down to­wards Turn 3 on lap five of 26.

But soon it be­came clear that Yamaha’s long­time ac­cel­er­a­tion woes had not been com­pletely solved, as Rossi got poor drive out of the first cor­ner on lap 11 and slipped be­hind both Mar­quez and Dovizioso. He would not chal­lenge for the lead again.

As the race reached the half­way mark, the long 10-rider pack at the front be­gan to string out. Mar­quez, then Dovizioso, Rossi and Vi­nales pulled away from the rest.

Vi­nales picked off Rossi for third on lap 20, and stayed close to the lead pair, but only be­cause of the spec­tac­u­lar moves Mar­quez and Dovizioso were putting on each other.

On both the an­te­penul­ti­mate and the penul­ti­mate laps, the two rid­ers swapped the lead twice and even­tu­ally Dovizioso

led at the start of the fi­nal lap. But Mar­quez was in no mood to play the per­cent­ages de­spite ti­tle num­ber five loom­ing large, and dived un­der­neath his ad­ver­sary with a dar­ing move at Turn 5.

Dovizioso tried to come back at Mar­quez, but in a role-re­ver­sal of their fa­mous last-lap Aus­trian GP bat­tle of last year, the Du­cati rider just over­shot the turn.

That al­lowed Mar­quez to cut un­der­neath and get the drive to the line.

It means Mar­quez’s points lead is now up to 77 with just 100 left on the ta­ble.

His first chance to wrap up a fifth Mo­togp ti­tle will be in Ja­pan later this month.

Vi­nales beat Rossi for his first podium since July’s Sach­sen­ring race. Tech 3 rider Jo­hann Zarco un­der­lined Yamaha’s up­turn with fifth, his best fin­ish since May.

Zarco was helped by Dani Pe­drosa crash­ing at Turn 5, iron­i­cally the very place where his team-mate Mar­quez made the race’s de­ci­sive move, on lap 19, just as Pe­drosa seemed to be catch­ing the lead four.

Suzuki’s chal­lenge was led by Alex Rins in sixth, ahead of LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow. De­spite an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally sub­dued run, Crutchlow could at least take so­lace in beat­ing his main ri­val in the in­de­pen­dents’ race – ninth-placed Danilo Petrucci.

Af­ter Aleix Es­par­garo’s mir­a­cle run to sixth at Aragon, nor­mal­ity was re­stored for Aprilia as he fin­ished 13th. Bradley Smith added an­other point to KTM’S tally in 15th.

More than 100,000 fans packed out the first Thai Mo­togp race

Mar­quez could be crowned champ next time out ALL PICS: GOLD AND GOOSE/LAT

Podium for Vi­nales re­vived Yamaha’s re­cent poor form

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