Marquez and Dovizioso star to kickstart life in Thailand
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