World of Sport: Motogp; Australian Supercars; NASCAR Cup
MOTOGP SEPANG (MAL) NOVEMBER 4 ROUND 18/19
The record books will show Marc Marquez as claiming a straightforward ninth victory of the 2018 season in the Malaysian Grand Prix last weekend, but it was his old arch-rival Valentino Rossi who dominated the headlines at Sepang.
Rossi controlled the race beautifully until a crash with four laps to go. Not only was the 39-year old robbed of the chance to register his first win since the 2017 Dutch TT, but also fans were denied a mouthwatering showdown between the Yamaha man and Marquez.
Immediately before Rossi’s fall – a lowspeed loss of the rear at Sepang’s tight Turn 1 right-hander – Marquez had been gaining by about a tenth per lap. But it was clear that the Honda rider was having to give it his all just to chip away at the gap by that much.
After the race Marquez admitted that, had his adversary stayed upright, the race would have been too close to call. As it was, the already-crowned five-time Motogp champion cruised home for a win that wrapped up the manufacturers’ title for
Honda and put the factory Repsol squad within an ace of the teams’ title too.
Marquez didn’t make life easy for himself in a rain-soaked qualifying session. He set the quickest time by more than half a second, but impeded the Suzuki of Andrea Iannone at Turn 9. Because it was his second offence of the year, he was demoted six places on the grid, which meant Tech3 Yamaha man Johann Zarco inherited the prime spot.
The penalty made precious little difference come the race. Marquez was fourth by the end of the opening lap, and third by the conclusion of the following tour. Then, when Zarco ran wide on lap five, he was gifted second place.
Rossi stretched his lead over Marquez to a little over a second before Marquez began to apply the pressure, closing the gap to six tenths before Rossi’s race-deciding crash.
That promoted Zarco to second, but the Frenchman was unable to stave off the advances of Suzuki’s Alex Rins, who shadowed Zarco closely until passing him for second on the last lap.
Fourth was Phillip Island winner Maverick Vinales, whose chances were ruined by a poor qualifying performance in the wet that left his Yamaha 11th on the grid. Early in the race he was stuck behind Alvaro Bautista, leaving
Vinales too far back to mount a podium challenge. Next up was the second works Honda of Dani Pedrosa, followed by a strangely subdued Andrea Dovizioso.
This was the first race since the summer break in which the Ducati rider hadn’t been on the podium (or crashed fighting at the front), and Dovizioso was either reluctant or unable to give a specific reason for his lack of pace. Still, sixth was enough for Dovizioso – who led home a quartet of Ducatis ahead of Bautista, Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci – to clinch second in the points.
Dovizioso also found himself engaged in a slightly bizarre war of words with team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, who was forced on to the sidelines for a fourth race in a row. Lorenzo, having skipped Phillip Island altogether, was back in the paddock in Malaysia, and took part in both Friday practice sessions. But he was woefully off the pace, and ended up handing over his bike to Ducati tester Michele Pirro for Saturday onwards.
Dovizioso told Italian TV that he found the Lorenzo situation “strange” and something that happens to “certain riders”, prompting a series of irate tweets from Lorenzo, the most cutting of which was his description of Dovizioso as “a world champion… in 125cc”.
Finally, home hero Hafizh Syahrin enjoyed perhaps the finest hour of what has been a solid but unspectacular rookie Motogp campaign with the Tech3 Yamaha team.
The Malaysian, in tears during the pre-race national anthem ceremony, managed to channel his emotions into making the perfect launch – one that took him from 23rd and last on the grid to 12th on the opening lap. He held on after that for 10th, two places clear of Rookie of the Year rival Franco Morbidelli, although the Honda rider still holds a 10-point buffer over Syahrin.
Marquez celebrated his ninth victory
ALL PICS: GOLD AND GOOSE/LAT
Rossi (46) led the pack for much of the race