MotoGP’s first visit to Thailand provided a thrilling affair, with Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso battling to the final corner – while the Yamahas of Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi showed renewed form in third and fourth.
Saturday had already seen Marquez make history as the first rider to set a pole position after failing to automatically qualify for the grid deciding ‘Q2’ session. The six-time world champion had ended the first three practice sessions in 11th, but majestically topped Q1 to transfer to Q2, where he inevitably topped the timesheets, albeit narrowly from Rossi.
In the race Marquez led the way from Rossi, with Dovizioso and Briton Cal Crutchlow making a four way battle for the lead. Rossi headed the pack from lap six through to 10, when Dovizioso took up the pace. By lap 17 of 26, Crutchlow had dropped off the pace with tyre issues, with his place in the top four taken by the advancing Vinales.
Led by Dovizioso, the top four held station before a barnstorming final lap, when the top two passed and repassed. Marquez held the lead into the final corner and although Dovizioso was able to get the nose of his Ducati ahead momentarily, the Honda man was able to cut back and out accelerate his rival to the line, with Vinales just 0.270 seconds behind after resisting a last corner lunge from Rossi.
“Of course I’m very, very happy today because it’s the first time I’ve beaten Dovi in this way,” said Marquez, who now leads the championship by 77 points with four races remaining. “We were very equal, and my strategy was to try and attack in order to open a gap and avoid having it come down to the last lap. But Dovi had a very good pace and I was struggling with the front tyre, so I wasn’t able. Instead, I just tried to manage the tyres and stick to him. Honestly, I wasn’t so confident going into the final lap because I’ve lost many head-to-head finishes with him in the past. But this time, we swapped roles—I used Dovi’s style and Dovi used Marquez’s style—and that worked to overtake him on the corner exit. It was a great feeling to race in front of all the Thai fans, who cheered and supported all of us riders equally, really enjoying the sport and making me feel good over the whole weekend. I’m really thankful to them. Now the first match ball will be in Japan, which is the most important race for Honda as it’s their only home Grand Prix. Of course we’ll try our best there, but if it’s not possible, the main target is still to achieve the title at some point.”
Despite narrowly missing out, Dovizioso remained satisfied with his day’s work, adding: “I’m very happy with this second place, even though I lost out on the win right at the final corner. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much idea about Marquez’s strengths and weaknesses because I was almost always in the lead: I tried to counter his pass at turn five but lost a bit of ground and even though I still managed to make up some at the final corner, I wasn’t close enough to pass him. Pity, but for me this second place is worth more than the one in Aragón because on a track with these characteristics last year we would never have been able to fight for the win and so I’m satisfied with the improvements that we continue to make in every race. Together with my engineers, we always manage to understand something new, we’re working very well and now this gives us the chance of fighting for the win almost in every race.”
Crutchlow brought his Honda home in seventh, easily top of the Brits, while outgoing MotoGP riders Bradley Smith and Scott Redding had a near race-long battle for the final championship point, with Smith claiming it for 15thon his KTM.