A hot and humid scene was set for the historic first premier class grand prix in Thailand and 100.000 people showed up to see a seventh win of the season for reigning world champion Marc Marquez, who had the measure of Ducati – only just – to put another finger on his seventh title. The Battle of Buriram was a hot one in more ways than one and it was Andrea Dovizioso’s turn to be the losing side in another last lap decider with Marquez. A resurgent Yamaha duo were resigned observers of the exchange but Maverick Viñales would have been somewhat relieved to see the podium again.
The front row men, starting with poleman Marquez, kept position at the start, although Cal Crutchlow did have a quick go at the Ducati straight away. Viñales made a decent start for a change to only lose one position to Crutchlow but was soon under assault from Johann Zarco. Andrea Iannone had a bad launch off the line, while Jack Miller and Dani Pedrosa went wide at the first corner, all three riders losing a couple of positions early on and mixing with Alex Rins and Danilo Petrucci.
The front row men maintained status quo while posting red sectors all throughout the first handful of laps but Valentino Rossi was able to attack in the slipstream of the Honda at the start of lap five. Once Rossi went into the lead of the race, Dovizioso also pounced on the world championship leader later that lap as Marquez was unusually slow but the leaders were slowly stretching the pack behind. Crutchlow was keeping close to the lead trio but Viñales looked like he was struggling to keep within touch and Zarco was another six tenths back. Miller, Rins and Pedrosa were the next feisty pack half a second down the road and fighting to recover from their respective lap one niggles.
Rossi enjoyed his time in the spotlight but the Jaws soundtrack started playing as Dovizioso, Marquez, Crutchlow and Viñales were posting nearly identical times close behind him. The sole Ducati made its move on lap 11 as Rossi lost momentum out of turn one and allowed both Dovizioso and Marquez to sweep past. Meanwhile, Zarco was almost falling for Rins and Pedrosa’s advances, the two Spaniards the fastest men on track at the time and pushing Zarco to catch up with the leaders. The gap between the two groups dissolved completely by the midpoint of the race, making it a seven-way battle for the podium.
Marquez and Rossi were keeping it cool behind Dovizioso for the next few laps, with Crutchlow and Viñales close by but with no real chance to attack. Barely three tenths back, Rins and Pedrosa were aided by a mistake from Zarco and advanced a position, while Miller was yoyo-ing between the leaders and Danilo Petrucci behind him.
The main pack settled their times for the middle part of the race and prepared for a fast final ten laps. Marquez kick-started proceedings by posting a circuit record worthy time on lap 17 and the top three were putting daylight into the rest of the group, Crutchlow not helped by Viñales and Pedrosa’s attacks and quickly falling behind Rins as well. As soon as Viñales was unleashed from the slower Honda, the Spaniard started posting red sectors and was catching up with the leaders. So was Pedrosa but his momentum stopped in turn five as the front wheel tucked and his Honda gently pushed him off with eight laps left. There was no stopping Viñales though and he attacked his teammate as they started the final six laps and started clawing back a half second deficit to the two leaders.
With four laps remaining, Marquez made a first but unsuccessful attack at turn three on Dovizioso, with Vinales biding his time just behind the duo and Rossi a second back and hoping to pick up the pieces. Marquez made another couple of attempts on the next lap but the Ducati fought straight back, the shenanigans allowing the Yamahas to stay in contention.
Dovizioso just about started the final lap in the lead as he overtook Marquez in turn one but could only hold off the Spaniard for half a lap until turn five delivered an aggressive blow from the Honda. That was not nearly the end of the story, Dovizioso planning an attack in the final turn but Marquez took a page out of the Italian’s book and anticipated the move, roles reversed as Marquez allowed Dovizioso through only to cut back and cross the line a tenth of a second ahead of his rival.
There was not much more Dovizioso could have done on his ride to runner up, Viñales ultimately not getting a say in the win but making a long awaited trip to the podium. Rossi had an excellent view of the podium fight but settled for fourth while a late resurgence from Zarco saw him get past Rins to grab fifth – overall a great day for Yamaha. Rins finished sixth, three seconds ahead of Crutchlow and with Alvaro Bautista, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller completing the top ten.
Marquez’s hard fought victory adds a little extra to his already sizeable championship lead, now 77 points ahead, while Dovizioso consolidates second place ahead of Rossi.
|22||30||Takaaki NAKAGAMI||Honda||2 Laps|
|26||Dani PEDROSA||Honda||8 Laps|