Marc Marquez took his ninth win of the season at a hot, dry Sepang circuit Sunday when Valentino Rossi crashed out of the race lead with four laps to go. The Rossi crash vaulted the current world champion into the top spot on the podium and guaranteed Andrea Dovizioso (6th) second in the championship with one race remaining.
Alex Rins passed Johann Zarco late in the contest to take second with the French rider settling for the final podium position. Rossi's Yamaha teammate made up for a lousy qualifying and grid position (11th) to take fourth. Dani Pedrosa matched his best finish of the year with fifth in the second-to-last race of his MotoGP career. Andrea Dovizioso finished as the top Ducati in sixth after winning the Malaysian race the past two years.
Alvaro Bautista had his fourth top-ten finish in a row with seventh. Jack Miller could not maintain his early pace -- he held third at the end of the first lap -- and dropped into eighth by race's end. Danilo Petrucci completed the mid-pack four Ducati formation with ninth. And perhaps the most popular rider of on the grid, local son Hafizh Syahrin, climbed into the top ten after starting at the back of the grid.
Although the race didn't end well for Rossi, the start was just the opposite. The Yamaha facory rider rocketed out from second on the grid to grab the holeshot and immediately take the lead. It turned out to be a Yamaha 1-2 at the outset as Zarco dove into second after starting on pole. In third place was Miller, climbing from his starting position of sixth on the grid.
But Marquez, who started seventh after receiving a penalty for blocking during qualifying, was making quick work of the riders in front of him. With Iannone on his tail at Turn 15, Marquez bobbled and the Suzuki rider, trying to avoid Marquez, crashed out of the race. One lap later at the same corner, Marquez dove inside Miller to climb into third. With 18 laps to go, Marquez began hunting Zarco who had opened up a small gap from second. Deep in the pack, Vinales began to make his move.
Two laps later, Rossi remained in command. He held nearly a half-second lead on Zarco who was riding a defensive line to keep Marquez at bay. But one lap later, Marquez moved past the satellite Yamaha at Turn 14 and set his sights on Rossi. But then something unsual began to happen; Rossi began to open a gap on Marquez. It grew to seven-tenths. Then eight.
In the middle of the pack, Rins started to climb through the order as Miller began drifting back. Rins hunted down Dovizioso in fifth and then Pedrosa in fourth. With 13 laps remaining, Vinales began setting lap times equal to the leaders and climbed into seventh.
At the front, Rossi was holding Marquez off, maintaining a six-to-seven tenths gap between the pair. Marquez, not making any headway, backed off slightly on his pace for three laps and Rossi's lead grew to 1.3 seconds. Marquez at this point had opened up a one-second gap to Zarco in third. But with five laps remaining, Marquez again turned up the wick, taking a tenth out of Rossi's lead in each sector.
Still, the race provided some welcome news for the Tuning Fork Company. All four of the Yamahas at Sepang were setting a blistering pace with Syahrin setting some of the quickest laps on the track and climbing into tenth place. Vinales too was on a tear and moving up. With four laps remaining, Marquez had narrowed the gap to Rossi to six tenths.
Rossi, with Marquez closing, lost the rear on his factory Yamaha and crashed at Turn 1 with a six-tenths lead. (He remounted and finished 18th.) Marquez, four seconds clear of Zarco settled into the lead. Rins took second from Zarco near the end of the race to grab the middle podium spot.
|44||Pol ESPARGARO||KTM||4 Laps|
|51||Michele PIRRO||Ducati||15 Laps|
|17||Karel ABRAHAM||Ducati||17 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|29||Andrea IANNONE||Suzuki||0 Lap|