Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) has got one hand on the 2017 MotoGP™ World Championship trophy after he won a thrilling Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix to stretch out a 33-point lead from title rival Andrea Dovizioso (Team Ducati) who had a day to forget finishing in 13th place.
The Movistar Yamaha duo of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales broke their three-round podium drought by finishing second and third respectively, after an epic battle that also involved the aforementioned Marquez, Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Johann Zarco, Aussie Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia Marc VDS Honda), Team Suzuki Ecstar rider Andrea Iannone and, from half distance, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda).
Vinales beat a brave and bold Zarco to the chequered flag by just 0.02 seconds, as the three Yamaha riders all vied for a position on the podium until the very end.
But it was again the amazing Marquez who got the job done at Phillip Island for the second time in three years, putting the hammer down at the business end to pull clear of the pack. He won by 1.799 seconds.
“It was an amazing race. I knew today was important, and it feels really good to take the victory,” a jubilant Marquez said after the race. “During the race I was waiting and waiting, and without seven laps to go I started to push hard.
“The fight was amazing – I have some tyre marks on my leathers – and it was a great show for the crowd.”
Buoyed by the home crowd support, Miller got the holeshot and led the opening four laps of the 27-lapper race before being passed by both Rossi and Vinales at turn one on lap five.
One corner later, Marquez went underneath Miller at Southern Loop to take third place off the Australian – and so the constant jockeying for positions between all the front runners began.
Meanwhile, Dovizioso’s championship hopes dwindled when he ran wide at turn one, relegating him to 20th place in the opening stages. The balance of the race was then about clawing back as many points as possible.
Crutchlow and Iannone crossed the line in fifth and sixth, ahead of Miller who, despite a more than a few brave passes under brakes in Phillip Island’s two main braking zones, finished the race in seventh place.
“With two laps to go I tried to have another little dig to close the gap to Crutchlow, but I just started spinning too much and run out of grip,” Miller said.
“I nearly highsided going through turn two, which was the same for Iannone as well. The tyre was just finished on the left side.”
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Red Bull KTM teammates Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith completed the top 10., ahead of Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Ducati), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), Dovizioso, Karel Abraham (Pull & Bear Ducati) and Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team).
Rossi, who celebrated his first podium place in four races here in Australia, said it was a matter of if he couldn’t beat them, he should join them in his fight for second place.
“I enjoyed the race very much,” he said. “All the riders at the front were very aggressive – I just had to be more stupid than them!
“Congratulations to the team, as we have worked very hard to get on the podium.”
Vinales, who got pushed to the back of the leading pack in the final laps of the race and did a great job to claw himself back into podium contention, said he needed to rethink his plan as the race unfolded.
“My strategy was to save the tyres until the end and then go hard,” he revealed. “However, I had contact with Johann [Zarco] and Andrea [Iannone] and I fell back.
“I pushed back towards the front, and its satisfying to finish on the podium.”
Vinales is now 50 points shy of Marquez in the championship standings.
The second Aussie in the race, Broc Parkes, also suffered tyre issues on his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 machine, but the 35-year old’s issues came early on in the race rather than in the latter stages. He finished in 22nd place.
“I was a little disappointed – I thought I could have been a bit stronger,” Parkes said. “I selected the medium rear tyre, but it just spun from the get-go.
“I lost the tow with the guys in front of me, and really needed to be in the 1:31s for the whole race to stay with that group.”
The penultimate round of the MotoGP™ title will be held at Sepang in Malaysia, starting on Friday October 27.