Spain’s Jorge Martin won a thrilling Thailand MotoGP race Sunday to close the gap on Francesco Bagnaia to 13 points in the world championship, with three legs of the season to go.
Italy’s Bagnaia crossed the line third, behind Brad Binder, but was awarded second place after the South African was penalised one position for exceeding track limits on the final lap.
The trio had been involved in a titanic tussle over the closing laps with the lead changing hands before pole-sitter Martin, on a Pramac-Ducati, pipped his rivals and celebrated wildly as he crossed the line.
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“I’m so happy. This feeling is amazing because today I wasn’t better than them,” said Martin.
The Spaniard managed the race masterfully from pole position, conserving his tyres to leave him with enough grip to withstand the late onslaught from the fast-finishing KTM rider Binder and factory-Ducati pilot Bagnaia.
“I had the same tools, same tyres, but I had better pace than them and I had to go more than 100 percent on the last lap to stay in front,” added Martin.
“I was pushing on the last lap like it was qualifying.”
Bagnaia, attempting to defend his world title, came into the weekend with a 27-point cushion in the championship but saw that slashed by Martin, who also won Saturday’s sprint at the Buriram International Circuit.
“I felt like I was in a (video) game room. It was incredible,” said Bagnaia of the final daredevil minutes of the 26-lap race around the 4.554-km-long circuit that saw the leading trio go wheel-to-wheel.
“That last lap was on the limit but second place is positive for the championship this weekend considering where I was at the start,” added Bagnaia, who began from sixth on the grid and was down to seventh by the fourth lap.
Bagnaia began to claw his way through the pack and was then gifted third when Alex Marquez crashed his Gresini-Ducati on lap 12, allowing the world champion to close on the leading duo of Martin and Binder.
“I’m really happy with the way I rode today,” said Binder. “I didn’t leave anything on the table.”
Marco Bezzechi was fourth on a VR-46 Ducati, Aleix Espargaro fifth and Fabio Quartararo sixth.
Saturday specialist Martin had won the last five sprint races but crashed while leading the main race in Indonesia a fortnight ago as Bagnaia snatched the championship lead. back.
Then a disastrous gamble on a soft rear tyre last weekend in Australia saw Martin slump to fifth from the lead as his rubber deserted him on the final lap.
But the Spaniard vowed no more mistakes as the MotoGP circus arrived in Thailand and picked up the full 37 points available for winning the 13-lap sprint and Sunday’s 26-lap main event.
The riders now head to Malaysia’s Sepang circuit in two weeks’ time with the championship duel looking likely to go to the wire.
The season rounds off in Qatar and Valencia next month.