Victory number 70 for the seven-time Champion comes after ‘The Doctor’ crashes with four laps to go…
When the lights went out it was Rossi who got a stellar launch from P2, with pole man Zarco slightly sluggish off the line – ‘The Doctor’ got a comfortable holeshot, with Zarco managing to brake late to slot into P2. Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) was able to leapfrog Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) into P3 at the start, with Marquez making up one position in P6.
The premier class riders then settled, but this came after Marquez and teammate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) exchanged paint on the opening lap. the 2018 Champion would soon start to make his way forward though, despite a hairy last corner moment at the end of the opening lap that led to Iannone crashing out directly behind the seven-time Champion.
At the front, Rossi and Zarco were off as Yamaha had a 1-2 in the opening exchanges, but Marquez hunted them down after making his way past Miller. The Honda rider was on the tailpipes of Zarco’s M1 machine and soon enough he managed to slice his way through. Turn 14 the chosen destination after a slight error from the number 5 machine, with arch-rival Rossi now in his sights. But the number 46 was in an excellent rhythm at the forefront as the gap between the duo hovered at 3/4s of a second, with Zarco beginning to lose touch at the halfway stage of the race as Rossi continued to press on – 1.1 now the gap to Marquez as 10 laps ticked over at Sepang.
With eight to go, Rossi was still pumping in the lap times to keep the gap above a second to Marquez, with Zarco now over three seconds behind his fellow Yamaha rider. However, the gap then dipped below the one-second barrier with seven to go – the seven-time Champion was hunting down the nine-time Champion with menace. As ever, Marquez was pushing the limit and there was a slight scare for the number 93 at Turn 5. A ‘mini Marquez moment’, let’s say.
Five to go at Sepang, the gap? 0.7, as we set ourselves for a grandstand finish between two of the sports all-time greats. But then, disaster for ‘The Doctor’. A return to victory after 26 races went begging as he lost the front of his YZR-M1 at Turn 1 with four laps to go. You could hear the hearts of thousands break as he picked up his stricken Yamaha in front of the official Rossi grandstand. This left Marquez with a lonely ride home in P2, but the battle for P2 and P3 between Zarco and Rins was far from finished.
Last lap time: Zarco led onto it but Rins was soon past, with the Frenchman having no answer to the Suzuki. Rins would cross the line to take his fourth podium of the season, Zarco took his first since Jerez. After a less than impressive start, Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) recovered to string together a strong latter half of the Grand Prix to finish P4, with Pedrosa crossing the line P5 on his final racing visit to the Sepang International Circuit. It was a subdued race for one of the pre-race favourites Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). The winner here for the last two seasons couldn’t replicate those results as he took P6, but after Rossi’s crash, the Italian has sealed P2 in the Championship.
Angel Nieto Team’s Alvaro Bautista was P7 in his penultimate MotoGP™ race, he led fellow Desmosedici rider Miller – the Australian slipped down to P8 after a good start. P9 was his teammate Danilo Petrucci, but arguably ride of the day went to a certain Malaysian: Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3). Starting P23, the home hero was able to get a stunning start as he got himself up to P12 on the opening lap, eventually claiming P10 to close Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) down in the battle for ‘Rookie of the Year’ – the Italian claimed P12, with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) splitting the duo on the timesheets.
Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Team) retired early on, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) also retiring late on. Michele Pirro (Ducati Team) crashed – rider ok.