Round 15 – Thailand, Buriram International Circuit
Marc Marquez was crowned an eight-time World Champion as he took victory in the PTT Thailand Grand Prix, but it was far from easy going as rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo once again took the reigning Champion to the wire on race day.
The two were locked together on each and every lap, with the final corner deciding it all as Quartararo hit attack mode and dived up the inside, but Marquez kept the better of him. Behind the two, Maverick Viñales completed the podium.
It was Quartararo who kept the lead from pole as the lights went out, with Marquez on his tail from the off as Viñales lost a place off the line. Andrea Dovizioso did the opposite and shot through the pack, up from seventh on the grid to muscle his way into P4 straight away – first mission accomplished.
Despite the start though, Marquez, Quartararo and Viñales started to pull away, with the number 12 particularly keen to make a move on Marquez. Not long after, however, the front two also started to drop Viñales.
Trying to attack Quartararo early doors, Marquez had run slightly wide and from then on, the reigning Champion seemed more content to sit behind the rookie Frenchman – just as he did at Misano. Sometimes further away, sometimes a little closer…sometimes seeming to fade and then suddenly pulling the pin to move back in, Marquez stalked his prey lap after lap.
Viñales couldn’t stay with the pair, and as they moved on to the final lap it was set in stone as another rookie-reigning Champion duel. And the ball was in the reigning Champion’s court, with Marquez trailing the Frenchman as he had all race. But he struck early, where he’d feinted the move a few laps before, outbraking Quartararo at the end of the back straight. Now, it was all on the rookie. Could he stay with him? Could he attack back?
Throughout the lap the Yamaha was making up the distance on the Honda in the lead, and blasting down towards the final corner it seemed he was close enough. Sure enough, ‘El Diablo’ pulled out, back wheel in the air as he dropped anchor, slamming it up the inside…but Marquez was ready. The number 93 cut back and gassed it towards the line, just able to stay ahead to take the win and a stunning eighth world title, his sixth in the premier class.
Quartararo, meanwhile, was left with another second place – but he was closer than last time, and will surely be closer again…
Viñales completed the podium after another solid but ultimately lonely race, not quite on terms with the duel ahead but nearly ten seconds clear of Dovizioso in fourth, who found race day tougher going in 2019. Second in the Championship, however, seems ever more likely.
Alex Rins recovered from a tougher qualifying and tougher start to the race to complete the top five, just two tenths off Dovi by the flag. Franco Morbidelli took P6 and another solid haul of points despite fading a few positions from the start.
Joan Mir took on Valentino Rossi and won, four tenths ahead of the veteran by the flag, and both leapfrogged second row starter Danilo Petrucci. The Mugello winner came home in a lonely P9.
Takaaki Nakagami was the second Honda home as he completed the top ten, ahead of rookie Francesco Bagnaia. Cal Crutchlow suffered braking issues and could only manage 12th at Buriram.
Pol Espargaro was able to take P13 as he comes back from injury, impressive once again and going the distance, with Jack Miller taking P14. Why? The Australian unfortunately hit the kill switch on the grid and had to start from pitlane.
Considering that, it was quite a comeback, just edging ahead of Andrea Iannone, who in turn beat Miguel Oliveira.
And so, that’s a wrap on the 2019 Championship fight, although it’s far from the end of the season. Marquez breaks more records and takes home another trophy, and Quartararo takes home yet more experience to keep improving his already impressive armoury. Next up it’s the Twin Ring Motegi…tune in in two weeks, when Marquez could be unleashed…
“I am very happy because when you have this big advantage, you need to realise the Championship is very close. But then you need to find extra motivation; an extra motivation was to try to close the Championship in this way. In a nice race with a nice victory. That’s what I did. I mean, Fabio was incredibly fast during the race. I never gave up in the middle of the race, it looked like he was going away but I tried to push. Until the last lap I was pushing, and I never think about the championship – just I was thinking about the race. When I crossed the line, you know, when I arrived…especially with the Repsol Honda Team that they did an amazing job this year. I was very happy dreams come true with all fan club nice celebration. Every year is special. First of all because it is not easy to keep the same ambition, same mentality and especially the team always understand the situation and when we had some problems…you never give up, keep calm and this is so important. This is the most difficult thing. For this reason the pressure is there, and you feel it. You are human and you feel it. Of course, the winter was hard, with a big injury on my shoulder. We didn’t start the season in a hundred percent physical condition. But we’ve managed it in a good way and now it’s time to celebrate all this. Now it’s time to celebrate, time to enjoy. Of course, these last races our intention, our ambition, our mentality is the same. It’s true that when you win the Championship your body switches off one light. We have five lights, switch off one. But we will try to push, one of the targets is to win the triple crown. Constructors we are there, team championship will be difficult. But we never give up. Now it’s time to celebrate… but start 2020 in Motegi!”
Luca Marini absolutely dominated the PTT Thailand Grand Prix, getting to the front early on and then putting the hammer down to pull well clear of the chasing pack.
“It was a very good race with good constant pace, I’m very happy because I finished dominating and it was the first time in my career. It was a really difficult race because I started thinking a lot about so many things, although I was trying to stay as focused as possible because with such a gap it’s so easy to lose concentration and make a mistake. So I tried to set myself a target on race pace and push from the beginning to the last lap. It was really good, the bike worked so well, it was quite easy to ride, it wasn’t such a physical race, and with the hot temperature it was ok. I want to thank the team, they worked really hard with such hot temperatures in the garage, it’s like 50 degrees in there so I think also for them it’s a tough race! And my family, my girlfriend, they watched me in every practice from Italy even with this schedule.”
That chasing pack was headed by an all-KTM duel between Brad Binder and Iker Lecuona, with the South African able to hold off the Spaniard at the final corner. Just behind them, Augusto Fernandez came out on top in an almighty scrap with Championship rival Alex Marquez.
Marquez took the holeshot from pole, with Tetsuta Nagashima keeping second and Marini immediately making his presence felt as he blasted up into the top three. He was soon the man on the chase behind Marquez too, and the gap between the two started to come down as the Italian pulled the pin. With Marini into the lead by Lap 3, he and Marquez were both also easing away from the group behind, but once Lecuona was through into third he was also able to home in.
As that battle got closer and closer to a reality though, Marini got further and further away. And before long, Marquez had a small queue behind him of Lecuona, Binder, and Fernandez. The number 27 attacked and was denied, Binder would look for a way through on his fellow KTM, and Fernandez was right on the back of them – but still Marquez held firm. By Lap 13 though, Lecuona had made his move and made it stick, with Binder then following him through as well.
That created two duels. The all-KTM fight for second, and the brutal bust up for supremacy between the Championship leader and the man who is now once again his closest challenger. In the first, Binder waited it out and it was only over the line for the last lap that the South African led the way, then left to defend his position and everything going down to the final corner. Lecuona pounced, but the Spaniard then had to perform the save of his career to stay on the bike – and Binder was able to cross the line first.
Behind them, it was Fernandez who beat Marquez at Buriram. The battle was brutal, however, with so much on the line – and the number 40 ultimately coming out on top. For the Championship, he needed to – and he even almost got on terms with Lecuona after the KTM rider’s mammoth moment out of the final corner.
After Fernandez’ crash at Aragon, however, taking P5 just behind his compatriot was still enough for Alex Marquez to extend his lead. It’s now 40 points ahead of number 40 Fernandez after a 0 for Jorge Navarro… and Binder is now third, only 44 points back…
Sixth went the way of Jorge Martin as the rookie took his best finish yet and from his first front row, ahead of Tom Lüthi and Nicolo Bulega. Home hero Somkiat Chantra, meanwhile, took an impressive ninth on home hero – getting the better of Marco Bezzecchi at the final corner, who in turn was only just clear of Enea Bastianini.
Remy Gardner, Andrea Locatelli, Marcel Schrötter back from injury and front row starter Nagashima completed the points, with Navarro in P17.
At the sharp end throughout Free Practice, Remy qualified fifth guaranteeing himself s second row start for the twenty-four-lap race which would take place in sweltering conditions at the 4.5km Thai venue. Able to run with the leading group in the early stages, the #87 once again suffered with his front tyre and was less than satisfied at the flag. Nevertheless, confidence is high ahead of the next round in Japan and his home race at Phillip Island in Australia where tickets to the VIP Gardner Club are still available from the official event website.
“Today was a really frustrating day. We struggled a lot with the speed of the bike and by lap five my front tyre was destroyed from the way I was having to ride in the turns and on the brakes. I spent the rest of the race saving the front from washing out, so it was not the result we wanted. I’m extremely disappointed and we need to figure out if we can keep using this soft tyre in all situations or if we need to change it for the hard tyre. The team and I know what we need to do, and we will fix it before the end of the year. Already looking forward to Japan!”
Was Buriram another pivotal race in the title fight? Marquez left with a bigger lead but he also had some serious rivals. What can the likes of Fernandez and Binder do in Japan? Find out in two weeks at the Twin Ring Motegi.
Albert Arenas took his first victory of the season in the PTT Thailand Grand Prix, becoming a record-breaking 11th different winner in 2019 after coming out on top in a battle of attrition at Buriram.
The Spaniard fought at the front throughout and held off Championship leader Lorenzo Dalla Porta at the final corner, although the Italian’s second place seriously increased his lead in the standings after key rival Aron Canet suffered a DNF. Alonso Lopez completed the podium, taking his first ever rostrum finish.
“It was a really good race for me, I was fighting all the time, I knew I had to stay in top positions all the time because in the first and second sectors I suffered a bit more and then I could rest a bit in third and fourth sectors. That’s what I did every lap. The bike was really good through the corners, I felt really confident with the bike…and I won!”
Marcos Ramirez took the holeshot from second on the grid, the Spaniard getting the jump on polesitter Celestino Vietti as the Italian lost a few positions off the line. Arenas initially took over in second, although Lopez was threatening behind and Tony Arbolino another to soon make his presence felt. But it remained, of course, a huge freight train at the front.
Lorenzo Dalla Porta and Tatsuki Suzuki were making waves at the front of the pack before long too, and the contest was a classic Moto3 squabble of changing positions, swapping paint and slipstreaming. And it seemed that was the challenge for Dalla Porta and closest title rival Canet: navigating calmly through the storm despite so much on the line for both.
Calm, however, it would not prove to be – for Canet, at least. Mid-race, the Spaniard suffered contact in a multi-rider crash instigated by Darryn Binder, down at the final corner along with John McPhee and Tatsuki Suzuki. The South African was given a ride through penalty for the move, but the Championship damage was done for Canet as Dalla Porta was left with an open goal. Would he capitalise?
Heading into the final laps, a smaller group of seven was fighting it out for the podium, with Arbolino out of it and well down the order after suffering a problem and adjusting his glove, skittling Ai Ogura and Ayumu Sasaki sliding out. Bit by bit, however, it became five, as Dalla Porta, Arenas, Lopez, Ramirez and Vietti all vied for victory.
At Buriram, the final corner always creates last minute drama and this last lap was no different. Arenas was ahead into the braking area but Dalla Porta, despite everything on the line, decided to lunge for it – and the Italian made it through. Arenas was ready though, and the Spaniard cut back across to gun it to the line and took the flag a couple of tenths clear; his first win of the year.
Dalla Porta was able to just hold off an awesome performance from Alonso Lopez, with the Championship leader taking a valuable 20 points for second. Lopez’ third, meanwhile, saw him visit the rostrum for the first time in his Grand Prix career, another boost to his impressive form of late.
Ramirez completed the podium after a solid race running at or near the front, just losing out over the last couple of laps – and getting a brief punt at the final corner with a few laps to go, too. Dennis Foggia, who took his first podium in Thailand last year, ultimately just got the better of rookie polesitter teammate Vietti as the two took fifth and sixth respectively, just ahead of Kaito Toba, who was the last man in the front group.
Next up was a best yet for Stefano Nepa by some stretch, the Italian taking an impressive P8 and crossing the line somewhat lonely. Rookie Raul Fernandez was the next man up the road, a few seconds back, as he took ninth.
Arbolino, after his issue during the race, gritted his teeth to be able to come back from as low as 18th and complete the top ten, with Filip Salač and teammate Jakub Kornfeil taking 11th and 12th, the three all within half a second of Fernandez. Riccardo Rossi, Sergio Garcia and Makar Yurchenko completed the points.
That’s it from a hot and action-packed PTT Thailand Grand Prix. Next up it’s Motegi – a home track for plenty and another chance for the Championship to take yet another twist…
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