Marc Marquez gave his MotoGP title hopes a huge boost with a commanding win at Phillip Island, while Andrea Dovizioso was lucky to score at all after struggling to 13th position.
The Honda rider played a patient game across the 27 laps, pulling clear of what had been a frantic scrap for the lead with Valentino Rossi and Johann Zarco with five laps to go to storm to an ultimately comfortable win.
Even better for Marquez was that Dovizioso struggled, the Motegi winner only able to recover to 13th after running wide at Turn 1 on the second lap of the race.
Jack Miller put in a crowd-pleasing opening stint to the race, charging into the lead on the first lap and making a break for it out front. He got as much as eight-tenths clear of the field as well, leading for the first five laps before being hunted down by the two factory Yamahas.
While Vinales led briefly, it was Rossi that enjoyed the next decent stint at the front. He never looked comfortable, though, and on Lap 9 finally succumbed to the immense pressure being piled on by Zarco – the only of the front-runners to run the soft compound front tyre – and ran wide at Honda.
That left Zarco in front, but with Marquez right on his rear Michelin. It wasn’t just Marquez either, with an incredible eight-bike freight train including Miller, Rossi, Vinales, Andrea Iannone, Cal Crutchlow, and Alex Rins.
Despite Marquez putting all the pressure on Zarco, it was Rossi that took over at the next lead change. He barged passed the points leader on the run down the main straight on Lap 14, before nipping by Zarco into Honda.
With 11 laps to go Zarco pulled the same move, dive-bombing Rossi at Honda to re-take the lead. A lap later Rossi reversed the positions at the same spot.
Not that it was a two-way fight; the top eight was still running as a pack with 10 laps to go, with Vinales taking his shot to charge into the lead down with nine left to run. He was given a small gap the next time round as well, Marquez and Rossi making light contact as they squabbled over second on the run to Honda.
Marquez quickly recovered and had the blowtorch on Vinales a lap later, grabbing the lead at Honda. Vinales kept going backwards too, being shuffled outside the top four after an ambitious move from Zarco at Turn 1 a lap later.
With five laps to go the eight-bike train finally broke apart, a clear front four consisting of Marquez, Rossi, Zarco, and Iannone pulling away as Vinales ran wide at the Southern Loop.
Marquez then made his play to pull away on the next lap, pulling out a 0.6s lead as Zarco and Iannone lost time scrapping. It worked perfectly, the gap enough to set Marquez up for a 1.7-second win.
The frantic battle behind the winner came down to the run to the flag, Rossi just getting the job done ahead of his teammate Vinales, who fought his way back into the battle for the podium.
The gap between the two Yamahas was just 0.02s, Zarco just 0.1s back in fourth.
Despite his podium finish, Vinales is now officially out of the title fight, his 50-point gap to Marquez insurmountable with only two races left to run.
Crutchlow was best of the rest in fifth, with Iannone’s frantic ride ultimately only yielding sixth.
Miller finished an impressive seventh on home soil, with Rins coming home eighth, ahead of the two KTMs of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith.
The race couldn’t have gone much worse for title contender Dovizioso, who now lies 33 points behind Marquez with only 50 left to play for in the final two races.
After dropping to 20th, the Ducati rider only made it as high as 11th, and then dropped two spots on the run to the flag to Scott Redding and Dani Pedrosa to finish 13th.
Jorge Lorenzo had a likewise miserable race, finishing 15th behind the Aspar Ducati of Karel Abraham.
Aleix Espargaro was the only non-finisher with an early crash at Turn 1 on his Aprilia.
|Ret||41||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia||20 laps|