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Miguel Oliveira has mastered the rain again! Just as he did in Round 2 in Indonesia, the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing pilot took victory in ultra-challenging conditions in the OR Thailand Grand Prix. The Ducati Lenovo Team claimed second and third at the Chang International Circuit, with Jack Miller giving it his all in a bid to make it two MotoGP™ race wins in a row but coming up just 0.730 seconds short, and Francesco Bagnaia taking a precious podium. Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) clinched fourth when he held off Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) at the chequered flag after 25 unbelievable laps.
But for Bagnaia, the good news continues. He is now just two points behind World Championship leader Fabio Quartararo with three races to go after the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™ rider finished 17th and scored a ‘zero’. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) also regained ground, although he is still 20 points in arrears of Quartararo after serving a Long Lap Penalty and finishing 11th.
After so much talk about weather on Friday and Saturday, the ran finally arrived on Sunday afternoon – in a big way. The torrential falls led to a delay of almost an hour before the premier class race finally got underway, and it was still very wet when riders eventually took the start. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) launched well from pole position but he and fellow front qualifier Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) went well wide as the field ran into Turn 1, and there was almost contact between the Ducati riders.
Bezzecchi still emerged with the lead, from Bagnaia and Miller, with Martin fourth and Marc Marquez fifth, but Quartararo had been shuffled back from fourth on the grid to 11th in the traffic. It got even worse for the Frenchman when he had a big moment on the paint exiting Turn 4 and dropped another six spots. Not only had Aleix Espargaro got ahead of him having inherited 11th, Bagnaia had assumed the live Championship lead.
Bezzecchi was almost a second up at the end of Lap 2 but had been issued a position drop penalty for the manner in which he went off and rejoined at speed at the opening corner. That put him in an awkward situation considering how close the factory Ducatis were to each other behind him, especially when Miller overtook Bagnaia on Lap 3, but he managed to serve the penalty – and no more – a lap later at Turn 3. Meanwhile, Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) crashed at Turn 9 having not long moved up to fifth position, while Oliveira had hauled his way to fourth.
The Portuguese rider overtook Bagnaia for third at Turn 9 on Lap 5 and then went under Bezzecchi for second at Turn 3 on Lap 6, a move which Bagnaia capitalised on by passing the VR46 pilot for third as they sped towards Turn 4. Marquez soon relegated Bezzecchi another position, despite the rookie’s best attempts to hit back immediately, while Aleix Espargaro had just moved into the top 10 when he was issued a Long Lap Penalty for early contact with Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing).
As #88 closed the gap to #43 at the front of the field, Aleix Espargaro took his medicine on Lap 10 and rejoined in 14th – but was still five positions ahead of Quartararo, who was going in the wrong direction on the timing screen but at least back in the live Championship lead thanks to Oliveira. Speaking of whom, he had already made one attempt to pass Miller which did not stick, but when he had a look at the Australian at Turn 12 at the end of Lap 14, he pulled off a textbook move and was into the lead.
The KTM pilot needed just a handful of laps to build a margin of one second over Miller, who had about the same gap back to teammate Bagnaia, but Marquez was starting to stalk the #63 Ducati. Then there was the man on the #5 Ducati, Zarco, who was on a big charge as he lapped at least half a second quicker than anyone on a drying race track.
In search of his 100th premier class podium, Marc Marquez sent his Honda RC213V down the inside of Bagnaia’s Desmosedici at Turn 12 at the end of Lap 20, but Pecco got him back on the cutback. Instead, the eight-time World Champion would lose fourth position to Zarco a lap later at Turn 8, and then the Frenchman was all over Bagnaia. Try as he might, he could not find a way through, and started to fade in the final laps, perhaps having asked too much of his wet tyres as the track surface continued to dry out.
On the final lap, two serious battles emerged. Miller had brought Oliveira’s advantage back down to just tenths of a second and was poised to capitalise on any error, but the Portuguese rider stayed strong to seal victory number five in MotoGP™. Just over a second further back, Bagnaia had shaken off Zarco, who found Marc Marquez back right behind him, but he would hang on to fourth. A full 10 seconds away from the top five finished Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), with Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) seventh from Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Martin.
After taking his penalty, Aleix Espargaro spent the latter half of the race involved in a battle with none other than Brad Binder, and it was the South African who beat him to 10th position at the finish. Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) got home not far behind in 12th, ahead of Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team), and Raul Fernandez (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing). From pole position, Bezzecchi slipped all the way to 16th and it was also an afternoon of frustration for Quartararo, who missed out on points for the second time in three Grands Prix. Remarkably, with Marini remounting, just one rider failed to make the finish, Remy Gardner (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) crashing out on Lap 12.
Two points, three more races – MotoGP™ is set for one of its most thrilling conclusions to a season ever! Make sure you do not miss the Animoca Brands Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, from Phillip Island, October 14-16.
MotoGP™ Race Top 10
1. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)
2. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 0.730
3. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) + 1.968
4. Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) + 2.490
5. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) + 2.958
6. Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) + 13.257
7. Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) + 14.566
8. Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) + 14.861
9. Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) + 15.365
10. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 18.097