As is the norm, all eyes were focused on the front of the pack as Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) battled Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) for victory at the Thai GP. Just behind those two, Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) clung on to a podium place with a little help from some friends, with Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) rounding out the top five.
Outside the podium and victory fights in Buriram, two riders, in particular, caught the eye. Disappointing qualifying sessions saw Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) launch from P17 on the grid, while Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) was three places further back when the lights went out. With neither rider starting inside the point scoring positions, they could be forgiven for thinking they would endure long and difficult days, but it was actually the opposite.
For Viñales, he’s seen a dip in form recently after a podium rush between our visits to Assen and Misano. Then a P13 in Aragon equalled his second worst finishing position of the campaign, before he bounced back somewhat in Japan with seventh. Sunday in Thailand saw him start P17, drop five positions before climbing 10 to record consecutive P7s, and while they aren’t the results he is targeting, he can take a lot of heart from his wet weather recovery going forward.
Post-race, Viñales admitted that the rain helped mask some of the problems he has been experiencing recently, and that if he performed better during Saturday qualifying, he would have been mixing it with the top riders at the Thai GP.
“In Japan I felt good, here, a bit better than Japan in the wet, because I'm starting to understand the qualities of the bike. Something very interesting for us is on wet, I don't have issues like I have in the dry, especially on the turning side. So we must learn from that and we must understand something. I mean, today we were lucky it rained, because even in the warm up, I kept working well, I had a good rhythm.
“I didn’t think I was strong enough to do what I did today. But in the end, starting in the front would be a totally different race, I think we were able to be in the top four, top five, which is always a good result. And for me, it's very important to feel this confidence in the rain, because normally I wasn't really good in the rain. But on this bike, I can be very strong.”
Up next for Top Gun is Australia and Phillip Island, a circuit he took victory at in 2018, while he has also stood on the box on two other occasions. It could prove a golden opportunity to get himself back among the podium places before he returns to another track he has taken victory at in Malaysia.
Another Sunday surger in Thailand was Alex Marquez. The LCR Honda rider started on the second last row in P20, but came on strong in the rain to claim eighth on the day, a first top 10 since Misano and a fourth of the season.
It’s little surprise to see the Spaniard do well in the mixed conditions, with Marquez having a reputation as something of a wet weather specialist. In 2020, he claimed one of his two premier class podiums in a wet and windy Le Mans at the French GP.
In what has been a difficult season for Marquez and Honda, the 26-year-old can also take confidence out of his performance that saw him climb 13 places and earn a best MotoGP™ finish since his Portimao P7. Despite the excellent showing, he believes that if conditions were dry, he wouldn’t have performed to the same level.
“Our expectations were high but I did not get the feeling and I was behind so today the rain saved us. That’s the reality. In the warm up, I was struggling already and I thought ‘it will be a long race’, fortunately, the rain came for us and I was really fast in the beginning when there was a lot of water on the track.
“When it started to dry, then I started to suffer. The base setup was too much for wet and not mixed conditions but it is always a balance and you don’t know what will happen in the forty minutes. It is something that we will have experience for the future. I pushed too much in the beginning to make the position and I used a bit too much the rear tyre. Happy for the result. I lost two positions in the last three laps but I was like on the limit and there was not much more I could do.”
Like Viñales, Marquez has some history at our next two destinations. In 2019 he clinched the Moto2™ Championship at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit, while he also took a crucial podium at Phillip Island in 2014 on his way to the Moto3™ title.
Both riders will be hoping to draw on their previous successes to help build on the strong showings in Thailand. First up is the Australian GP, which gets underway on October 14th. Make sure you tune in then!