In a race he really didn’t need to win, on a day he might have preferred sitting in an air-conditioned hotel suite ordering room service and watching Ozzie & Harriet reruns, Marc Marquez dismissed his main MotoGP title challenger without so much as a “by your leave.” Turning the tables on Andrea Dovizioso in a final turn cutback, Marquez now has a magic number as the Pacific Flyaway beckons. Otherwise, the inaugural Grand Prix of Thailand was a smashing success all around.

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Marc Marquez pulled off a late pass to beat Andrea Dovizioso by a mere 0.115 seconds.

Practice and Qualifying

Let’s see. FP1, often an outlier, concluded with a top five of Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, Dovizioso, Jack Miller and Marquez. Friday afternoon produced Dovi, Viñales (?), Cal Crutchlow, Marquez and Pramac Ducati strongman Danilo Petrucci. Other than the Yamahas sniffing around, no big surprises lol. But Saturday morning arrived and FP3 produced a little drama. A late crash at Turn 4 scrubbed what would have been #93’s flying lap into Q2. Not only that, but with riders across the board having improved their times dramatically from Friday, this left MM 11th, having to suffer through Q1 for the second time in 2018 and only the fourth time since the current, pleasantly-Darwinian qualifying format was introduced in 2013.

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Usually, having your bike brought to the garage in the back of a truck spells trouble. For Marc Marquez, it was just a minor inconvenience.

Marquez obliterated the Q1 field by 9/10ths and dragged Suzuki puzzle Alex Rins along into Q2, Rins having punked rookie Franco Morbidelli by 2/1000ths to avoid 13th place. Q2 would feature the factory Hondas and Yamahas, Dovizioso – a limping Jorge Lorenzo having packed it in after an impressive high side in FP2 – both Suzukis, Crutchlow, and Johann Zarco and the Backups – Jack, Danilo and Alvaro Bautista. Singing four-part harmonies in four different languages. Worth the price of admission.

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For a brief moment, Valentino Rossi occupied the top spot during qualifying before being surpassed by Marc Marquez. Still, starting on the front row was a good sign for the Doctor.

Late in a session led primarily by Marquez, your boy Valentino Rossi, with two minutes left in regulation, went out and scorched Chang International, launching himself momentarily into pole and simultaneously into the DNA of most of those in attendance. Alas, Marquez came back one more time and settled 1/100th of a second faster than Rossi, on pole, with the Italian, one feared, having shot his wad making it to the front row. Would he have any starch left for Sunday? It was easy to imagine Viñales starting, somehow, from fourth and running, according to form, ninth by Lap 5. Sure, there were two Yamahas in the top five in qualifications. If Rossi has another win in him, and Marquez encounters any difficulty, it could be memorable for the tens of thousands of crazed Thai fans, finally getting some respect AND getting to see Rossi get a win under duress. Then there’s Dovizioso, who should probably win the race, looking menacing on the front row.

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Despite having to go through Q1, Marc Marquez still captured his fifth pole of the season.

For his part, all Marquez had going on Saturday was the setting of a new track record (during Q1!) and a new all-time record – first rider to pole after going through Q1. As the old song says, they can’t take that away from him.

The Race

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The first MotoGP round in Thailand produced an entertaining race.

If today you found yourself looking for 26 laps of wheel-to-wheel action conducted in an immense pressure cooker turned on HIGH, you couldn’t have picked a better place to be than Buriram, at the (beer brand) International Circuit in scenic, scorching Thailand. Much of the race featured a six man lead group, and at the end there were still three or four contenders. Somewhat predictably, it was Repsol Honda wonder Marquez schooling Ducati #1 Dovizioso in the last turn of the race for the gratuitously-dramatic win, a win he didn’t really need, but simply wanted.

Conditions were rugged, as expected. Crutchlow, who spent much of the day in fourth place cooking his tires, faded at the end, riding on the rims. Dani Pedrosa, looking like the old Dani, made it as far as fifth place from a seventh-place start and was likely dreaming of a career-capping podium when he low-sided out of the race on Lap 18.

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A strong race went for naught after Dani Pedrosa low-sided on Lap 18.

Viñales put a Yamaha on the podium for the first time since Germany back in August, trailed by Rossi who, by any objective assessment, has now officially lost a step. An encouraging weekend for Yamaha, with two bikes in the top four, but not yet time to celebrate anything. I understand they have finally hacked the traction control software to their liking. It is not disloyal to state that almost winning pole or almost standing astride the podium is not as good as winning pole or standing on the podium. Just sayin’.

Though there was plenty of action in the middle of the grid, the top three stayed fairly consistent for most of the day. Dovizioso led the most laps, Valentino led for a fraction of a lap, and Marquez led at the end of the last lap, where they keep score.

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Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Viñales formed the podium with just 0.270 seconds separating them.

Viñales, celebrating a return to the land of the living, picked Rossi’s pocket on Lap 19, was able to keep Dovi and Marquez honest, but never showed a wheel to either, grateful for a third step podium. One Rossi would, I suppose, reluctantly admit to coveting.

The Big Picture

Playing with house money, Marquez will face the first of four match points in Japan in two weeks: Beat Dovizioso, and the championship is over. His win today extended his lead over the Italian to 77 points, with four rounds left. Most observers had their hearts in their throats on the last lap when, in fact, there was little at stake. Now, should he not feel like making the whole Pacific trip, Marquez can return to action in Valencia leading Dovizioso by at least two points, making for an interesting season finale and avoiding the whole fustercluck that is three Pacific races in three weeks.

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Marc Marquez needs only to score 23 or more points over the remaining four rounds to secure the 2018 MotoGP title.

Of which one, perhaps two will be run after the championship has been decided. At that moment, the Dorna promotion machine will begin yammering about 2019, Lorenzo on Honda, Zarco on KTM, etc., etc. The same way there is now tons of Christmas décor in the stores in the first week of October – staying ahead of the game.

PS – By definition, Buriram’s official track record was set in 2018. 8 for 12.

Here and There

Scott Redding is thrilled to be riding in British Super Bikes next year. Just let that one sit and ferment for a moment. Maybe just beating the living crap out of someone, anyone, will make him feel good again. Like going from table stakes poker to nickel-dime-quarter. Thrilling.

Rossi spoke last week of Thailand as “another important opportunity to improve our bike.” General Pickett, I believe, spoke of Gettysburg as “another important opportunity to improve our attack.” I’d say both were correct, but only one worked out.

Michelin brought a fourth rear tire to Thailand. Crutchlow probably didn’t like any of them.

Lorenzo tried to ride this week. Years ago, he rode a week after breaking his collarbone (and broke it again), so I expected him to ride and do poorly. His pride got the best of him on Friday. The Pacific Swing is on the horizon. Friday was a bad idea. It’s not like he’s chasing a championship.

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Already ailing from Aragon, Jorge Lorenzo attempted to race this weekend but crashed in FP2 and suffered a hairline fracture on his left arm.

Tranches… Get Your Tranches Right Here

After Aragon

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso
Tranche 2: Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Iannone
Tranche 3: Pedrosa, Zarco, Viñales, A. Espargaro, (Rabat), Miller
Tranche 4: Bautista, Morbidelli, P. Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami
Tranche 5: Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Syahrin and Simeon

After Buriram

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso
Tranche 2: Rossi, Lorenzo, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Rins, Pedrosa
Tranche 3: Zarco, Viñales, A. Espargaro, Miller, Iannone, Bautista
Tranche 4: Morbidelli, P. Espargaro, Smith, Nakagami, (Rabat)
Tranche 5: Redding, Abraham, Luthi, Syahrin and Simeon

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No changes to the top and bottom tranches, but there were some shuffling in the middle.

Here it Comes

Here comes the dreaded flyaway rounds, three races in three weeks. Making things worse is the stranglehold in which Marc Marquez holds the championship. Bad enough to have to keep up with all these logistics when there’s something in the balance. But when it’s just filling out the schedule, and there aren’t any playoffs… Whatever. We’ll be back in two weeks with a glance at Twin Ring Motegi.

2018 MotoGP Thailand Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda 39:55.722
2 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse +0.115
3 Maverick Viñales Movistar Yamaha +0.270
4 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha +1.564
5 Johann Zarco Monster Yamaha Tech 3 +2.747
6 Álex Rins Suzuki Ecstar +3.023
7 Cal Crutchlow LCR Honda Castrol +6.520
8 Alvaro Bautista Angel Nieto Ducati +6.691
9 Danilo Petrucci Alma Pramac Ducati +9.944
10 Jack Miller Alma Pramac Ducati +11.077
11 Andrea Iannone Suzuki Ecstar +15.488
12 Hafizh Syahrin Monster Yamaha Tech3 +17.691
13 Aleix Espargaro Aprilia Gresini +21.413
14 Franco Morbidelli Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +22.802
15 Bradley Smith Red Bull KTM +23.628
16 Scott Redding Aprilia Gresini +23.804
17 Karel Abraham Angel Nieto Ducati +32.507
18 Xavier Simeon Reale Avintia Ducati +37.216
19 Jordi Torres Reale Avintia Ducati +39.204
20 Thomas Luthi Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +39.421
21 Pol Espargaro Red Bull KTM +53.388
22 Takaaki Nakagami LCR Honda Idemitsu +2 Laps
Not Classified
DNF Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 8 Laps
2018 MotoGP Top 10 Standings After Buriram
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda 271
2 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse 194
3 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha 172
4 Maverick Viñales Movistar Yamaha 146
5 Jorge Lorenzo Ducati Corse 130
6 Cal Crutchlow LCR Honda Castrol 128
7 Danilo Petrucci Alma Pramac Ducati 126
8 Johann Zarco Monster Yamaha Tech 3 123
9 Andrea Iannone Suzuki Ecstar 113
10 Álex Rins Suzuki Ecstar 102