Sepang, Malaysia – The penultimate round of the MotoGP series was a must-win in many ways for Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso but he kept calm under intense pressure to secure his sixth victory of the season - and take the championship fight down to the wire.
And there were mixed fortunes for South Africa’s Binder brothers as Brad followed team leader Miguel Oliviera home in a second consecutive 1-2 for KTM in Moto2, while younger brother Darryn crashed out of 20th on lap four of the Moto3 race.
Honda’s reigning title-holder Marc Marquez got an incredible holeshot from the third row of the grid, but ran wide, along with Yamaha Factory rider Jorge Lorenzo, in Turn 1, allowing Yamaha Tech 3 rookie Johann Zarco to slice through into the lead, with Lorenzo in hot pursuit.
Marquez slotted into third, with Dovizioso initially in fourth – but he soon began to move through. As the leaders reeled in Zarco, Dovizioso passed Marquez, and then both Ducatis were able to pass Zarco. For a while it seemed Marquez would be able to take third from Zarco, but the reigning title-holder couldn’t make up the ground.
Lorenzo was holding firm at the front as the two red machines streaked away – but then had a huge moment on Turn 15, with one foot off the footpeg. Dovizioso saw his chance to strike, dived through and held onto a tenuous lead for the final three laps as Lorenzo fought back to finish just 0.743 adrift.
Zarco came home nine seconds later for his second consecutive podium finish, wrapping up the Top Privateer title for the year in the process, with Marquez a further eight seconds down in fourth and polesitter and Honda factory team-mate Dani Pedrosa fifth on the second works RC213V.
Ducati privateer Danilo Petrucci put in a superstar performance in the wet as he was forced to start from the back of grid after a technical problem with his No.1 bike, making up 16 places to take sixth over the line, less than half a second ahead of Yamaha veteran Valentino Rossi.
Honda privateer Jack Miller was a lonely eighth, well ahead of Maverick Vinales on the works Suzuki, with Pol Espargaro giving KTM another consecutive top 10 finish after an impressive ride.
KTM’s Miguel Oliveira took back-to-back wins for the first time in Moto2™ with a stunning demolition job, more than five seconds clear at one point and putting in a faultless ride to the flag despite the late threat of rain. Rookie team-mate Brad Binder made it another 1-2 for the Austrian factory as he took his second Moto2 podium in second after passing new-crowned Moto2 world champion Franco Morbidelli in the closing stages.
Earlier in the day it was announced that key title rival Tom Lüthi had been declared unfit to race, so Morbidelli’s 29 point advantage going into the Malaysian Grand Prix was enough to secure the crown. But, in a sporting gesture to Luthi, the celebration was put on hold until after the flag, when the customary No.1 was stuck to the front of Morbidelli’s Kalex on the way back to parc ferme.
Behind the leading three Mattia Pasini put in a late charge to take advantage of the late rain flags and make it into fourth, three tenths ahead of Francesco Bagnaia who rounded out the top five after an initial podium challenge.
There was an even closer finish for sixth, with local hero Hafizh Syahrin just catching and getting the better of front row starter Fabio Quartararo by just 0.078s, while.
Xavi Vierge (Tech 3) and Isaac Vinales were two more close finishers, only 0.068s apart in eighth and ninth respectively, and Tetsuta Nagashima completed the top 10 after a solid ride for his best finish yet.
Joan Mir backed up his win and championship title from Phillip Island with another impressive performance at Sepang, taking the win after catching and passing early leader Jorge Martin. Martin took second - just - after dicing with Enea Bastianini all the way to the line; Bastianini was just 0.039s behind at the flag to complete and all-Honda podium.
Mir extended his lead in the record books in the "most wins in Moto3" category to 11, and became the first rider in the lightweight class to win 10 races in a year since Marc Marquez in 2010.
Martin got the holeshot from second on the grid and shot away into an early lead, taking six tenths off the lap record on the second time around - but Mir was soon on the chase. The new champion reeled in his Martin and sliced past as soon as he was on the scene, but wasn’t able to escape.
Bastianini was then able to catch the pair and the three were together on track until a close moment Bastianini and Martin to make a break for it, holding a tenuous lead of less than a second while the other two battled it out for second in a duel that wasn’t decided until the final corner, and then only by 0.039s.
Livio Loi (Honda) put in another impressive ride after bouncing back from a broken collarbone earlier in the season, with a lonely ride to fourth, ahead of an incredible five-way battle for fifth between John McPhee (Honda), Andrea Migno (KTM), Romano Fenati (Honda), Aron Canet (Honda), and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Honda) who finished in that order within less than one second, while KTM factory rider Bo Bendsneyder rounded out the top 10.