History-making margins decide the difference in Thailand as Martin gets the gloves off to cut the Championship gap to 13 points.
It’s turning out to be an absolute dog fight for the 2023 MotoGP™ Championship as the gap in the standings is reduced back down to just 13 points with three rounds remaining. How? Pure magic, with Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) coming out on top against Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) in a nail-biting, gloves off and all-out awesome battle for victory at Buriram. Martin won and Binder crossed the line in P2 but exceeded track limits on the final lap, so Bagnaia takes those sweet, sweet 20 points. And did we mention it was also the fourth closest premier class podium finish of all time? Just 0.253 covered the top three.
No holds barred on the opening laps
It was a tense affair as the riders lined up on the grid ready for battle in Buriram, with clouds looming but the skies staying dry as another 25 points went into play.
When the lights went out, Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) got the jump on Martin off the line, but the polesitter held firm into Turn 1 as he stuck it around the outside of the Italian. Bagnaia was fast-starting as well, in contrast to 24 hours earlier in the Sprint, as he got the launch that he needed to fly up from sixth on the grid to fourth.
The gloves were off in the opening laps as Martin led the way. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) pushed his way past Marini for second, whilst Binder was on an absolute mission further back. The South African lunged up the inside of Bagnaia for fourth as he sent the World Champion wide, that also allowing Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) to further demote the number-one-plated Ducati to sixth.
Martin didn’t bolt in the early stages as the Spaniard has done before. Instead, the elbows were out in the leading group as Bagnaia was under pressure and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) soon joined the party, going wheel to wheel with the #1.
Some close exchanges were made between the two Champions as they battled it out for sixth, until Bagnaia ran the Repsol Honda to the edge of the circuit with his sights firmly set on the bikes ahead, message forcibly received as he was then able to start pulling away.
With 20 laps remaining the race began to calm slightly, albeit briefly, as Martin led the way from Binder. Behind, Alex Marquez had made his way into third but had Marini, Aleix Espargaro, Bagnaia, and Marc Marquez for company.
As Binder shadowed Martin, however, Bagnaia was getting in the groove. He proceeded to carve his way through the group as he set fastest lap after fastest lap, and by 17 laps remaining the reigning Champion had made his way back up to fourth, with Alex Marquez locked in his sights.
Bagnaia was making steady progress on third, but then it changed anyway. AM73’s glorious charge was done as he slid out, rider ok but that promoting Pecco to P3. All that lay up ahead was a KTM and one more Ducati.
Martin vs Binder vs Bagnaia
Binder waited until the final seven laps to show his first hand. He lunged his way through on the Spaniard, but couldn’t quite make it stick as Martin got the cutback. The two then proceeded to exchange paintwork over the course of the next lap. Bagnaia, meanwhile, had long since caught the duo and watched on.
Eventually Binder did get the better of Martin as he replicated his Turn 8 move with five laps to go, this time leaving no room for Martin to bite back and taking the race lead. The roles were reversed, with the number 89 now piling on the pressure.
It stayed tense as close as ever until Turn 2 on the penultimate lap. Martin shot back through on Binder on the brakes, choosing his strategy for the final lap clearly enough: he would defend. And that as Bagnaia tried to sweep past both in one on the penultimate go round the final corner.
The final lap was tense as Martin dug in, but it was far from enough breathing space to relax. Binder was harrying the number 89 apex after apex, and Bagnaia was looking for his own gap. Streaming down into the final corner for the very final time, three machines dropped anchor and piled into the apex, but there was no open door, no quarter given, and no mistakes made from the trio.
Martin took the victory after soaking up that stunning amount of pressure, completing his fourth double of the season. Binder crossed the line second but his error had come earlier on the final lap with track limits biting him once again, demoting the South African to third. Still, he becomes the rider from South Africa with the most premier class podiums, taking his ninth.
Bagnaia takes that 20 points for second to keep his lead at 13 points, after once again getting his elbows out all the way home.
Fights up and down the field
Just two seconds back from the podium battle was Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team). The Italian was making some big moves as he climbed up to fourth place, including a mid-race battle with his teammate Marini which saw the pair exchanging paintwork corner after corner.
Marini faded in the latter stages and dropped down to seventh position, with Aleix Espargaro first to pick up the pieces as he crossed the line in 5th. A post-race penalty for a second tyre pressure offence demoted the Aprilia rider to eighth in the end however. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) and Marc Marquez therefore take fifth and sixth, and Quartararo vs Marc Marquez was also an electriyfing duel later in the race, and one the Frenchman won.
Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) was next across the line as he took ninth place, with Phillip Island victor Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) rounding out the top ten.
The OR Thailand Grand Prix marks the end of what has been an action-packed triple header, with title fight constantly evolving over the past three rounds. There are now just three to go as one more rush for glory awaits the field… and it all begins at Sepang. Do NOT miss it as MotoGP™ returns to Malaysia in two weeks!
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