Jorge Martin returned to winning ways after grinding out a hard fought victory over a determined Brad Binder and Pecco Bagnaia in a breathless Thailand MotoGP that went down to the wire.
The Spaniard repelled a late attack from Binder to snatch back the lead with just two laps of the Buriram race remaining before holding the South African at bay by just over a tenth at the chequered flag.
Allowing him to close the gap to Bagnaia further in the fight for the 2023 MotoGP World Championship title, crucially it was the Italian who was awarded second place when Binder was penalised down to third after exceeding track limits on the final lap.
It means the pair are split by 13 points with three rounds and six races to go in this year’s title race.
On the back foot in a title race he briefly headed after the Indonesian MotoGP Sprint Race, only 11 points from the ensuing two full length races - the majority of which he led - put the wind up Martin coming to Thailand, but after whittling the margin down to Bagnaia to 18 points with victory in Saturday’s Sprint Race, it was the Pramac Ducati rider who started as favourite from pole.
It was a status he initially looked well on course to uphold as he fended off a fast-starting Luca Marini to lead into Turn 1.
However, having paid the price for his fearsomely hot laps in Indonesia and Australia, a noticeably more conservative Martin dictated a modest pace initially as his rivals shuffled in the deck behind him.
While Aleix Espargaro initially held second behind Martin, it was Binder who quickly made his moves, lifting up Bagnaia and shuffling through on Marini and then Espargaro to hold down second by lap four.
With pressure from the South African, Martin began to stretch the front group out, the Spaniard being joined by Binder, Alex Marquez - making strong early gains on the medium compound tyre - and Bagnaia, the Italian keeping his head despite being muscled down to seventh at one stage by an bullish Marc Marquez.
It was a quartet that steadily pulled away as Marini in fifth did his advancing team-mate Marco Bezzecchi few favours with a back-and-forth that prevented either from getting involved in the lead fight.
Four became three at the mid-way point when Marquez asked too much of his Gresini Ducati rounding Turn 10 to skate into retirement, his exit promoting Bagnaia into a more threatening position in third.
With Binder having also fallen prey to fading tyres in recent races to hamper his shots at victory, the slower than normal pace was playing into his hands and he showed as much as he upped the pressure on Martin coming into the final quarter of the race.
It was enough for him to attempt two failed passes for the lead with seven and six laps to go, before making it third time lucky with a slinky overtake into Turn 7 with five remaining.
Giving Martin the hurry up as Bagnaia latched onto his tail, Binder attempted to break away but couldn’t shake the attentions of the Ducati pair behind him.
As such, when he made a small error on the exit of Turn 2 at the start of the penultimate lap, it allowed the Martin the superior drive down to Turn 3, the Spaniard braking late to force his rival out wide and reclaim the lead.
With the trio concertinaing through the remainder of the lap, when Martin went defensive on the run to Turn 12, an opportunistic Bagnaia surged past both riders on the outside. Wise to the factory Ducati rider’s efforts, Martin let off the brakes to run himself and Bagnaia wide on the exit, allowing Binder to squeeze back between them as they entered the final lap.
Binder went on the attack but Martin would keep his lines nice and clean, getting it stopped on the apex to accelerate out of Turn 12 and take the line, from Binder and Bagnaia on the road.
However, in the moments after the flag, Binder was demoted back a position to third after being caught out by a track limit violation, the third time this season he has been affected after losing podiums in both races at Assen.
It means Bagnaia gains an extra four points for his efforts, though it will do little to dampen Martin’s mood having steadied the ship of his Indonesia and Australia faux pas’ with two disparate but impressive victories in Buriram.
Behind Binder, Bezzecchi came through to fourth place to all-but-slip out of title contention, leaving the fight for this year’s title to come down to Bagnaia and Martin, the pair split by 13 points.
Having run as high as second early on, Espargaro slipped back to the lower end of the top ten at the mid-way stage before recovering to fifth, ahead of Fabio Quartararo, who evoked memories of his victory fight with Marc Marquez in 2019 as he got the better of the Repsol Honda rider in sixth and seventh respectively.
Marini faded to eighth, ahead of fellow Ducati riders Fabio di Giannantonio and Johann Zarco, who rounded out the top ten.
With only three DNFs - Marquez being joined by technical retirees Miguel Oliveira and Maverick Vinales - the final points’ paying positions went to Franco Morbidelli in 11th, Joan Mir in 12th, Enea Bastianini in 13th, Takaaki Nakagami in 14th and Raul Fernandez in 15th.
|2023 Thailand MotoGP | Chang International Circuit, Buriram | RACE Results | Round 17 of 20|
|1||Jorge Martin||🇪🇦||Prima Pramac Racing||Ducati GP23||26 Laps|
|2||Pecco Bagnaia||🇮🇹||Ducati Lenovo Team||Ducati GP23||+0.253|
|3||Brad Binder||🇿🇦||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16||+0.114 *|
|4||Marco Bezzecchi||🇮🇹||Mooney VR46 Racing||Ducati GP22||+2.005|
|5||Aleix Espargaro||🇪🇦||Aprilia Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||+4.303|
|6||Fabio Quartararo||🇨🇵||Monster Energy Yamaha||Yamaha M1||+4.550|
|7||Marc Marquez||🇪🇦||Repsol Honda Team||Honda RC213V||+5.362|
|8||Luca Marini||🇮🇹||Mooney VR46 Racing||Ducati GP22||+6.778|
|9||Fabio di Giannantonio||🇮🇹||Gresini Racing MotoGP||Ducati GP22||+7.569|
|10||Johann Zarco||🇨🇵||Prima Pramac Racing||Ducati GP23||+9.377|
|11||Franco Morbidelli||🇮🇹||Monster Energy Yamaha||Yamaha M1||+11.168|
|12||Joan Mir||🇪🇦||Repsol Honda Team||Honda RC213V||+11.990|
|13||Enea Bastianini||🇮🇹||Ducati Lenovo Team||Ducati GP23||+12.323|
|14||Takaaki Nakagami||🇯🇵||LCR Honda IDEMITSU||Honda RC213V||+14.537|
|15||Raul Fernandez||🇪🇦||CryptoData RNF Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||+15.093|
|16||Jack Miller||🇦🇺||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16||+17.640|
|17||Augusto Fernandez||🇪🇦||GasGas Factory Racing Tech3||KTM RC16||+21.307|
|18||Pol Espargaro||🇪🇦||GasGas Factory Racing Tech3||KTM RC16||+21.435|
|DNF||Maverick Vinales||🇪🇦||Aprilia Racing||Aprilia RS-GP|
|DNF||Alex Marquez||🇪🇦||Gresini Racing MotoGP||Ducati GP22|
|DNF||Miguel Oliveira||🇵🇹||CryptoData RNF Racing||Aprilia RS-GP|
|W||Alex Rins||🇪🇦||LCR Honda Castrol||Honda RC213V|