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Tension mounts in the title fight as MotoGP touches down in Thailand

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Tension mounts in the title fight as MotoGP touches down in Thailand

Tension mounts in the title fight as MotoGP touches down in Thailand
Tension mounts in the title fight as MotoGP touches down in Thailand27 points used to be more than a weekend’s worth but it ain’t anymore as Bagnaia vs Martin arrives at the final round of this first triple header.

After a showstopper of a Grand Prix race at Phillip Island, the paddock is on the way north to the very different and often equally dramatic Buriram for the OR Thailand Grand Prix – with the gap between leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and closest chaser Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) now back out to 27 points. This time last year that guaranteed Pecco the lead at the conclusion of the weekend, but with the Tissot Sprint at every Grand Prix in 2023 it’s 37 points up for grabs now, so there are zero guarantees.

So where are we? Bagnaia now arguably has that momentum back, despite visiting Q1 in both Indonesia and Australia. The torrential conditions in Japan, his stunning win at Mandalika and then that impressive charge to second last time out have required speed, but they’ve also required some nerves of steel. With his back against the wall, the reigning Champion hasn’t faltered – and he’s still had the guts to gets his elbows out and make split second decisions like that wonderful dive up the inside to take second at Phillip Island. That is something valuable in his arsenal.

Martin, for his part, has put plenty on the line too. In Japan his wet weather masterclass was exactly that, and at Mandalika that charge at the front required him to get close to the limit. Unfortunately, he also went over it. Then, in Australia, he made that rear tyre gamble and was just tenths away from it paying off… but it didn’t. Did he need to gamble, starting from a pole position that saw him four tenths clear? Or is his sheer speed – and the fact he’s actually willing to make that bet – his biggest strength that will see his charge continue?

Meanwhile, Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) isn’t out of it but it’s now 73 points between the number 72 and Championship leader Bagnaia. He needs a bigger weekend at Buriram after a tougher race at Phillip Island, but when the heat is on we’ve seen Bez more than do the business. He’ll want to stake his claim on that fight at the front once more as he recovers from that collarbone surgery, and be the one to take that first Ducati win here. Buriram stands alone as the only venue on the calendar where the Borgo Panigale factory hasn’t won.

Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) arrives as a MotoGP™ race winner now though after that stunning charge to glory on the Island, and now the mission is simple: do it again. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), meanwhile, is on an awesome run of form and now has that first premier class podium, and teammate Alex Marquez will hope to be a little more race ready as his recovery from injury continues. Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) too, and Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team) is looking for more as the number 23 continues to try and find his feet in red.

Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) will likely have something to say about that. The number 33 came very close at Phillip Island to taking the podium that will see him become the South African with the most premier class rostrum finishes, and he did it from his best qualifying in the class too as he split the top two contenders on the front row. Teammate Jack Miller also had some serious speed on home turf and will want to find more of that, whereas GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3 duo Pol Espargaro and Augusto Fernandez look for an uptick in fortunes after a run of bad luck.

After his stunning pace on Friday too, Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) is looking to bounce back. Top Gun got sent wide early doors Down Under and couldn’t make up too much distance after threatening to be a real feature in the front group. Teammate Aleix Espargaro is also looking to regroup but had turned the tables on the number 12 by qualifying, and at CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team there are steps forward targeted. Miguel Oliveira, winner last year at Buriram in a wet weather classic, will want to stamp some authority back on teammate Raul Fernandez, and both want a lot more than the outskirts of the top ten.

The same is true at Honda. After a podium at Motegi, some bombshells before Mandalika and then two crashes followed by a tougher Phillip Island, eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) will definitely want to restart that turnaround. Teammate Joan Mir has had a tougher time of it again since his impressive Indian GP too. LCR Honda Idemitsu has some rebuilding to do with Takaaki Nakagami after a very tough Phillip Island, and we await some updates on Alex Rins at LCR Honda Castrol after he pulled out of the Australian GP due to persistent pain and will now undergo another small surgery.

Finally, more is definitely required for Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™ as well. Many expected Phillip Island could be kinder for the Iwata marque but it was a tough one, with both Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli down the order in qualifying and the race. The Frenchman had a big upper hand in speed in qualifying, but both will want to move forward. With warmer temperatures at Buriram and a new venue without that long, long straight off that final corner, the OR Thailand Grand Prix could prove a reset.

The title fight is far from a two horse race but it’s starting to become last stand time for Bezzecchi, and Binder is now just a handful of points away from falling out of contention. In other words, it’s crunch time at Chang International Circuit, and the awesome final corner invites the crowd to enjoy two awesome finishes as 37 more points go on offer!
We’re underway at 15:00 local time on Saturday for the Sprint, before the GP race on Sunday fires up at the very same 15:00.

Tissot Sprint: Saturday 15:00 (GMT +7)
Grand Prix Race: Sunday 15:00 (GMT +7)

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