Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) claimed his 70th career win after taking victory at the Shell Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix. The 2018 Champion looked set to lock horns with nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) in the final stages, but the race would end in disaster for ‘The Doctor’ as he crashed out with four to go. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) completed the podium at Sepang International Circuit, the latter from pole, and home hero Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) stormed from the back of the grid to the top ten in a race to remember in Malaysia.
When the lights went out it was Rossi who got a stellar launch from P2, with pole man Zarco slightly sluggish off the line and ‘The Doctor’ getting a comfortable holeshot ahead of the the Frenchman, who managed to brake late to slot into P2. Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) was able to leapfrog Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) into P3 at the start, with Marquez making up one position into P6. The premier class riders then settled, but this came after Marquez and teammate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) exchanged paint on the opening lap. The 2018 Champion would soon start to make his way forward though, despite a hairy last corner moment at the end of the opening lap that led to Iannone crashing out directly behind the seven-time Champion.
Back at the front, Rossi and Zarco were off as Yamaha had a 1-2 in the opening exchanges, but Marquez hunted them down after making his way past Miller. The Honda rider was on the exhaust of Zarco’s M1 machine and soon enough he managed to slice his way through. Turn 14 was the chosen destination after a slight error from the number 5 machine, with arch-rival Rossi now in his sights. But the number 46 was in an excellent rhythm at the front as the gap between the duo hovered at 3/4s of a second, with Zarco beginning to lose touch at the halfway stage of the race as Rossi continued to press on. 1.1 seconds was the gap to Marquez as 10 laps ticked over at Sepang.
With eight to go, Rossi was still pumping in the lap times to keep the gap above a second to Marquez, with Zarco now over three seconds behind his fellow Yamaha rider. However, the gap then dipped below the one-second barrier with seven to go and the seven-time Champion was hunting down the nine-time Champion. As ever, Marquez was pushing the limit and there was a slight scare for the number 93 at Turn 5; a ‘mini Marquez moment’, let’s say.
With five to go at Sepang, the gap was just 0.7, as we set ourselves for a grandstand finish between two of the sport's all-time greats. But then, disaster struck ‘The Doctor’. A return to victory after 26 races went begging as he lost the front of his YZR-M1 at Turn 1 with four laps to go and he picked up his stricken Yamaha in front of the Rossi grandstand, leaving Marquez with a lonely ride home to the win. The result also sealed the Constructors' crown for Honda, adding yet more to celebrate for the number 93 and his factory.
The battle for P2 and P3 between Zarco and Rins was far from finished, however. As the last lap began, Zarco led but Rins was soon past, with the Frenchman having no answer for the Suzuki and the Spaniard crossing the line to take his fourth podium of the season. Zarco took his first since Jerez in third, not able to quite strike back but completing a top weekend for both.
After a less than impressive start, Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) recovered to string together a strong latter half of the Grand Prix to finish P4, with Pedrosa crossing the line P5 on his final racing visit to the Sepang International Circuit. It was a subdued race for one of the pre-race favourites Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), however, as the winner here for the last two seasons couldn’t replicate those results and took P6. After Rossi’s crash though, the Italian has sealed P2 in the Championship.
Angel Nieto Team’s Alvaro Bautista was P7 in his penultimate MotoGP™ race and he led fellow Desmosedici rider Miller as the Australian slipped down to P8 after a good start. P9 was his teammate Danilo Petrucci, but arguably ride of the day went to a certain Malaysian: Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3). Starting P23, the home hero was able to get a stunning start as he got himself up to P12 on the opening lap, eventually claiming P10 to close Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) down in the battle for ‘Rookie of the Year’. Emotional before and after the race, it was the first time a Malaysian had ever competed in the premier class and Syahrin marked the occasion in style - even heading out onto the main straight to throw his gloves into a deservedly adoring crowd.
Morbidelli took P12 to limit some of that damage in the standings and remains ahead, just behind Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). LCR Honda Castrol replacement rider Stefan Bradl claimed P13 and points, the German finishing just ahead of teammate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), with Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completing the points.
A scorching encounter in Sepang ends with Marquez on top once more, with Rossi left to ponder on what could have been. Valencia in a couple of weeks’ time brings to 2018 Championship to a close, don’t miss any of the action from there as the engines go on for the final time this season - and the top Independent Team rider and Rookie of the Year titles are decided.