Marc Marquez held off a charging Valentino Rossi to win the season opening Qatar Grand Prix after an epic duel under floodlights at the Losail circuit.
The reigning world champion made a slow start to the race but captialised on falls from early leaders Jorge Lorenzo and Stefan Bradl to move to the head of the field.
The final quarter of the race developed into a battle between the Honda rider and Rossi, with Marquez triumphing despite briefly losing the lead on the penultimate lap.
Honda’s Dani Pedrosa completed the podium in third ahead of Aleix Espargaro and Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Australia’s Broc Parkes came through a chaotic race to claim a point for Paul Bird Motorsport in 15th position.
Lorenzo stormed into the lead from the second row after a blistering start but his joy was short-lived. The Qatar winner from the previous two years dropped the bike halfway around the opening lap.
As a result, LCR Honda’s Bradl took the lead from Marquez, Bradley Smith and Rossi, who started the race in a lowly 10th on the grid.
Alvaro Bautista provided the lead group a challenge as he moved into second but a couple of mistakes saw him drop down to the back of the quartet.
Drama struck at the half way point when Bradl dropped his Honda from the lead, handing Rossi the advantage, who had slid underneath Marquez prior to the crash.
Nine-time world champion Rossi came under serious pressure from Marquez and it wasn’t long before the current world champion moved into the lead.
An epic duel between the pair ensued with Rossi stalking Marquez’s every move around the Losail track.
Rossi pounced on the penultimate lap with a slick move for the lead but Marquez responded to take back the position. The duo swapped places again before the Honda rider swept back in front and shut the door firmly.
In the end, Marquez, who is still recovering from a broken leg, enjoyed a relatively comfortable final lap to take the chequered flag from Rossi.
Pedrosa emerged in third after Bautista and Smith suffered crashes in the latter stages.
MotoGP heads to America for round two at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas on April 13.
Race – MotoGP – Qatar
|4||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha||+11.623s|
|7||Scott Redding||Gresini Honda||+32.593s|
|8||Nicky Hayden||Aspar Honda||+32.628s|
|9||Colin Edwards||Forward Yamaha||+39.547s|
|10||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Ducati||+43.360s|
|11||Hiroshi Aoyama||Aspar Honda||+46.595s|
|12||Yonny Hernandez||Pramac Ducati||+46.688s|
|13||Karel Abraham||Cardion Honda||+50.581s|
|14||Danilo Petrucci||Ioda Aprilia||+1m03.127s|
|15||Broc Parkes||PBM Aprilia||+1m14.386s|
|16||Michael Laverty||PBM Aprilia||+1m32.593s|
|17||Mike di Meglio||Avintia FTR-Kawasaki||+1m36.085s|
|RET||Alvaro Bautista||Gresini Honda||20 laps|
|RET||Bradley Smith||Tech 3 Yamaha||18 laps|
|RET||Pol Espargaro||Tech 3 Yamaha||17 laps|
|RET||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||8 laps|
|RET||Hector Barbera||Avintia FTR-Kawasaki||4 laps|
|RET||Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha||0 laps|