Martin takes crucial Thai GP victory in three-way thriller
By Kyle White
Sunday 29th October, 2023 - 10:06pm
Jorge Martin produced a perfect final lap to clinch a hard-fought victory for a double in Thailand after a pulsating MotoGP showdown in Buriram.
Sprint winner Martin was locked in battle with Brad Binder and championship leader Francesco Bagnaia in an epic battle at the Buriram International Circuit.
It was Martin, though, who prevailed after a faultless last lap on the Pramac Ducati under extreme pressure to secure another crucial victory in his quest for a maiden premier class crown.
In a dramatic twist once the race had concluded, South African Binder was demoted one place for exceeding the track limits on the last lap on the Red Bull KTM, promoting Bagnaia into the runner-up spot on the factory Ducati Team entry.
With three rounds remaining, Bagnaia’s title lead is a slender 13 points over Martin, who bounced back in the strongest way possible at Round 17 after a rear tyre gamble at Phillip Island last weekend backfired, dropping the Spaniard from first position on the last lap to fifth as runner-up Bagnaia extended his points lead.
However, it’s all to play for once more in a championship fight that seems destined to go all the way to the last round at Valencia in Spain at the end of November.
As the 26-lap Grand Prix got underway, Luca Marini (VR46 Ducati) made the better start off the front row but pole man Martin left his braking later to lead into Turn 1.
Aleix Espargaro made a strong start to the race on the factory Aprilia from third and was quickly into second past Marini.
Bagnaia was fourth on the opening lap but dropped a place after an aggressive pass by Binder, which jolted the Italian upright. Alex Marquez (Gresini Ducati) seized his opportunity to squeeze past, pushing Bagnaia down to sixth. Bagnaia soon fought back past Marquez as Martin led Espargaro and Marini.
After five laps, it was still Martin out front but Binder was now into second, with Marini 0.7s adrift in third ahead of Alex Marquez. Espargaro was losing ground, slipping to fifth, with Bagnaia holding sixth.
There was no change at the front by the eighth lap but Bagnaia had passed Espargaro, who was now in the clutches of Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez as they disputed sixth.
At the halfway point, Martin continued to set the pace from Binder and Alex Marquez, while Bagnaia was making steady progress after moving into fourth with a pass on Marini at the end of the main straight.
Marco Bezzecchi was gaining ground on the VR46 Ducati, working his way through to sixth ahead of Espargaro and Marc Marquez.
On Lap 13, disaster struck for Gresini’s Marquez when the Spaniard lost the front and crashed out, promoting Bagnaia into third.
After shadowing Martin for so long, Binder finally made a move for the lead on Lap 20 but left the door open, with the Pramac rider cutting back inside to regain the position.
Binder tried again on the next lap but ran wide as Martin led once more, while Bagnaia was right in touch on the factory Ducati in third. Bezzecchi – into fourth – was two seconds behind the leading group.
A relentless Binder refused to go down without a fight and the KTM man launched another attack on Lap 22, this time making his pass stick.
As the race entered the penultimate lap, Martin hit the front again with a perfectly executed overtake on Binder’s inside under braking at the end the main straight at Turn 3.
Binder went slightly wide and Bagnaia almost touched the rear wheel of the KTM as he attempted to follow Martin through.
Bagnaia then launched an audacious move for the lead on the approach to the final corner from a long way back. The Ducati rider went past Binder and drew alongside Martin but drifted wide and stayed third.
On a breathless final lap, Martin kept his nerve and defended his lead, keeping the door firmly shut as he held on for all 25 points.
Binder thought he had wrapped up second place only to lose the place to Bagnaia for exceeding the track limits at Turn 4.
Martin’s winning margin was officially 0.253s from Bagnaia, although Binder crossed the line a tenth behind.
Bezzecchi was on his own in fourth with Aleix Espargaro regrouping again to finish fifth ahead of Fabio Quartararo on the Monster Energy Yamaha.
Marc Marquez was the top Honda rider in seventh while Marini was eighth at the finish.
Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Ducati) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Ducati) completed the top 10.
Aussie Jack Miller was outside the points in 16th on the Red Bull KTM behind Raul Fernandez (RNF Aprilia).
Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha) was 11th with Joan Mir 12th on the Repsol Honda. Enea Bastianini (Lenovo Ducati) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) were 13th and 14th respectively.
Miguel Oliveira was forced out with a technical issue after receiving the black and orange flag while Maverick Viñales retired in the pits on the factory Aprilia.
Round 18 takes place at Sepang in Malaysia from November 10-12.