The battle for the world MotoGP championship switches to Malaysia this weekend with the gap between leader Valentino Rossi and Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo whittled down to 11 points.
Lorenzo was set for victory in Sunday’s Australian race at Phillip Island only to be trumped by Marc Marquez inside the final lap of a spine-tingling finish.
Defending world champion Marquez, coming off the pole, pipped his fellow Spaniard by 0.249 seconds for his fifth win of the season, with Italian Ducati rider Andrea Iannone third.
Lorenzo’s small comfort was that he shaved seven points off Rossi’s championship lead with just two races remaining at Sepang and Valencia to decide this year’s world champion.
Lorenzo admitted he felt Marquez’s Honda had the edge around the sweeping turns at Phillip Island and was satisfied with the result.
“Here with the rear tyre that spins so much it’s always difficult to have grip in the corners, so this result was very good,” he said.
“It’s a really good feeling to close in on Valentino in the championship. The bike was working really well and we did a good job throughout the whole weekend.
“For sure, we fly very happy from this race.”
Rossi, 36, a seven-time world champion in the premier class, battled to the end in his record-equalling 328th GP to make his 16th podium on his 19th trip to Australia.
But the Italian legend was edged out for third spot by the greater speed on the straight of Iannone’s Ducati.
“I had a good pace and good speed during the race, so arriving in fourth place is a pity, but it was still a good race,” Rossi said.
“We already said that race results was going to be important 10 rounds ago, but now it’s really important and it will be very tough until the last race.”
It was Marquez’s first premier class win at Phillip Island after two years of frustration.
Last year Marquez crashed out on the 19th lap while leading off the pole. In the 2013 race he was disqualified after ignoring a mandatory pit stop in the middle stages of the race.
Last month Marquez broke his left hand and has been steadily working his way back to full fitness, but his chance to successfully defend his world crown is gone.
He trails Rossi by 74 points with just two races or a maximum of 50 points left in the season.
“My plan on the last two laps was to try to push a little bit more … but it was difficult to manage and honestly I didn’t believe that I would get to Jorge,” Marquez said.
“But I pushed 100 percent on the last lap and in the end it is a great win for me, for Honda.
“After a difficult season it’s always great to (finish) on top.”