Marquez edges closer to MotoGP title
HE may have more than one hand on the world championship trophy, but Marc Marquez's victory in Aragon shows he is still more than willing to fight for it.
The Repsol Honda rider outduelled Andrea Dovizioso to claim his sixth win of the year to extend his points lead to 72 with five races remaining.
The enthralling race came at the expense of Jorge Lorenzo, whose race lasted only as far as the first turn.
Marquez made a lightning start to be close enough to have a dive for the lead, forcing both he and the Ducati rider wide and off line, but only the No.99 high-sided out of the race.
The pole-sitter's crash forced all those on the outside line to prop with Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci and Australian Jack Miller all losing ground, undoing the latter's good start.
Dovizioso rushed through in the mess to snatch the lead, with the Suzukis of Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins beginning a race-long squabble for third.
The biggest winner off the start was Aleix Espargaro, leaping from 13th to have his Aprilia sixth at the end of the opening tour.
Seventh place would prove cursed in the early laps. Alvaro Bautista crashed out of the place on the second lap, handing it to Crutchlow who in turn would hit the deck at Turn 1 a couple of laps later.
With the mercury showing a track temperature of 44 degrees - its highest all weekend - the leaders were again playing a game of tyre conservation.
Seven riders comprised the train at the front, Dovizioso leading Marquez, Rins, Iannone and Dani Pedrosa - who'd briefly swap places on Lap 4 - Espargaro and Petrucci, with a small gap back to Miller.
Valentino Rossi was next in ninth, having made steady progress from 17th on the grid. Teammate Maverick Vinales did the reverse; from 14th on the grid he fell as far back as 19th in the opening-lap carnage but was picking his way forward.
One by one, Dovi and Marquez detached the last rider from the leading train until they alone by the halfway point.
Would Marquez go for the win, or just take the 20 points? The answer would come on Lap 14.
Marquez cut inside Dovizioso at Turn 12 to snatch the lead away, a more uncompromising move than the one which had brought the other factory Ducati undone on lap one.
But the Honda wasn't able to pull away. Dovizioso stayed glued to Marquez's rear tyre.
The Ducati struck at Turn 4 on lap 16 and grabbed the lead; Marquez hit back immediately at Turn 5 and took it back.
Dovizioso finally made it stick at Turn 7, but their battling allowed the Suzukis to claw back onto their tails.
That's how it remained until five laps to go, when it all kicked off again.
Marquez cut under Dovizioso into Turn 12 but ran wide, the pair running side-by-side into Turn 14 - but both too deep, allowing Iannone to rush around them both at Turn 15 to the lead.
The blue bike would stay ahead for just a few hundred metres, the Ducati and Honda both power their way back past down the back straight.
Marquez would have another go on the next tour, but was again immediately repassed by Dovizioso.
The race-winning move would finally come with three laps to go.
Marquez had the rear wheel swinging in the breeze as outbraked the Ducati into Turn 1. Dovizioso fought back with a bold move through Turn 4, only to run wide and allow Marquez to ease back ahead into Turn 5.
That would be the order they would remain in for the rest of the race, Marquez ekeing out a margin that would see him claim a victory that puts him ever closer to the 2018 title.
Iannone would join the title rivals on the podium, edging out his Suzuki teammate, while Pedrosa equalled the best result of his final year in MotoGP so far with fifth.
Espargaro finished an impressive but lonely sixth aboard the unloved 2018 Aprilia, whiel Petrucci hold off Rossi for seventh.
Miller slipped back to ninth in the closing laps after a bad vibration manifest itself mid-race, the Australian backing off fearing it was a tyre problem, while Vinales recovered from his troubles on the first lap to claim the final spot in the top 10.
Franco Morbidelli, Takaaki Nakagami, Bradley Smith aboard the sole KTM, Johann Zarco and Karel Abraham rounded out the point-scorers, while Scott Redding, Tom Luthi, Hafizh Syahrin, Xavier Simeon and Jordi Torres rounded out the finishers.
The latter's result was arguably one of the most impressive of the day; the MotoGP rookie, who'd never tested the bike prior to the weekend, finished just half a second behind a rider who'd spent a full year on the bike.
Marquez's 41st career MotoGP victory blows his championship lead out to 72 points.
He could head to Phillip Island now and skip both Thailand and Japan and still retain - at worst - a 22-point championship lead.
More realistically, Marquez will likely get his first chance to seal the 2018 in Honda's backyard at Motegi.
Only an injury or some other bizarre happening will deprive Marquez from a fifth MotoGP world title in just six years.