DOHA, Qatar – Defending MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez started his title defense with a victory in Qatar on Sunday, beating Valentino Rossi in a close battle at the Losail Int’l Circuit.
Repsol Honda’s 21-year-old rider produced a gritty performance to take maximum points despite breaking his leg during the preseason and missing the last two MotoGP tests.
In further drama Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Jorge Lorenzo crashed out of the race lead at turn 15 on the first lap, meaning his season starts with a DNF after he had struggled with grip issues throughout the weekend.
Meanwhile, after eight laps the race was over for Stefan Bradl. Coming from seventh on the grid and taking advantage of Lorenzo’s crash and some errors ahead of him, Bradl was writing headlines for LCR Honda as he led laps. However, a mistake while under pressure from Marquez sent him sliding off the track and out of contention.
That left Marquez and Rossi to battle over the victory. The fight went down to the last lap and saw the Spaniard outpace the Italian by .25 of a second with Marquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa three seconds back to complete the podium.
An excellent ride for Aleix Espargaro saw him take fourth in his debut for NGM Forward Racing on their Open Yamaha. Espargaro cashed in on crashes by Alvaro Baustista and Bradley Smith as they fell out of the podium hunt.
Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow did well in fifth and sixth respectively for Ducati Team, though Crutchlow finished 16 seconds behind his teammate after almost running out of fuel on the final lap. A good first premier class race for Scott Redding (GO&FUN Honda Gresini) saw him beat fellow Open Honda equipped rider Nicky Hayden (Drive M7 Aspar) to take seventh.
The top ten was rounded out by Hayden’s compatriot Colin Edwards (NGM Forward Racing), riding his first race as a 40-year-old, and Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing), who recovered well from a fall on the last corner of lap two.