Sunday’s action in Thailand got underway with the premier class not having done one single lap in wet conditions, so it only made sense that a downpour would wreak havoc in Moto2 and leave MotoGP in a bit of a pickle. Riders were still drinking coffee in their teamwear by the time the race was supposed to get underway, proceedings delayed until conditions allowed for a more sensible opening lap. Not that the premier class grid is able to do sensible, as demonstrated an hour later, when the race finally got underway to a backdrop of lightning bolts – but more reasonable levels of rain. At the end of 25 tricky laps on a drying track, Miguel Oliveira claimed his second victory of the season, ahead of fellow rain shaman Jack Miller, while Pecco Bagnaia overcame recent wet weather woes and the oopsie in Motegi to return to the podium in third place.
The start of the race was a very different story, with poleman Marco Bezzecchi making a good start, only to run wide at the first corner and invite a slight nudge from Jorge Martin. Both Ducati riders took to the run-off but Martin was off worse, losing a few positions, while Bezzecchi opted to shortcut the track and resume control of proceedings. Meanwhile, Miller, Marc Marquez and Luca Marini had launched from the third row of the grid straight into the top six, followed by Oliveira, Enea Bastianini, Johann Zarco and Brad Binder in the early top 10. Having started 13th, Aleix Espargaro progressed a couple of places early on, knocking on the doors of the top 10, while teammate Maverick Viñales lost a lot of ground at the start and dropped down to 22nd position. The expectation that Fabio Quartararo would be the one taking on the Ducati armada was quickly shattered, as the Frenchman was another of the victims of turn one, where he found himself on out outside of Miller and guided off track, followed by a few more mistakes that dropped him all the way down to 17th position by the end of the opening lap.
Back at the front, Bezzecchi had stretched a one second gap over the first lap but was soon prompted to drop one position for gaining some of that advantage off track. By the time the rookie saw the message, Miller was the beneficiary of that penalty, having gotten past Bagnaia on lap three. The chasing group now led by Oliveira was seven tenths back, including Martin, Marini and Marc Marquez, with Zarco not too far back and a fast-starting Alex Marquez leading the next group one second behind.
Miller got handed the lead at the start of lap four, Bezzecchi slotting back into second position ahead of Bagnaia, while teammate Marini suffered an uncharacteristic crash out of fifth. Having lost one challenger, Oliveira was soon attacking Bagnaia for third, with Marquez fending off Martin, Zarco and the other Marquez. As for the rest of the title contenders, Bastianini was another second back in ninth, Espargaro kept steady in 11th position and Quartararo struggled to recover any places early on.
Miller carried on untroubled at the front until Oliveira became his main challenger on lap six, the KTM rider being the fastest man on track at that stage. An unsettled Bezzecchi soon allowed Bagnaia and Marquez past, although the trio had dropped over a second behind the two leaders and never truly recovered that. There was a threat from behind as well, where Alex Marquez was harassing the Pramac riders for sixth position. Bastianini and Espargaro were still inside the top ten, but the Spaniard was soon slapped with a long lap penalty for an earlier tangle with Binder, which had lost the South African some good ground. The sanction dropped Espargaro down to 14th position, behind teammate Viñales, who was slowly starting to pick up the pace. While Espargaro was still inside point-scoring positions, things went from bad to worse for Quartararo, who had dropped to 19th by lap 10.
Back ahead, Oliveira first attacked with 18 laps to go but it was short lived, and Miller resumed control of proceedings, the duo further dropping Bagnaia and Marquez two seconds back. Meanwhile, baby Marquez had ditched Zarco, Martin and a fading Bezzecchi into Bastianini’s clutches and seemed keen to catch up and spend some more time with his older brother.
At the halfway point of the race, Miller and Oliveira were holding station at the front, although the KTM man was still sniffing around for an opportunity. With Bagnaia and the Marquez brothers not within reach of each other at this stage, eyes were on Binder and Espargaro, who were trading places once again, while charging towards the top 10. Poleman Bezzecchi continued his decline, down to 16th at that stage, while Quartararo was going nowhere down in 18th.
Oliveira finally made a move stick at the end of lap 14, taking over the lead of the race and fending off Miller’s attempts to retaliate. Bagnaia and Marquez were not fully out of victory contention with 10 laps remaining, the Italian’s gap to the leaders down to one and a half seconds, however, much of the progress was down to Miller losing touch with Oliveira, the KTM putting one second’s worth of asphalt between itself and the Ducati within a couple of laps. Although Miller was relatively within reach, Bagnaia had trouble brewing from behind, with Marc Marquez glued to his rear wheel with eight laps remaining. The Honda man bided his time to actually make a move, but got a hurry-up from Zarco, the fastest man on track at that late stage of the race. The Frenchman had gotten past the other Marquez a few laps earlier and closed within a second of the elder with six laps remaining, quite significantly faster than the four men ahead on the drying track.
Oliveira and Miller were managing their respective gaps for the remaining handful of laps and although Miller got reasonably close on the last lap, victory stayed firmly with Oliveira. Meanwhile, all eyes were on the battle for the final podium position, where Zarco had squeezed past Marquez at turn eight and set his sights on Bagnaia. The Frenchman was a little more cautious in attacking his colleague and although he was glued to his rear tyre for the next few laps, he never had a go and allowed the Italian seven tenths of breathing room going into the final lap. Marquez let his podium ambitions go for final couple laps, cruising home into fifth position, while Bastianini found some late pace to claim sixth in the final three laps. Meanwhile, Viñales got over the underwhelming start to show good speed late on, overtaking Alex Marquez for seventh position on the last lap. Martin and Binder rounded out the top 10 places, with Espargaro 11th but still making up a significant bunch of points in the world title battle, as Quartararo couldn’t muster anything better than 17th, one place behind poleman Bezzecchi.
After another shocking day at the office, Quartararo heads to Australia with only two points of advantage over Bagnaia in the championship standings. Espargaro is 20 points back and Bastianini also slightly reduced the gap to 39 points, with Miller another point behind.
||Fabio Di Giannantonio