Showtime at COTA featured more – more clouds, more wind, more dramatic anthem renditions – and practice timesheets suggested a more inclusive race than the Ducati takeover of the top five on the grid. Expectation did not equal reality but what did get confirmed was Enea Bastianini’s fantastic pace, the Gresini rider putting in a real masterclass to take his second victory of the season and retake control of the world championship. Jack Miller tried his best to keep the Gresini rider at bay but had no response to his late race pace and then came under fire from Alex Rins on the final lap. The Suzuki man was the most successful in infiltrating the Ducati contingent to claim second, while the Australian had to make do with a first podium of the year.
Miller looked like top dog early on, getting the holeshot to lead into turn 1 from poleman Jorge Martin and fellow front row starter Pecco Bagnaia, while Bastianini and Fabio Quartararo picked up Johann Zarco early on. The Suzukis kept close, without making progress on their starting positions, but all eyes were on Marc Marquez, who botched the start and dropped at the very back of the field going into turn 1. He quickly started climbing the mountain and was up to 17th position by the end of the opening lap.
Five seconds ahead, Martin didn’t even wait for one lap to launch an attack on his colleague at turn 19 but Miller retaliated straight back at turn 20 to resume the lead for the start of lap two. Bastianini, Bagnaia and Zarco kept calm behind the two feisty leaders, while Quartararo fended off the Suzukis, with the Espargaros dropping one second back by lap five. Meanwhile, Marquez was running the leaders’ pace down in 14th position and determinately (maybe overly so) chasing Maverick Viñales.
Back at the front, the Ducatis held station, with the exception of Zarco and Bagnaia trading places on occasion, while the Suzukis attacked Quartararo and dropped the world champion to 8th early on. Rins was the first to separate the Ducatis, getting ahead of Bagnaia to take fifth on lap six and quickly ditching the Italian eight tenths back. The Ducati man had Mir and Quartararo behind, while Aleix Espargaro soon started hearing the Jaws theme tune, as Marquez entered the top 10 on lap eight. With tyre conservation on everyone’s mind – bar Marquez’s – there were no significant gaps amongst the leaders, only Aleix Espargaro allowing one second to stretch to the eight men ahead. Marquez then took the rodeo ride a bit too literally at turn 10 and dropped one second off Aleix but promptly closed it back up.
The Ducati contingent continued firmly in control towards the halfway point of the race, only Rins able to challenge them, the Suzuki man getting past Zarco and challenging Bastianini for the final podium position at that stage. Zarco struggled to match the pace of the four men ahead, Miller still leading from Martin, Bastianini and Rins, so the Frenchman focused on fending off Bagnaia and Mir, while Quartararo held firm in eighth place, another second back. Marquez got the job done on Aleix Espargaro with 11 laps remaining, with the reigning world champion next in his sights but two seconds ahead.
A particularly feisty Bastianini and Rins spiced things up with nine laps remaining, attacking Martin for second, in an attempt to stop Miller from running away at the front. The Australian managed to stretch an eight-tenth gap over the Gresini rider, who in turn had the same advantage over Rins, while Martin dropped a full second back with 8 laps remaining, into the clutches of Mir and Bagnaia. Another second back Zarco was defending 7th position from Quartararo and soon had company from Marquez as well, who continued to improve on the fastest lap. The Honda man promptly claimed seventh position from the two Frenchmen and had Martin as the next target one second up the road.
As the race entered the final six laps, Bastianini reeled in Miller and was planning an attack, leaving Rins one second behind. The attack came one lap later at turn 12, The Gresini man leading proceedings with five laps remaining. The exchange allowed Rins to catch up with the leaders somewhat, but not yet within striking distance. Another second back, Mir had settled the score with Bagnaia for fourth, while Marquez demoted Martin for sixth. The COTA King’s extraordinary progression seemed destined to end with sixth place, Bagnaia over a second and a half ahead and Marquez finally being challenged by someone – namely Quartararo – for the final couple of laps.
Bastianini had no such challenger, the Italian picking up the pace to lead by over 1.5 seconds going into the final lap, while Miller had some late pressure applied by Rins to make it a battle for second. Although the Suzuki man first attacked at turn 11, the Ducati blasted straight past by turn 12, but Rins did not give up and got the job done at turn 19 to secure second position. Mir scored another solid fourth place, with Bagnaia taking a mildly underwhelming fifth. Marquez and Quartararo had a real last lap tussle for sixth place, settled by the Spaniard at the chequered flag and he even had the cheek to look disappointed after the fantastic recovery, presumably due to a case of what-could-have-been. Martin, Zarco and Viñales rounded out the top 10 positions, while Aleix Espargaro conceded the championship lead from 11th position.
Bastianini’s masterclass reclaimed him the lead in the world championship by five points from Rins, Espargaro dropping to third, 11 points back. Mir climbs into fourth, 15 points behind the leader, while Quartararo stays fifth, another two points back.
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