Moto2: Jubilant Marini takes debut victory
Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) clinched the 2018 Moto2™ World Championship at the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix after finishing P3 at Sepang, with title rival Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) just up the road in second. Bagnaia’s teammate Luca Marini made it an even more memorable day for Sky Racing Team VR46 as he secured his maiden Grand Prix victory in style after coming so close on a number of occasions.
As the lights went out, both of the Championship rivals got off to a flyer but it was Marini who led coming out of Turn 1 after a messy opening corner for his fellow front row starters; Fabio Quartararo (MB Conveyors – Speed Up) and Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) both running in hot. This allowed Bagnaia and Oliveira to slip through up the inside to get into P2 and P3; pretty much the perfect getaway for ‘Pecco’, who slotted in behind teammate Marini.
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Marini then got himself into a rhythm at the front, with Bagnaia and Oliveira battling away for P2 – the title firmly in Bagnaia’s hands at this early stage of the race, even with Oliveira making a pass stick at Turn 4 with 12 laps to go. The Portuguese rider then locked his radar on race leader Marini, who now had a one second lead, with Bagnaia starting to slip into the clutches of compatriot Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team). Polesitter Marquez and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40) were also in hot pursuit of the Championship leader.
Oliveira had reeled in Marini 11 laps remaining, with a win for the KTM rider enough to take the title chase down to Valencia if Bagnaia dropped below the podium positions. With six to go, it seemed the battle for the win was between Marini and Oliveira, with both Baldassarri and Marquez losing touch in the fight for the final podium spot – and Pasini still 0.4 behind countryman Bagnaia.
In sweltering Sepang conditions, Marini was being made to sweat by Oliveira as the continued to look strong for a first Grand Prix win. But the Italian was on rails as he soaked up the pressure from the KTM behind and with two to go, a 0.7 gap had appeared. Going into the final lap, Marini had the biggest lead he’d had for a while, with Bagnaia sitting comfortably in a Championship clinching P3 – and with over a second cushion back to Pasini.
As the chequered flag was waved it was double delight for Sky Racing Team VR46 as Marini took a magnificent maiden Grand Prix victory, with Bagnaia coming home third to seal the 2018 Moto2™ World Championship. Oliveira didn’t go down without a fight as he took P2 at the Sepang International Circuit – and his 11th podium of the season, but it wasn’t quite enough.
Pasini crossed the line in P4, with Quartararo rounding out the top five after getting the better of sixth place Baldassarri and seventh place Marquez in the latter stages. Australian GP winner Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) took P8 in Malaysia after struggling with grip, with Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) and Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) rounding out the top ten in P9 and P10 respectively.
Iker Lecuona (Swiss Innovative Investors), Xavi Cardelus (Marinelli Snipers Team), Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing), Tetsuta Nagashima (Idemistu Honda Team Asia), Niki Tuuli (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Augusto Fernandez (Pons HP40) crashed out.