Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) claimed his 70th career win at the Shell Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix. The 2018 MotoGP champion looked set to lock horns with nine-time series champion Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), but the race would end in disaster for Rossi as Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) completed the podium at the Sepang International Circuit.
When the lights went out it was Rossi who got a stellar launch from P2, with pole man Zarco slightly sluggish off the line to give Rossi a comfortable holeshot, with Zarco managing to brake late to slot into P2. Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) was able to leapfrog Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) into P3 at the start, with Marquez making up one position in P6 — despite taking pole, the Spaniard had been given a six-place grid penalty after qualifying.
The premier class riders then settled, but this came after Marquez and teammate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) exchanged paint on the opening lap. The champ would soon start to make his way forward, though, despite a hairy last-corner moment at the end of the opening lap that led to Iannone crashing out directly behind Marquez.
At the front, Rossi and Zarco were off as Yamaha had a 1-2 in the opening exchanges, but Marquez hunted them down after making his way past Miller. The Honda rider was on the tailpipes of Zarco’s M1 machine and soon enough he managed to slice his way through. Turn 14 the chosen destination after a slight error from the No. 5 rider, with arch-rival Rossi now in his sights. But the No. 46 was in an excellent rhythm at the forefront as the gap between the duo hovered at 3/4s of a second. Zarco began to lose touch at the halfway stage of the race as Rossi continued to press on — 1.1s now the gap to Marquez as 10 laps ticked over at Sepang.
With eight to go, Rossi was still pumping in the lap times to keep the gap above a second to Marquez, with Zarco now over three seconds behind his fellow Yamaha rider. However, the gap then dipped below the one-second barrier with seven to go, the seven-time champion hunting down the nine-time champ with menace. As ever, Marquez was pushing the limit and there was a slight scare for the No. 93 at Turn 5.
With five to go, the stage was set for a grandstand finish at Sepang between two of the sport’s all-time greats. But then, disaster for Rossi. A return to victory after 26 races went begging as he lost the front of his YZR-M1 at Turn 1 with four laps to go. You could hear the hearts of thousands break as he picked up his stricken Yamaha in front of the official Rossi grandstand.
This left Marquez with a lonely ride home to victory, but the battle for P2 and P3 between Zarco and Rins was far from finished.
Zarco led into the last lap but Rins was soon past, with the Frenchman having no answer to the Suzuki. Rins crossed the line to take his fourth podium of the season, while Zarco took his first since Jerez.
After a less than impressive start, Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) recovered to string together a strong latter half of the race to finish P4, with Pedrosa crossing the line P5 on his final racing visit to Sepang. It was a subdued race for one of the pre-race favorites, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). The winner here for the last two seasons couldn’t replicate those results as he took P6, but with Rossi’s crash, the Italian has sealed P2 in the championship.
Angel Nieto Team’s Alvaro Bautista was P7 in his penultimate MotoGP race, he led fellow Desmosedici rider Miller, the Australian having slipped down to P8 after a good start. P9 was his teammate Danilo Petrucci, but arguably ride of the day went to a Malaysian: Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3). Starting P23, the home hero was able to get a stunning start as he got himself up to P12 on the opening lap, eventually claiming P10 to close Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) down in the battle for Rookie of the Year — the Italian claimed P12, with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) splitting the duo.
LCR Honda Castrol replacement rider Stefan Bradl claimed P13, the German finishing just ahead of teammate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), with Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completing the points.
Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Team) retired early on, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) also retiring late on. Michele Pirro (Ducati Team) crashed, without injury.
Valencia will bring the 2018 season to a close in a couple of weeks’ time.