BURIRAM: Spain's Jorge Martin led from pole to chequered flag to win the Thailand MotoGP sprint race today and reduce the deficit behind championship leader Francesco Bagnaia to 18 points.
Pramac-Ducati rider Martin took his fifth consecutive sprint victory, 0.933 seconds ahead of South Africa's Brad Binder in second on a KTM, with Italian Luca Marini's Ducati-VR46 third. Bagnaia was seventh.
Short-format king Martin reached the first corner in the lead and was never headed as Bagnaia suffered a poor start from the second row, dropping back to ninth by the end of the opening lap.
Bagnaia, on the factory Ducati, finally found some pace four laps into the 13-lap dash and although he clawed his way back to seventh he could not make any inroads on Marco Bezzecchi, who finished sixth on his Ducati-VR46.
Honda's Marc Marquez crossed the line fourth with Aleix Espargaro's Aprilia in fifth.
"It pretty much went to plan," said Martin, who realised he had to be wary once the flying Binder, who swept through the field from fifth on the grid, overtook Marini on the seventh lap to move up to second.
"I tried to save tyres at the beginning," said Martin. "Then I saw Brad overtook Luca so I said: 'OK, maybe now it's time to go'.
"I pushed the lead out to 1.9 (seconds) then I tried to manage the tyres until the end."
Binder started best of all and overtook Bezzecchi and Espargaro to move up to third by the end of the second lap.
The South African thought he might have challenged for the win had he managed to get past Marini quicker.
"The plan today was obviously not to come second but to win of course but, second place, we'll take it," said Binder.
The result leaves Bagnaia on 369 points going into tomorrow's 26-lap grand prix where he will again start sixth on the grid with pole-sitter Martin now on 351 after picking up 12 for the sprint victory.
"I missed a little bit the start," admitted Bagnaia.
"But we managed to close the gap and my feeling was so good on my bike and so finishing seventh when you are so fast and so strong is not good for us.
"So we have to consider that for tomorrow and I have to adjust to improve my pace in the first laps."
Martin began the weekend 27 points behind with four legs of the 20-race season to go, but he also started from pole a week ago in Australia before his gamble on a soft rear tyre backfired as he slumped to fifth.
With 25 points available for the winners of Sunday's MotoGP main race the title battle could tighten further before the riders head to Malaysia's Sepang circuit in two weeks' time as the championship duel looks likely to go to the wire.
"I think it will be a different race," said Martin of Sunday's 26-lap grand prix around the 4.554km Buriram International Circuit. "I expect Pecco (Bagnaia) to improve."
The final two race weekends of the season are in Qatar and Valencia next month. --AFP