(Reuters) - MotoGP champion Marc Marquez snatched the lead from Andrea Dovizioso at the death to win the inaugural Thailand Grand Prix on Sunday and take a huge stride toward a third successive title.
After fierce wheel-to-wheel racing in the closing laps at Buriram, the Honda-riding Spaniard nosed in front at the last corner and edged the Italian by 0.115 seconds to prevail in a thrilling duel.
The win extended the four-times champion’s lead to 77 points over Ducati’s Dovizioso with four races left, and Marquez can wrap up the series in Japan in two weeks with a win at Motegi.
“Amazing to win here after a difficult weekend,” Marquez said, flashing his toothy grin after his seventh win of the season.
“But the boys did very, very good work through the whole weekend. They give everything. So one more step to the final dream.”
Yamaha-rider Maverick Vinales finished third ahead of team mate Valentino Rossi.
Marquez started on pole after winning his 50th qualifying on Saturday but relinquished the lead after a poor early lap, allowing Rossi and Dovizioso to pass.
Veteran Rossi’s challenge soon fell away, leaving Dovizioso to battle Marquez alone.
Ducati had tested poorly at the track in February and it looked gloomy for the Italian as Marquez bided his time to strike.
With four laps left, Marquez pounced and snatched the lead but Dovizioso bravely wrested it back quickly to kick off a breathless series of overtakes.
Marquez appeared to have struck a decisive blow in the penultimate lap but Dovizioso again stormed back to take the race into the final corner.
In the end, it was a bitter pill to swallow for the Italian who has battled gamely but fruitlessly throughout the series to reel in a champion who often seems racing in a class of his own.
“It’s not nice to lose at the last corner but ... at the end we battled for the victory so we did incredible work and we are continuing to improve,” he said.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty