Thailand Grand Prix - Chang International Circuit, Buriram, Thailand - October 7, 2018 Repsol Honda Team's Marc Marquez celebrates winning the MotoGP race with second placed Ducati Team's Andrea Dovizioso and third placed Movistar Yamaha MotoGP's Maverick Vinales. REUTERS photo

BURIRAM, THAILAND: Marc Marquez won a thrilling inaugural Thailand MotoGP Sunday to extend his lead in the championship to 77 points as he goes in pursuit of a fifth title.

Spain's Marquez pipped Italy's Andrea Dovizioso at the end of a breathtaking last-lap duel after the pair had swapped the lead several times over the closing stages of a pulsating battle.

Honda rider Marquez finished the race on his Honda in 39min 55.722 sec, just 0.115sec ahead of Dovizioso's Ducati with Maverick Vinales on a Yamaha third as just 0.270sec separated the top three.

The 25-year-old reigning champion started from pole but lost the lead early on to both Valentino Rossi and then Dovizioso.

But the Spaniard fought back towards the end of the 26-lap race as he and Dovizioso went wheel-to-wheel up front in a battle that had the fans on their feet and screaming.

Marquez took the chequered flag after overtaking Dovizioso on the final bend to secure victory by the slimmest of margins.


Spanish MotoGP rider Marc Marquez (Front) of the Repsol Honda Team and Spanish MotoGP rider Maverick Vinales (Back) of the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team in action during the Motorcycling Grand Prix of Thailand at Chang International Circuit in Buriram province, Thailand, 07 October 2018. EPA photo

"It was difficult," Marquez said afterwards. "Amazing to win here".

Dovizioso said he was "happy" despite coming so close to winning.

Marquez now has 271 points, 77 ahead of Dovizioso with a maximum of 100 available in the final four races of season, making him a strong favourite to retain his title.

Marquez also made history over the weekend as he became the first rider to climb out of Q1 to claim pole position, the 50th of his stunning career.

The Spaniard delighted his supporters, who sought out pictures with him and wore caps with his number 93.

Thailand's first MotoGP is being held to great fanfare in the rural town of Buriram in the northeast, about a five-hour drive from the capital Bangkok.

Buriram has seen explosive growth through investment in football and racing sports.

Thousands of hotel rooms and jobs have been created through a football stadium and the 2014 Chang International Circuit, the only Formula One grade track in the country.

The town has a population of about 30,000 but more than double that have turned out to see the debut spectacle, which attracted fans from all over the country and abroad.

But the sport's fans missed out on seeing star Jorge Lorenzo, who had to pull out of the race after a crash injured his wrist in practice.

The event had a local twist as the country's famous food was being sold by vendors alongside a popular exhibition of Muay Thai, a traditional martial art. -- AFP

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