Reigning MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez put one hand on the 2017 title as he won a thriller down under while championship rival Andrea Dovizoso slumped to 13th place in Australia.
Marquez was involved in a six-man battle for the lead until the closing stages when some hooky passes by Andrea Iannone gave him the gap he needed over Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales and Johann Zarco to take victory in the best race of the year so far.
Dovizoso started from 11th on the grid but ran wide at Doohan corner on lap two, dropping to 20th place. The Italian then used up his medium rear Michelin trying to get back through the pack. He got as far up as 11th and in a scrap with Dani Pedrosa but ran out of traction and got mugged by the Spaniard and fellow Ducati rider Scott Redding on the run to the line and now trails Marquez by 33 points.
Rossi held off final challenges from Zarco and Vinales after starting the penultimate lap in fourth place. The Doctor rode defensively when he snatched second from the Frenchman at Honda corner but only had a 0.027s lead over Vinales at the line with Zarco a further 0.016s back.
After the lights went out, hometown hero Jack Miller swept into the lead at Doohan, passing Marquez and putting his soft rear Michelin to good use as he opened a small gap. Vinales, Rossi – who came through from the third row – Zarco and Iannone were in close attendance, as was Pol Espargaro after a rocket start.
With one lap down, Miller was half a second to the good as Zarco passed Rossi for fourth place and Vinales also staked his claim, going under Marquez for second. Everyone in the lead group had opted for the soft Michelin apart from Rossi who elected to run the medium.
Zarco was hanging around for no-one, running into the side of Marquez at Honda which pushed them both wide and Rossi jumped into third before passing Movistar Yamaha team-mate Vinales for second at the same corner two laps later.
On lap six, Miller lost a load of traction through the final turn which allowed both Rossi and Vinales to pass on the Gardner straight but the Spaniard got into Doohan first. However, Rossi put a pass on him at Honda while Zarco demoted Miller to fourth at MG.
Marquez began his fight back at the Southern Loop left-hander a lap later, passing Vinales for second while Miller tried to get his revenge on Zarco and the pair traded paint at Siberia. Zarco won out and set off after Vinales, grabbing third place at MG.
With 20 left, Zarco went past Marquez for second at Honda and then a mistake from Rossi allowed both the Monster Yamaha man and Marquez past. Miller was waiting in the wings and passed Rossi at Honda but the old veteran was having none of it and reclaimed third at MG.
After he dispatched Miller, Rossi then set about the rear wheel of Marquez and went through for second and then re-took the lead a lap later, going under Zarco at Honda. Marquez did the same at the Southern Loop and the pair swapped places three more times in two laps with Zarco emerging in front.
Vinales made it back past Miller and then passed Marquez for third at MG while Zarco pushed on and went back into the lead, shoving Rossi out of the way at Honda with 11 laps left to run. A lap later, it was The Doctor’s turn at the same corner but Zarco struck straight back at the Hayshed.
Iannone had been keeping his power dry, sitting in fifth place but he saw a change to pass Marquez and did so at MG to take fourth place. Marquez was back past a lap later, going under the Italian at MG as Vinales began his run to the front.
He and Rossi both passed Zarco on the Gardner straight with nine to go and Vinales shot into the lead, as Marquez caught and went under the satellite Yamaha man at the Southern Loop. A lap later, he put the same move on Rossi with the front wheel of the RC213V rubbing Rossi’s shoulder and helmet, pushing him wide.
Iannone took advantage and got himself into a podium spot while Marquez set about Vinales, passing him for the lead at Honda with seven to go. Rossi recovered from his Marquez rub to set the best first sector of the race and he was back in contention at MG.
Zarco rode around the outside of Vinales at Doohan and Iannone chopped his nose off in the transition to the Southern Loop which forced the Spaniard to back right off. Zarco was inside Rossi at Honda for second as Marquez set his personal best lap to edge away from the fight.
With three laps left, Marquez was 0.7s ahead as Iannone started chopping people up from every angle. He pushed Zarco aside at the Southern Loop for third and then ran up the inside of Rossi for second at Honda. But he was pegged back by both riders, and then Vinales demoted him to fourth on the penultimate lap as he ran out of rear tyre.
Marquez had extended his lead to 1.7s with the mayhem behind him and there would be no catching the champion-elect. Rossi passed Zarco for second and Vinales then stole the final podium spot as Iannone was pushed back to sixth place, losing out to Cal Crutchlow – who had shadowed the leading group for all 27 laps – as he crossed the line only four seconds off the lead.
Miller eventually finished in seventh and five seconds adrift after his rear tyre gave up and Alex Rins, on the second Ecstar Suzuki, ended in eighth after being in the leading group until half distance. Espargaro edged out KTM team-mate Bradley Smith for ninth, crossing the line with fractions of a second in hand over the Briton.
Redding and Pedrosa compounded Dovizoso’s woes, passing him on the line for 11th and 12th with Karel Abraham beating multiple world champion Jorge Lorenzo for 14th place. Sam Lowes took 19th place and Aleix Espargaro was the only crasher.