Bagnaia wins in Malaysia to all but seal MotoGP world title

SELANGOR, Malaysia, Oct 23 (Reuters) – Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia produced a near-flawless display to win the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday and take a huge step towards his first MotoGP world championship title, while the nearest rival Fabio Quartararo kept his slim hopes alive in the third.

The result at the Sepang International Circuit ensured Italian Bagnaia stayed ahead of 2021 champion Quartararo in the standings ahead of the final round of the championship in Spain next month.

Bagnaia, the 2018 Moto2 champion, made a stunning start from ninth, holding the inside line to move up to second behind Jorge Martin on the first lap, while Frenchman Quartararo recovered from 12th to to remain in the hunt.

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Martin, who set a lap record on Saturday to take pole position, crashed on lap seven to leave Bagnaia in the lead before Enea Bastianini moved ahead with 10 laps to go. Bagnaia overtook him with six laps remaining.

Bagnaia held firm from there to take maximum points from Bastianini and ensure he can wrap up the title if he finishes 14th or higher in Valencia in two weeks’ time.

“First of all, I want to say that I had the best start to the race of my life. It was perfect,” said Bagnaia, who was 91 points behind Quartararo at one point in the season.

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“I took some risks,” he said. “Following Jorge was a bit too much for the rear tire and I started to stress. But then he crashed, unfortunately, and I did a very good job in terms of the championship. We can be very happy.”

Bagnaia can now equal Australian Casey Stoner’s feat of winning the title to end Ducati’s 15-year wait for a second MotoGP riders’ champion.

He can also become the first Italian to win the title since his mentor Valentino Rossi in 2009. Ducati has already won the constructors’ and teams’ titles.

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Yamaha’s Quartararo said he was happy to finally be back on the podium after a string of disappointing performances.

“I gave my best today, I couldn’t have done better,” said Quartararo. “I’m proud of myself. They (Ducati) had a good day, but so did we.

“It was one of my best races this season. Even if the chance is very small in Valencia, at least I took it there.”

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Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Edited by William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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