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Zarco wins Australian MotoGP thriller, Bagnaia second

France’s Johann Zarco won a thrilling Australian MotoGP on Saturday with a last-lap overtake to clinch a maiden victory ahead of Italian Francesco Bagnaia, who stretched his world championship lead.

The Ducati-Pramac ace passed fading teammate and world title contender Jorge Martin in a nail-biting finale to take the chequered flag just 0.201secs clear of Bagnaia on his factory Ducati.

“I was surprised to see Martin dropping down, so I thought something was possible,” said 33-year-old Zarco after finally winning in his 120th grand prix.

“To cross in first after so many races, it is really high emotion. I don’t want to cry at the moment, but I think it will come.

“This is a track that everyone loves, and if you can win here you feel like you are part of the big guys,” he added.

Young Gresini rider Fabio Di Giannantonio came third at a blustery and overcast Phillip Island for his first-ever podium. KTM’s Brad Binder was fourth, with less than one second separating the top four.

Pole-sitter Martin led for 26 laps of the 27-lap race, but his soft rear tyre was cooked at the death and he could not hang on as grip deserted him. Most other riders were on medium rear tyres, which last longer.

The Spaniard ended fifth in a setback to his world title hopes, with Bagnaia now 27 points ahead with four grand prix left in the 20-leg season. 

“It was very long and very tough,” said reigning world champion Bagnaia. “For a moment, I was a bit worried … but when I saw that Jorge was stuck with the same gap, I said okay ‘we will catch you’.”

“Absolutely,” he added on it being a good day for his championship defence. “But we know how things can change, it’s very easy to start having problems. So feet on the ground.”

Perfect start

At least the rain stayed away during the gruelling test after the grand prix was brought forward a day to avoid forecast wild weather.

The 13-lap sprint has been shifted to Sunday, but will only take place if safe to do so, with rain and wind gusts of up to 65 kph (40 mph) expected.

Martin won the sprint in Indonesia last week, but crashed out of the main event to hand Bagnaia victory, and with it an 18-point lead in a championship race that has become a two-man show.

Marco Bezzecchi, riding for the VR46 Ducati-satellite team, headed into Phillip Island third on the championship ladder and in dire need of a win to stay in contention.

But he only finished sixth to be 73 points behind Bagnaia.

Martin set a new lap record to grab a third pole of the year for the perfect launchpad into the race and he sped off the line to hold off Binder and Bagnaia in an ideal start.

Bagnaia did not have the pace to keep up and Di Giannantonio soon passed him into third, and quickly widened the gap.

At the front, Martin was seemingly in a class of his own, stretching his advantage over Bagnaia to nearly five seconds by lap 10.

But as his rear tyre began wearing he slowed and the chasing pack closed in, with Zarco able to pass him on turn four of the final lap to snatch the last-gasp win.

Last year’s winner Alex Rins withdrew ahead of qualifying due to pain from leg fractures sustained in Italy four months ago.

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