BURIRAM, THAILAND (AFP) - Marc Marquez won a thrilling inaugural Thailand MotoGP on Sunday (Oct 7) to extend his lead in the motorcycling championship to 77 points, as he goes in pursuit of a fifth premier class title.
The Spaniard edged out Italy's Andrea Dovizioso at the end of a breathtaking last-lap duel after the pair had swopped the lead several times over the closing stages of a pulsating battle.
Honda rider Marquez finished the race in 39min 55.722 sec, just 0.115sec ahead of Dovizioso's Ducati with Maverick Vinales on a Yamaha third, as a mere 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.
"I tried to give everything, I forget the championship, I forget all these things," Marquez said afterwards. "The last five laps were very very nice for the Thai fans."
Dovizioso was pleased with the result but said it was "bad to lose the victory on the last turn for sure".
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 in the rural town of Buriram in the north-east, about a five-hour drive from the capital Bangkok.
Buriram has seen explosive growth through investment in football and racing sports, and expectations for the event were high.
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 turned out to see the debut spectacle, which attracted fans from all over the country and abroad.
But attendees missed out on seeing star Jorge Lorenzo, who had to pull out of the race after a crash injured his wrist in practice.
The maiden MotoGP 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.
Both Dovizioso and Marquez praised the energy and excitement of supporters.
"In Europe the fans have to learn from the Thai fans," Dovizioso said, while Marquez described the atmosphere as akin to a party.