Doha, Qatar: After a roller-coaster ride in the free practice and qualifying sessions at the MotoGP Qatar Airways Grand Prix of Qatar 2023 weekend, Jorge Martin hit form when it mattered as he stormed to victory in the first-ever sprint at the Lusail International Circuit.

The Spaniard overtook Francesco Bagnaia twice on his way to bag a crucial victory in 20:52.6340 secs that allowed him to slash the championship lead of his title rival to seven points ahead of tonight’s Qatar Grand Prix. With Bagnaia finishing fifth in the 11-lap race, the world title is set to be decided in the season-ending Valenica Grand Prix next weekend.

“I thought and knew I could go fast. I felt I had the potential to win, but you never know how far a race will start. I felt good this weekend and now even better,” said Martin.

Both Martin and Bagnaia were off to good starts with the Pramac Racing rider diving to inside of the reigning champion as both had a contact in Turn one before Martin overtook him again in Turn 10.

“I was behind Marc [Marquez] and Pecco [Bagnaia], and at a certain point I tried to make way, but it wasn’t very easy because they are exceptional riders. Furthermore, the management of the rear tire was important, which allowed me to catch up and overtake them. When I started to have this pace I felt very strong, and it was very important to win because we recovered points. Tomorrow will be the big day and we hope to do the same job,” said the Spaniard, who now sets sights on taking the championship lead in tonight’s Grand Prix.

Excelling under lights, Gresini Racing’s Fabio Di Giannantonio finished second to grab his first podium of the season while poleman Luca Marini, who earlier set a new lap record at the track in qualifying, secured third position.

“I had a few problems and it was complicated because Jorge did a good job in sector 2 and 3. I was trying to save the front because it was already above the temperature, but it was incredible. I tried to catch up to him, but we still got to the podium in the sprint and we’ll try to do the same thing tomorrow,” said Di Giannantonio.

Marini, who clocked 1m51.762s in the second qualifying to break Bagnaia’s record of 1m 52.772s the Italian set two years ago, was hoping to sign off the weekend with another podium finish.

“I had already said after qualifying that I was missing a few tenths, but I tried to push as much as possible. At the beginning I tried to create a bit of a gap to fight with all the other riders, but today they were faster than me. However, I tried to give my best to get on the podium, which is a fantastic result. We need to keep pushing and keep going like this,” said the Italian.

Finishing fourth ahead of Bagnaia was Gresini Racing’s Alex Marquez while Aprilia Racing’s Maverick Vinales was sixth in the sprint. Brad Binder, Fabio Quartararo, Augusto Fernandez and Johann Zarco respectively completed the top 10 followed by Marc Marquez.

Placed third in the championship standings, Marco Bezzecchi was 13th but he retained his position.

Tonight at the Qatar Grand Prix that will start at 8pm, title contenders Bagnaia and Martin will start together on the grid after qualifying fourth and fifth respectively.

Marini will be on pole position for second time in his career along with compatriot Fabio Di Giannantonio and Spain’s Alex Marquez.

Meanwhile, the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) yesterday said that Aleix Espargaro had dropped six places on the grid and received a €10,000 ($10,900) fine for hitting Franco Morbidelli’s helmet during yesterday’s free practice.

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