Italian Bastianini falls behind to claim MotoGP victory for Texas

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Beast is on top in MotoGP, with a win and the championship lead for the season.

Italy’s Enea Bastianini, nicknamed ‘La Bestia’, passed Australian Jack Miller for the lead with five laps to go and rode away to win the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas on Sunday, taking his second victory of the season and the top of the ranking. title chase after four races.

And he did it on a track long dominated by Spaniard Marc Marquez, who rode a valiant run to sixth in his first race back after missing the last two following a heavy crash in Indonesia.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” Miller said, watching Bastianini as the Italian donned the winner’s black cowboy hat. “It’s you.”

This made the Beast smile even bigger. No fangs, just near-perfect pearly whites.

“It’s amazing for me, and in Texas it’s one of my favorites,” Bastianini said. “When I saw Jack in the first part of the race, I tried to win but I didn’t know if I would make it.”

The 24-year-old Gresini Racing rider won the Moto2 championship in 2020 and moved into the top series in 2021 with two podium finishes in his rookie season.

Bastianini called the decisive victory in Qatar special for the team. Being on top in Texas “is better for me because we know we’re consistent and every race we’re ahead.”

Bastianini started fifth as a group of Ducati riders including Miller dominated the top five and battled it out for more than half the race at the Circuit of the Americas, a track built for Formula 1 cars .

He eventually took the lead from Miller as he braked at the end of the long straight before pulling away for the win. Miller would eventually drop to third place after being overtaken by Spaniard Alex Rins on the final lap to give Suzuki their 500th MotoGP podium.

“He sent me a lightning bolt down the backstretch,” Miller said of Bastianini. “He’s a pocket man, very small and very quick on the straights.”

Bastianini is only the third winner in the nine-year history of a race long dominated by Marquez and his seven victories. The Repsol Honda rider has returned to racing at one of his favorite tracks after recovering from a concussion and double vision problems caused by a hard crash during practice for the Indonesian Grand Prix on March 20.

Marquez had played down his chances of winning this week, but will view Sunday as a lost opportunity for what could have been a special comeback.

Marquez was fast in practice over the weekend, but an unlucky qualifying session let him start from ninth place. Then a horrible start dropped him all the way on the first lap.

Marquez looked stunned as the other runners walked away, and he looked over his right shoulder to see that indeed there was no one behind him. He then thundered through the field to finish sixth with a race effort that any other year would probably have won.

“We can’t forget that Marc had the last two weekends off,” Miller said. “Marc has been able to establish himself here over the years.”

MotoGP returns to its European homeland in two weeks in Portugal, the first of 12 consecutive races on the continent and the narrowest, twistiest tracks in Europe.

“We will see if we can repeat this result in the future. In European races, I think the gap will be narrower again,” said Bastianini.

Ten riders have finished on the podium in the first four races and five are within 19 points of Bastianini’s lead in the championship.

“This championship is so long, anything can happen,” Miller said. “It’s wide open.”

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