AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) -Ducati’s MotoGP world champion Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia won a sprint race from pole position at the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin on Saturday to pile the pressure on series leader Marco Bezzecchi.
The Italian, who had smashed the Texas track’s lap record in qualifying, took the chequered flag 2.545 seconds ahead of LCR Honda’s Alex Rins for his third victory of the season after a sprint/race double in Portugal.
Spaniard Jorge Martin finished third, after starting 12th on the grid and battling illness, for the non-factory Pramac Ducati team.
The 12 points for winning the 10 lap race left Bagnaia on 53 and one short of compatriot and VR46 Ducati rider Bezzecchi, who finished sixth with the main race and bigger battle to come on Sunday.
“I preferred this sprint race to the one in Argentina, that I was more in trouble,” said Bagnaia, who started on the front row two weeks ago but finished only sixth.
“I started well, I just tried to push and do my pace and it was enough to open a gap. The conditions today were quite tricky for the hot temperature. On the braking it was very, very slippery.”
Bagnaia battled Rins early on, with the Honda rider taking the lead into turn one and trading places before the Italian pulled away.
Rins then ceded second place to Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro and nearly lost third to Yamaha’s attacking French rider Fabio Quartararo, the 2021 world champion.
Quartararo’s challenge faded and he crashed at turn one on lap five, sliding off but managing to remount and get back in the race to finish 19th.
Gresini Ducati rider Alex Marquez, brother of the injured and absent six-times MotoGP champion Marc, fell a lap later at turn 12 while battling for a top five place.
Ducati’s 36-year-old tester Michele Pirro, replacing the injured Enea Bastianini, was another faller.
Martin meanwhile passed Espargaro for third and held off a challenge at the penultimate corner of the last lap.
“I gave my 100%. I couldn’t breathe, after three or four laps I had no lungs any more. It was really difficult to keep the pace,” said Martin. “At the end I just tried to keep calm. I knew Aleix was faster.
“We need a good dinner tonight to get the power for tomorrow.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar)