Johann Zarco snatched away victory from team-mate Jorge Martin on the very final lap of a thrilling MotoGP Australian Grand Prix, while Francesco Bagnaia extended his points lead.
The Frenchman rode a canny race from the outset as he looked to preserve his medium compound rear tyre in the early laps, his strategy to sit behind series leader Francesco Bagnaia’s factory Ducati and wait for an attack in the latter stages.
Having staved off a determined Marc Marquez, who opted for the softer rear tyre, Zarco began to make his move towards the front as the race entered its final quarter.
Pramac Ducati team-mate Jorge Martin, who had also elected for the softer rear tyre, had built up a commanding lead through the encounter of around 3.5 seconds at its peak, though his gamble began to catch up with him as he fell steadily back into the four-man tussle for second as the laps wound down.
As the final lap began Zarco had managed to navigate his way past Gresini’s Fabio Di Gianantonio and KTM’s Brad Binder into second, the gap to Martin now down to less than half a second.
Now with significantly more rear grip than his team-mate, Zarco enjoyed good drive through Turn 3 and managed to dive past the Spaniard into Turn 4 – Bagnaia also slipping past his championship rival in the process.
Zarco was able to hold off Bagnaia across the remainder of the tour to finally take the chequered flag for his maiden premier class win in his 120th series start.
Bagnaia claimed much-needed points for the runners-up spot to extend his points advantage from 18 to 27 heading into Sunday’s sprint race at Phillip Island.
Di Gianantonio meanwhile had also managed to get the better of Martin on the final circulation to secure third and his first-ever premier class rostrum finish, the Italian showing the paddock his mettle as he enters his final few races with the Gresini Ducati outfit.
Martin lost further ground as he was passed by Binder on the run to the line, the KTM man securing fourth as the pole-man fell from first to fifth on the final tour.
Marco Bezzecchi came out on top of a frenetic battle for sixth for the VR46 Ducati squad ahead of home hero Jack Miller’s KTM, while Aleix Espargaro ended up as the best-placed Aprilia in eighth.
Alex Marquez secured welcome points for ninth on his racing comeback on the sister Gresini entry, while Enea Bastianini recovered from a poor start to round off the top ten on his factory Ducati.
Maverick Vinales struggled for speed throughout en route to 11th, while Fabio Quartararo at least managed to salvage points as he stole 14th from a badly fading Marc Marquez on the very final lap.
Raul Fernandez and GasGas’ Pol Espargaro, the only other two riders who chose the soft rear tyre, also struggled in the closing laps and fell out of the points to 16th and 17th respectively.
Franco Morbidelli could only manage 18th on the other Yamaha, while Takaaki Nakagami was the last classified finisher in 19th.
Augusto Fernandez and Joan Mir both crashed out as the race approached half-distance, Honda’s Mir going down at Turn 4 while battling with VR46’s Luca Marini. Fernandez came unstuck at the very same bend just a lap later, though he lost the front of his GasGas KTM on entry to the corner.