On the day after the announcement that six-time champion Marc Marquez could miss the rest of the season, the frenzied battle for his throne took another twist on Sunday as Miguel Oliveira swooped on the last corner of the Styrian Grand Prix to claim a first MotoGP victory for Portugal and the Tech-3 team.
For the second week running, a race at the Red Bull Ring was curtailed by a spectacular crash.
The restart created a 12-lap sprint and Spaniard Pol Espargaro on a KTM entered the last corner battling to hold off Australian Jack Miller on a Ducati-Pramac with Oliveira just behind.
“It was pure racing,” said Oliveira.
As Miller focused on forcing Espargaro wide, Oliveira, on his independent KTM, dived through on the inside to win. Miller was second and Espargaro third.
“I was very surprised,” said Oliveira. “Because I crossed the finish line. I saw the chequered flag and no one was around me and I was like ‘I’m going to win’. It was sweet. Super cool.”
“First for Portugal in the 900th MotoGP,” he said.
Last week’s Austrian Grand Prix was restarted after French rider Johann Zarco collided with Italian Franco Morbidelli.
Both men came off, leaving their bikes to cartwheel at speeds of up to 300 km/h (187mph) back across the track.
Morbidelli’s Yamaha flew past nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi leaving the Italian claiming the bike “almost killed” him. It also just missed Spaniard Maverick Vinales.
On Sunday, Rossi of Yamaha finished ninth, Morbidelli nursing an injury limped in 15th, while Zarco, who started from the pit lane as his punishment, climbed to 14th to claim two points on his Ducati-Avintia.
Vinales, meanwhile, provoked Sunday’s red flag, throwing himself onto the track when his Yamaha’s brakes failed.
The riderless bike smashed through a safety barrier at more than 200 km/h and went up in flames.
The interruption cost Suzuki’s Joan Mir who lost his 2.5-second lead and had no more front tyres available while other teams used the pause to change theirs. The Spaniard ended up fourth.
“It was not our race it was Mir’s race. He was the fastest,” said Espargaro.
With the injured Marquez potentially out until after the season finale in Portugal on November 22, the title race is wide open.
Between them, Sunday’s leading quartet had won only one MotoGP: Miller’s victory in the Netherlands four years ago.
Oliveira was the fourth different winner in the last four races and the third first-time winner this season after Fabio Quartararo and Brad Binder.
After the restart, Miller and Espargaro broke clear. In the closing laps, Oliveira joined them. He took advantage as the leaders focused on each other on the final corners.
“I tried to brake a little early and ride underneath Pol,” said Miller.
“I didn’t expect Oliveira to be there.”
After Oliveira crashed out of last week’s race he blamed Espargaro, starting a war of words in which the Portuguese said “some people are more intelligent than others.”
After outsmarting Espargaro on the last corner, he rubbed it in.
“I think it was an intelligent move. Pol was starting to close the lines too much and they were starting to lose ground,” Oliveira said.
“I was waiting for the right moment.”
For his team principal, Herve Poncharal, it was a long-awaited first victory at the top level.
“Something like 40 years I’m involved in this business and I thought a MotoGP win would never happen to us,” he said.
“In Moto3 this morning our two riders collided when they were fighting for the podium and I was so down and I said maybe this is time for me to retire.”
Quartararo, who finished 13th, remains atop the World Championship with a three-point advantage over Ducati’s Italian rider Andrea Dovizioso who was fifth.
Another five riders are within one victory of first place.
In Moto2, Italian Marco Bezzecchi crossed the line second but was awarded victory after Spaniard Jorge Martin was docked a place for straying off the track on the last lap.
In the day’s opening race, Italian teenager Celestino Vietti held off Tony Arbolino on the final corners for a career first victory in the Moto3 category.