The final nine laps of Sunday's Argentina MotoGP saw Alvaro Bautista matching - and often beating - the pace of Maverick Vinales, Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow.

The problem was he had earlier dropped five seconds from the back of the podium group, while embroiled in an aggressive brawl for fourth.

Once finally clear of the pack, the Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati rider was quicker than one of the rostrum finishers for all of the final nine laps - and the fastest on track on five occasions.

Bautista crossed the line 2.769s from Crutchlow for his best MotoGP result since a final podium for Gresini Honda, at Le Mans in 2014.

"The gap could be less, because starting tenth is always more difficult," Bautista said. "In Qatar I did a good start and could get away from trouble, but today I was in the middle of the other guys and on the first lap I lost a lot of distance to the front riders.

"In our group riders it was very aggressive and I couldn't overtake. Especially with Petrucci and Dovizioso because they brake so late. Sometimes I tried to overtake Dovizioso, then I went wide and other riders pass me.

"So I lost more than I gained. I had to wait until the other riders cannot keep the same rhythm and then I started to overtake them.

"In the final laps I was stronger than the front riders, but the gap was too big," Bautista confirmed. "I think if had a better position in qualifying we could fight for the podium today.

"Anyway we are happy with the feeling, the performance and the work we did. We made a small modification in warm-up and it helped a lot to make the bike turn. So today has been a good day."

Riding last year's GP16 Desmosedici, Bautista was also the top Ducati rider, a massive 13.5s clear of next best Danilo Petrucci (Pramac) on the latest 2017 machine.

"I saw all the Ducati guys making a lot of smoke in the long corners. I don't know if I did the same or not, but we worked in practice always looking for the race. I think they are stronger than me in one lap but the race is 25.

"The problem is that if you don't make a good lap time in qualifying, then you start from the back and then you have to recover time. We have to work for the race but also try to find something to help me improve my fast lap time. We will try in Austin.

"Anyway I think if it didn't rain in qualifying I was able to start in the front two or maximum three rows and that would have helped me for the race."

Bautista's result equalled Aspar's best in MotoGP, by Eugene Laverty at the same circuit last season. It was also Bautista's first finish for the team, after falling in Qatar.

Karel Abraham, who shocked with second in qualifying, finished tenth in the race on Aspar's GP15 bike.

By Peter McLaren

Cal Crutchlow - Career Profile by Crash_net


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