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Andrea Dovizioso has battled to an impressive victory in the 2018 MotoGP season opener after holding off reigning world champion Marc Marquez’s last corner lunge in an enthralling Qatar race.

The Ducati rider recovered from a tricky start to carve through the front-running pack and bolt past early leader Johann Zarco on lap 15 which saw Marquez step up his pace to follow his 2017 title rival.

While Dovizioso looked to stretch the pack in the closing stages Marquez kept in touch for Repsol Honda to set up a frantic final lap. Sizing up his opportunity, the six-time world champion dived up the inside at turn 16 but struggled to get his factory Honda stopped in time which opened the door for Dovizioso to shoot back up the inside and sprint to the chequered flag for a maiden Qatar MotoGP victory having finished runner-up for the past three years.

With Marquez forced to settle for second despite a valiant effort, Valentino Rossi kept up Movistar Yamaha’s podium run at the Losail International Circuit with third place after keeping clear of LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow in the final lap with the British rider claiming top independent honours in fourth place.

In the predicted frantic start pole-sitter Zarco recovered from drifting wide at turn 16 on the opening lap to dive up the inside of Marquez at turn 1 to lead, while Dovizioso endured a tricky start at the bottom of the top 10.

Surprise package Rossi became the early mover up the order climbing to third while fast-starter Dani Pedrosa dropped back down the order as the top seven pulled away at the front from Maverick Vinales - the Qatar race winner from 12 months ago.

The factory Ducati riders suffered contrasting fortunes at the midway stage as Lorenzo tipped off on lap 13 at turn four as Dovizioso began his charge up the order to climb into the lead on lap 15 with a dive up the inside at turn one.

The seven rider train led by Dovizioso was quickly joined by Vinales after his tricky start but it signalled the start of the Italian rider’s sprint to the finish with Marquez following in toe.

With Rossi watching on from a comfortable third place, the final lap dice saw a repeat of the classic fights from the 2017 world title fight between Dovizioso and Marquez. With Marquez in second place, the reigning MotoGP world champion gambled with a final corner lunge up the inside but drifting wide it allowed Dovizioso to cut back inside at the corner exit and use the GP18’s superior acceleration to sprint to the finish line for a maiden Qatar victory.

Behind the top four, Petrucci had to settle for fifth place for Pramac Ducati after fading from his impressive start with Vinales climbing to sixth place late on. Pedrosa got the better of Zarco to take seventh place at the finish.

There was heartbreak for Suzuki as Alex Rins, a front-running fighter in the first half of the race, crashed out at turn two on lap 13 but teammate Andrea Iannone picked up points for the Japanese manufacturer in ninth place, while Jack Miller rounded out the top ten on his Pramac Ducati debut.

Tito Rabat enjoyed a solid start to 2018 in 11th place for Reale Avintia ahead of top rookie Franco Morbidelli (Marc VDS Honda) as Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Ducati), Hafizh Syahrin (Tech3 Yamaha) and Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Ducati) completed the points-paying positons.

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