Marquez wins fifth straight GP of the Americas at COTA

Marc Marquez (93), of Spain, celebrates his win in the Grand Prix of the Americas MotoGP motorcycle race, Sunday, April 23, 2017, in Austin, Texas. Marquez won for the fifth consecutive year at the circuit. Dani Pedrosa, right, finished third. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Spain’s Marc Marquez is still on top in America. Italy’s Valentino Rossi is back on top in MotoGP.

Now the series heads to Europe for the next phase in a world championship that has suddenly been cracked wide open.

Marquez’s title hopes got a major boost Sunday when he guided his Repsol Honda to his fifth consecutive victory at the Grand Prix of the Americas, a race that saw him duel teammate and countryman Dani Pedrosa for six laps at the Circuit of the Americas before pulling away for another easy Texas win.

His 30th career win erased the pain of crashing out in Argentina two weeks ago and catapulted Marquez from eighth to third in the season standings as he chases a fourth career MotoGP championship.

“We needed this,” Marquez said. “It was an important weekend. I felt pressure … (Now) we can fight for the championship.”

Marquez will be chasing the Movistar Yamaha duo of Rossi and Maverick Vinales. Vinales was the season leader after the first two races, but he crashed out early Sunday, leaving room for Rossi to vault to the top with a second-place finish.

Rossi leads with 56 points and three podium finishes but no wins yet this season. Vinales is second with 50. Marquez has 38.

The 38-year-old Rossi seemed to doubt just how long he can hold on. He has emerged from difficult preseason testing to be the most consistent rider in the field, if not the fastest. Rossi has seven world titles but none since 2009.

MotoGP now heads to Europe for the next 11 races, starting May 7 in Jerez, Spain.

“I’m very happy we’re at the top. It’s a big surprise,” Rossi said. “To stay at the top with Vinales and Marquez … We will enjoy the moment.”

Marquez earned his ninth win a row in the U.S. dating to 2013. He started from pole position but surrendered the lead on the first turn to Pedrosa. Pedrosa, however, wasn’t able to put any distance on his teammate, and the hunt was on before Marquez caught him on lap 13 of 21.

Vinales was supposed to be the one challenging Marquez at the Circuit of the Americas. He won in Qatar and Argentina and had pushed Marquez to the limit in qualifying, but he never recovered from a poor start and crashed on the third lap.

Marquez saw the spill on one of the track’s giant video boards and made sure to keep to his race strategy of a long haul for the win.

“It didn’t change my plan on the race. The mistake in Argentina was a big mistake and I didn’t want to make that again,” Marquez said. “After Argentina, I heard somebody say he was out of the championship, it was too far.”

Rossi nearly took a spill several laps in when his motorcycle brushed against MotoGP rookie Johann Zarco of France. Rossi stayed upright and cut a corner through the chicane to keep position. Race penalized Rossi 0.3 seconds, but it wasn’t a factor at the finish.

Once passed, Pedrosa kept up with Marquez for several more laps before the leader started pulling away. That left him fighting degrading tires to hang on to second ahead of Rossi, who caught him on lap 19.

“The right side of the tire was completely gone,” Pedrosa said. “I’m happy to finish on the podium.”

Marquez simply had to bring it home without any mistakes. He had one nervous moment approaching the turn at the top of the first hill with about four laps to go but straightened out without major problems.

“When I saw (Pedrosa) was suffering a little bit, I said it was time to attack,” Marquez said. “It was the perfect race for me.”

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