MotoGP

'Absolutely delighted' - McPhee makes history for Sepang

'We signed John this winter because we knew he could bring us these victories' - Razlan Razali, Sepang Team.

John McPhee took his second grand prix victory, and first ever for the Sepang team, with a tense 0.1s victory over Lorenzo Dalla Porta in Sunday's French Moto3 race.

Starting from pole, McPhee dropped to seventh during the early stages as he carefully nursed the soft rear tyre, chosen due to the cool conditions, then rose swiftly through the field to lead across the line on lap 15 of 22.

Constant toing and froing followed and a breakaway proved impossible, with a swarm of rivals dangerously close as the last lap began.

"On the grid my crew chief said, 'If you can get your head down and try and break a gap, then do it', but it was so hard with the start-finish and back straights," McPhee said.

"My biggest issue was I was struggling to make passes in the typical places. But my strong point was I was able to release the brake and turn inside people.

"So places that they wouldn’t really expect me to pass, I was able to set them up and kind of make them a bit nervous.

"That was a really strong factor of mine throughout the race.

"Even when I was in P7, I knew I was going to come through. The last few laps I just wanted to stay top-two all the time. As soon as the guy in third would even try and show me a wheel, I was closing the door."

McPhee lost the lead when Dalla Porta slipstreamed ahead into turn one on the final lap, but risked a race-winning pass on the brakes into what had been his most troublesome corner on the circuit; the Chemin Aux Boeufs chicane.

"On the last lap to pass Dalla Porta into turn nine, which has been the trickiest for me all weekend with the cold left side of the tyre was a big positive. I took a risk obviously, but I'm really happy to pull it off."

However victory was far from assured, with the Scotsman braced for a last-turn assault.

McPhee feared he had run in too hot, but remained just out of Dalla Porta's reach. The top four were covered by just 0.978s as McPhee celebrated his first win (and podium) in Petronas colours, first victory since Brno 2016 and first ever in the dry.

"You can never beat your first win. It’s the most special. But Brno was down to the conditions and no-one likes being labelled only a wet weather rider," McPhee said.

"So to get the first win in a dry is a special moment. I’m absolutely delighted."

He added: "Honestly, the last lap I thought I had messed up… I’ve been really strong into the last corner all weekend, but I just ran in so hot and went a little deep.

"I closed the door so fast that if he did try and pass both of us were going to hit. But it was enough to stop him. He said he thought he could make the pass, but when I dived in he had to hesitate."

The Le Mans victory marked the end of what had been a frustrating puzzle for McPhee and the Petronas team during the early stages of this season.

"I’ve been fast and we’ve had so many strong points throughout the weekends this year, except for the races," said McPhee, who hadn't finished higher than twelfth prior to Le Mans.

"There’s been many factors that haven’t allowed us to get the result, but we knew the speed was there and what we’re capable of.

"I’ve just had to kind of keep myself quiet and keep working hard with the team behind the scenes. We knew it was just a matter of time before we could really put our name up there on the board."

But the 24-year-old admits it was a surprise it all came together so spectacularly at Le Mans.

"I thought I could come here and be strong and if luck was on my side be inside the top five all weekend, but to be pole position and then win the race is just fantastic," he said.

"It shows what a good team and good support and a good package we’ve got, that now we’re going forward. There’s no races that are coming up that we need to worry about. We can hopefully be in the leading pack every race."

Sunday's result also created history for the Malaysian Sepang team, which was born out of the ashes of the Caterham Moto2 project and is now present in all three grand prix classes.

While Fabio Quartararo and Sepang's new Petronas Yamaha team have been making headlines in MotoGP this season, including a pole position at Jerez, it is McPhee who has now delivered the first grand prix victory.

"We have been waiting for this win since 2015, and we finally got it this weekend. I'm very happy for the team - and of course for John," said Sepang team principal Razlan Razali. "We signed John this winter because we knew he could bring us these victories. I hope he can keep this momentum going at the coming rounds."

"It's a reward for the team's hard work over many years," added team director Johan Stigefelt. "We saw that John had a great pace on Saturday, despite having struggled on Friday, but we identified where we could improve. He showed that yesterday and again today. He has competed very well: He was fast, fought hard and took this result. Getting a victory like this shows that we can be up there. Now we have to maintain this momentum over the coming races."

McPhee is ninth in the overall standings, 40-points behind Aron Canet, who completed Sunday's Moto3 podium.

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