MotoGP lands at Phillip Island this weekend!
From a history maker of a Grand Prix at the Twin Ring Motegi, it’s all change as MotoGP now heads down under for the Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, a couple of hours south of Melbourne, is one of the world’s great masterpieces – a flowing ribbon of asphalt perched on the cliffs, where the Gardner Straight seems to disappear into the horizon.
It doesn’t, it becomes the Southern Loop and Stoner Corner and Lukey Heights and every other legendary kink and curve of this legendary racetrack, but the setting is a dramatic one. The racing, too, is often showstopping – with the Island fabled not only for its curves but also for its contests. Some of the greatest races of all time have happened here, and in 2018 the odds say another may well be on the way.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) will be the favourite as we arrive this season. Not only for his seventh crown, wrapped up at Motegi, or even for his stats from the season. It’s not even for his win count at the track, it’s his pace at Phillip Island that widens eyes – with pole position taken so often, it would take a fairly dramatic twist to deny him. Marquez has won some incredible races here – and taken some DNFs – as well as going from P38 on the grid in Moto2 and getting on the podium. The king around here used to be Casey Stoner; now he goes by another name.
The other rider with the top recent record isn’t racing, either – with Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) out through injury. So that leaves only Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) as the other man with a great track record at the Island – including his most recent win in 2014 – but the ‘Doctor’ also dominated the venue before the arrival of Stoner. Phillip Island could also suit Yamaha a little more than some tracks of late – so can Rossi break that losing streak? Or will it be his teammate, Maverick Viñales, who suffered much more at Motegi but did take a rostrum in Thailand…
So what of the man whose absence on the final laps in Japan was so notable? Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team)’s crash may have assured Marquez the crown, but it also robbed us of another incredible duel. On a more positive note the Italian went out swinging and if the 04 machine crashes out, it usually means one thing: he gave everything.
So now ‘DesmoDovi’ resets to making sure he’ll end the year second overall, and carries on trying to garner as many wins as possible, race by race. Last year in Australia the race was one of the toughest of the season for Ducati so that may not be here, and some more points and keeping tabs on the Yamahas will be the goal. Rossi lurks within striking distance, but the gap back to Viñales gives Dovizioso a little more breathing space.
The fight to be top Independent Team rider, meanwhile, is beginning to space out a little more too. With his second place at Motegi, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) moved to 148 points, within seven points of Viñales – and he’s a previous winner at the Island.
Behind the Brit, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is on 133 – and Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) has exactly the same, but Zarco remains ahead in the fight by virtue of his podiums. It quite literally couldn’t get any closer, and last season Zarco was tantalizingly close to the podium.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is beginning to home in on all three, too, and after another podium he could be a complication for the three ahead of him. But the home crowd will likely have more eyes for Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing), who had a front row start in Japan and solid pace until crashing out of contention. He’s got form at Phillip Island, and he’ll be aiming to be more than just top Independent…
Rookie of the Year is also close and Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is ahead but Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) took a top ten just ahead of his rival last time out – so there’s plenty life left in that fight. That’s not even everything to look for in Australia – with Alvaro Bautista riding Lorenzo’s Ducati Team machine and a rookie to the GP18.
So the Championship is decided and the pressure is off, but so are the shackles. It’s now all-or-nothing at the breathtaking Phillip Island, so can anyone stop Marquez? Will the reigning Champion run out of a little luck? Find out from the slightly later race time of 16:00 (GMT +11) on Sunday as the lights go out at one of the greatest racetracks in the world.
MotoGP Championship Standings
- Marc Marquez (SPA) HONDA 296 points
- Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) DUCATI 194
- Valentino Rossi (ITA) YAMAHA 185
- Maverick Viñales (SPA) YAMAHA 155
- Cal Crutchlow (GBR) HONDA 148
Moto2: Bagnaia faces first match point at Phillip Island
Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) thought he’d taken a valuable second at Motegi, but some time after the race there came an announcement: the man who’d taken the flag just ahead of him, Fabio Quartararo, had been disqualified after running tyre pressures lower than the required minimum. It was heartbreak for the Frenchman but for Bagnaia it was another small step towards the crown. Another 25 points as Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) completed the podium.
That means there are a few scenarios for Bagnaia to take the title at the fast and flowing Phillip Island. If he wins, he’ll be Champion if Oliveira doesn’t finish better than fifth. If he’s second, he’ll take the title if Oliveira doesn’t finish better than P9. A third place for Bagnaia means Oliveira has to finish better than 13th, and finally, a fourth for the Italian would mean the Portuguese rider would have to suffer a DNF or not score for Bagnaia to be crowned. But who won last year?
Phillip Island 2017 was the first win for the new KTM Moto2 chassis as Oliveira made a little history, and it was also the start of a three-in-a-row rampage that saw the Portuguese rider unbeaten in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia – with teammate Brad Binder on the podium too. So the Red Bull KTM Ajo team should be walking fairly tall on the way on to the Island, with recent stats on their side.
Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) will also want to get in the battle and join Binder as their teammates fight for the title, and the South African also has third overall in his sights. Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) took fourth despite a huge highside on Friday in Japan and is another to watch for back at 100%, as well as Motegi podium finisher Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40). Finally, one man with even more at stake is home hero Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing), who has big aspirations. Phillip Island is a track the Aussie hopes will prove a much better fit than the last two.
One man has everything to win and one everything to lose – but it’s far from a two-man show. Make sure to tune in for a pivotal Australian GP weekend, with Moto2 going racing from 14:20 (GMT +11) in a slightly later timetable.
Moto2 Championship Standings
- Francesco Bagnaia (ITA) KALEX 284 points
- Miguel Oliveira (POR) KTM 247
- Brad Binder (RSA) KTM 168
- Lorenzo Baldassarri (ITA) KALEX 152
- Alex Marquez (SPA) KALEX 139
Moto3: One point separates Martin & Bezzecchi
It was a KTM show in qualifying at Motegi, and on race day it was a group of the Austrian factory’s machines largely fighting it out – joined by the likes of eventual podium finisher Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) and Championship leader Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) fighting for Honda glory on their home turf. In the end, however, it was a push too far for Martin and the Spaniard crashed out – as closest challenger Marco Bezzechi (Redox PruestelGP) judged the drag to the line to perfection and won in style. That cuts the gap back to just one point.
Phillip Island is a very different track to Motegi and that will likely play a role in equaling the playing field again – and it would be no surprise to see Martin back to having a target on his back. But it’s also a track that provides some of the best racing on Earth and with Moto3 already enjoying that rep, it will definitely be a showcase of what everyone’s got. Can Martin pull that gap back out? Will Bezzecchi be able to pounce?
There are a few seriously fast faces sure to make it more than a duel, however. Dalla Porta, teammate Enea Bastianini, Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) fresh from his first podium, Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Skull Rider), Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46), John McPhee (CIP – Green Power)…and last but not least, Martin’s teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio.
‘Diggia’ suffered a huge highside in Japan but thankfully escaped largely unscathed. With Martin’s crash the Italian didn’t lose any ground to the top of the Championship, so his gap remains at 29 points – a longer shot but very much a possible one.
A cast of serious speed, one of the world’s greatest racetracks and one single point splitting the top two in the Championship. Phillip Island is coming – get ready! It’s lights out at 13:00 (GMT +11).
Moto3 Championship Standings
- Jorge Martin (SPA) HONDA 204 points
- Marco Bezzecchi (ITA) KTM 203
- Fabio Di Giannantonio (ITA) HONDA 175
- Enea Bastianini (ITA) HONDA 142
- Lorenzo Dalla Porta (ITA) HONDA 131