PHILLIP ISLAND, Australia – Honda had mixed fortunes at the Aussie round of the Moto GP world championship. Yes, a Honda won the race in the capable hands of satellite LCR rider Cal Crutchlow, but the factory team was toast. Honda’s No. 1 guy, Marc Marquez, pitched himself into the gravel while comfortably leading, and a little later and farther back, Nicky Hayden, subbing on the second factory ride for the injured Dani Pedrosa, got knocked off while in the top 10 – and that by another satellite Honda rider, Jack Miller.
It was Crutchlow’s second win of the year as well as his second-ever in the premier class.
Yamaha was relatively pleased with putting four bikes in the top 10 at the finish after a disastrous qualifying. Both factory riders were well back, while Tech 3 Yamaha satellite rider Pol Espargaro grabbed a front-row start. As the race progressed, the ever-young Valentino Rossi stormed from his fifth row 15th -place starting position to one-by-one surgically dispose of everyone in front of him until there was only Crutchlow left. His team-mate Jorge Lorenzo collected a sixth, looking completely lacklustre and once again complaining about his Michelin tires.
Espargaro managed to come home sixth, while his team-mate Bradley Smith, still recovering from a horrendous knee injury, collected a superb eighth. His team owner/manager Hervė Poncharol said, “Bradley undertook a superb performance and we must remember that 10 days ago, we didn’t even know if he was going to be able to take part … Brad commenced the last lap in 10th , and he was incredible in the fourth sector before completing the race in eighth, which is far better than what we could have expected. Congratulations to him for his hard work, his dedication and his never give up attitude!”
Others finishing in the top 10 were Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales in third, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso in fourth, the Pramac Ducati pair of Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci bracketing Smith in seventh and ninth, and finally local boy Jack Miller 10th on his Estrella Galicia Honda.
The track was miserably cold all weekend, the race at least going off in the dry, but the air temp was only 12 degrees. Crutchlow said after the race that managing the front tire was critical: “I was terrified when Marc crashed out in front of me, I braked really weakly into that corner for the whole race. I knew it was critical, because I crashed there from second a couple of years ago when I had a 10-second gap behind me, so I was quite scared to be honest. With that in mind, I also knew I had to keep pushing because otherwise I would lose heat in the front tire.”
Not in the press release was his laughing comment to a delighted Rossi in parc fermė after the race; “I was going good and then I saw you were coming and said Oh F…!”
It’s been an odd year in the Moto 2 title chase, with Frenchman Johann Zarco trying to be the first racer to collect consecutive titles in the class before moving on to Moto GP in 2017. But as one of the commentators commented, “You’d think nobody wanted this title!”, as Zarco’s dominant early performance has badly faded while his chief rivals Alex Rins and Sam Lowes (both also heading to Moto GP next year) continue to crash their brains out instead of collecting points.
That’s left the door open for Swiss Tom Luthi, who despite missing one race from injury is now the top challenger to Zarco’s title defence. Luthi won by 0.01 second in the draft to the line, depriving Italian Franco Morbidelli of his first Moto GP victory. Meanwhile, German Sandro Cortese was only another 4/10 back – it was a riveting race, and Luthi was over the moon, particularly because he’d won a week ago in Japan, and this victory not only gave him a push toward the top of the championship, but was also the first time he’s scored consecutive wins in his career.
The cold and wet conditions – the rain was so bad on Saturday that Moto 2 and Moto GP both had practice sessions scrubbed – led to a horrendous number of crashes, 20 before the race had even started! In the race itself another seven crashed out, including Rins and Lowes; fortunately nobody was badly injured and all but Alex Marquez, badly shaken up in a morning warm-up crash, were able to start.
If the Moto 2 race was an unusual crash-fest, the Moto 3 race confirmed the opinions of many that the place can be virtually a slaughterhouse when things really get going. In this case, no fewer than 14 out of 28 starters didn’t make it to the chequered flag!
A large part of that carnage came from two big multiple-bike accidents, the second one leading to a red flag and a restart for a shortened 10-lap sprint. South African world champion-elect Brad Binder is hardly relaxing after confirming his world title, and simply blew away from everyone else in the field in both races to take a comfortable win.
After the race he was pleased with his ride, but absolutely over the moon for his younger brother Darren, who collected a career-best fourth and just missed his first podium by a 10th of a second in a drafting duel with Spanish teen Aron Canet.
Italy’s Andrea Locatelli (second) and Belgium’s Livio Loi (fifth) rounded out the top five. Binder and Locatelli were the only riders in the top 10 in the series who finished the race, further confirming the incredible attrition rate. Despite all the crashes, it appears that the only real injury was to Scot John McPhee (who started the second incident), who was taken to hospital to check for a possible broken thumb.
Moto GP Championship Standings after 16 of 18 races
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 273 points (World Champion)
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 216
- Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 192
- Maverick Vinales, Spain, Team Suzuki Ecstar, 181
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 155
- Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 141
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 137
- Pol Espargaro, Spain, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 117
- Andrea Iannone, Italy, Ducati Team, 96
- Hector Barbera, Spain, Avintia Racing Ducati, 84
Next race October 30, Sepang, Malaysia