Photo: Facebook/Yamaha Racing
PHILLIP ISLAND, Australia – “I enjoyed the race very much. This track is unbelievable and it was a great race! All the riders in front were very aggressive, so you need to be more stupid, more aggressive, than they are! … It’s a bit more dangerous, but this is the way and if not, you have to stay at home.”
Valentino Rossi’s post-race comment pretty much summed up what was perhaps the best, closest, and – most certainly – most entertaining Moto GP race in several seasons. This year’s action just keeps getting better and better – at PhiLlip Island, no fewer than eight riders on three brands of machine were fighting to the last lap for the win and for podiums.
At times, it looked more like a Moto3 race; all the top finishers exhibited tire marks on their leathers and bikes, with some cracked and damaged bodywork to boot – and they all enjoyed it immensely, judging by their reactions after the race.
It was a great day for Yamaha, despite Marc Marquez winning the race for Honda. The factory riders, Rossi and Maverick Viñales, completed the podium despite being very gloomy about their chances after qualifying, while Tech 3 Yamaha’s Johann Zarco was fourth, All three led at various times and any one of them could have won the race.
Honda was certainly happy to win – the victory giving Marc Marquez an almost unbeatable 33-point lead in the championship chase – and Cal Crutchlow and local hero Jack Miller taking fifth and seventh for Honda didn’t hurt either.
The remaining teams in the top 10 were delirious with joy. The Suzuki boys, Andrea Ianonne and Alex Rins, were well in the fight, Iannone as high as second at one point, by far his best performance since the first race at Qatar back in March. With a sixth and an eighth, the best results of the season, the Hamamatsu team was over the moon.
That was equally true of KTM, where Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro both not only made it into the second qualifying round, but finished ninth and 10th, Espargaro topping his team-mate by a hundredth of a second at the line.
The one group who seriously wished they’d never come to Australia were the Ducati riders, both factory and satellite, all of whom were absolutely nowhere for the whole race. Andrea Dovizioso, it must be said, was running at the leaders’ pace, but an early off-track excursion put him well back with an eventual finish of 13th, putting his title hopes pretty much in the disposal bin. He was 11th out of the final corner, but his rear tire was shot and madly spinning, allowing both Scott Redding (satellite Ducati) and Dani Pedrosa (factory Honda) to out-drag him to the flag.
To add insult to injury, Ducati’s big-money hire Jorge Lorenzo had a totally nothing race, finishing 15th behind Czech rider Karel Abraham on a two-year-old satellite Ducati. As usual, he blamed the rear tire – as if he hadn’t chosen it – but in fairness he was also riding with a badly sprained ankle after a practice session crash.
Another team with long faces was in the Aprilia garage. After high initial hopes with Aleix Espargaro qualifying on the front row and initially staying in the lead group, everything was dashed when he ran wide in the flat-out top gear first corner and crashed. He was lucky to get away with a couple of cracked bones in his left hand, and says he doesn’t think it’ll affect his racing next weekend at Sepang in Malaysia. His team-mate Sam Lowes, heading back to Moto 2 next year, could only manage 19th, out of the points.
With only two races left, it’d take some horrid bad luck to Marquez for him not to collect another world title, but as his closest rival Dovzioso said, “We know fighting for the championship will be very difficult, but fortunately in this sport it can happen.”
The KTM press writers must be planning to buy a new set of superlatives after Philip Island. Not only did their Moto GP riders both finish in the top 10, the team collected its first Moto2 win, made even more sublime by making it a 1-2, with Portuguese dentist-in-training Miguel Oliveira leading team-mate and 2016 Moto3 champ Brad Binder to the flag.
While Oliveira pretty much controlled the race, there was a great deal of action behind him. Championship leader Franco Morbidelli pushed hard all race, giving Binder a work-out to stay in second, while Tom Luthi, second to Morbidelli in the series, had another bad day at the office, only managing a 10th place. That leaves him 29 points behind the Italian, with only 50 points left on the calendar for the last two races.
Morbidelli and Luthi are heading for Moto GP next year, as is Taka Nakagami. The Japanese rider started slowly but pushed to the front near the end, which was occasionally marred by spots of rain and warning flags from the marshalls. He eventually crashed on the last lap while chasing Oliveira.
Morbidelli’s team-mate Alex Marquez, third in the title chase, had a couple of close calls and eventually faded back to sixth, while Jesko Raffin scored his best-ever finish in fourth just ahead of Tech 3 Mistral rider Xavi Vierge.
Joan “Miracle” Mir put his awful race last week in Japan behind him and simply performed a world champion’s race, taking the victory and with it the Moto3 world title with two races left. It wasn’t easy, however; the top seven riders finished within 8/10 of a second, and Mir’s team-mate, mercurial young Belgian Livio Loi, was only 3/10 behind at the flag.
Everyone was lucky to stay up for the finish, as well, as rain suddenly hit after 15 laps and the red flag ended things early.
Mir’s closest title rival, Italian Romano Fenati, could only manage a sixth, but that still leaves him a pretty safe 42 points ahead of Aron Canet, who crashed out of this race and scored no points.
World Moto GP Championship Standings after 16 of 18 races
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 269 points
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 236
- Maverick Viñales, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 219
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 188
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 174
- Johann Zarco, France, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 138
- Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Ducati Team, 117
- Danillo Petrucci, Italy, Pramac Ducati, 111
- Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 103
- Jonas Folger, Germany, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 84
Next race October 29, Sepang, Malaysia