Philip Island, Australia – “Just a stupid and bizarre series of events.” … “Add in frightening, negligent and criminally dangerous, and you come close to describing how awful this whole thing was.”
These were comments about the October 20 Australian Moto GP posted on the Motogpmatters website, amid a couple of hundred others. Speaking as someone who’s been running races and trackdays for about 30 years, I find it kind of hard not to agree.
It’s a shame that the controversy over tires – both Bridgestone and Dunlop (sole suppliers for Moto GP and Moto 2 respectively) erred massively over what was required for the newly resurfaced track – took away attention from the racing. All three races were exciting, the Moto 3 riders in particular outdoing themselves even over the fantastic race last weekend in Sepang – literally a dozen riders were in contention past half-distance, and on the last lap any of seven could conceivably have won, the victory eventually decided by the width of a tire.
The results of the feature event saw Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) winning ahead of Dani Pedrosa (Honda) and Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), with series leader Marc Marquez (Honda) scoring no points to leave Lorenzo only 18 points behind Marquez with two laps remaining.
This all transpired after Bridgestone was horrified to find that their rear tires were coming apart after only a dozen laps on the track with 27 planned for the race, and Race Direction implemented emergency procedures to deal with the issue. They finally settled on 19 laps rather than the original 27, and mandated a pit stop to swap bikes after a maximum of 10 laps (I won’t even try to describe the complicated “flag to flag” rules, but basically the teams had an identical bike with new tires ready for the riders at half-distance).
The race thereby became, effectively, two half-distance sprints with a pit stop to swap bikes in the middle. It worked out very well for Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, who led every lap of both segments, no doubt aided by a lower fuel weight each time. The interpretation of the emergency rule seemed simple, but as ever, the devil was in the details. The physical areas for the 60 km/h pit speed limit were extended at both ends, and a couple of teams – notably the factory Repsol Honda group – interpreted the emergency 10-lap rule to mean a rider could complete 10 laps on track, then come in – effectively getting 11 laps out of the first tire.
Pedrosa was the first to stop, then on the next lap Lorenzo came in, then Marquez a lap later. However, the officials decided that Marquez had broken the 10-lap limit, and disqualified him via a black flag. In the meantime, after stopping he’d entered the track more slowly than usual (thanks to the bizarre extension of the pit lane exit speed) and moved over toward the racing line in the fastest corner of the track as Lorenzo and Pedrosa came by at about 200 km/h. Lorenzo hit Marquez hard enough to break a shield off his glove (and Marquez was later seen massaging his arm after the race), but fortunately neither rider crashed.
Neither Lorenzo nor Marquez seemed overly upset about the incident, Marquez saying he hadn’t seen Lorenzo and the defending champion saying he was a bit wide that lap. Perhaps the best rider description, if a bit acid about the new kid on the block, came from Valentino Rossi, who said, “For me it was 50-50. Because Marc don’t care, but at the same time Jorge was a bit wide.”
Rossi also was typically amusing talking about his own race: “The second part of the race I enjoyed more because I was faster and I had a big battle with Cal on the last laps … [in the first part] I decided to stop on the first lap available [lap 9] to have less confusion in the pits with Jorge. But on that lap I was battling with Bautista and I couldn’t see the pit board.
“Then when I was exiting turn 11 I saw Bautista pull into the pits and I thought ‘f**k!’ So I stopped on the next lap!”
By far, the best actual racing of the event was the contest for fourth (third after Marquez was disqualified) as Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, and Alvaro Bautista once again went at each other with everything short of swords and hammers. Rossi came out on top to collect third after a spectacular last-lap pass, with Crutchlow and Bautista following in that order.
Behind them came Bradley Smith in another excellent race for the Tech 3 squad, then the Ducati contingent of Nicky Hayden, Andrea Iannone, and Andrea Dovizioso, with Randy de Puniet rounding out the top 10 as first CRT finisher on his Aspar Power Electronics Aprilia.
The factory Ducati people were as gloomy as ever, being able to manage only seventh and ninth. Hayden seemed especially bothered, as he loves the track and thought the struggling Ducati team might do better than usual this weekend. He wryly said that at least the shortened race had saved some miles on his engine – he’s in trouble with the mandated five engines for the season, with two events left.
A lot of the championship drama died during practice, as series leader Scott Redding suffered a nasty high-side, fracturing his right wrist and putting him out of at least this and next weekend’s race at Motegi in Japan.
His main opponent Pol Espargaro pounced on the opportunity, taking pole and leading nearly the entire shortened race (Dunlop had the same problems as Bridgestone, but in this case the officials merely shortened the race to 13 laps). Espargaro came under some pressure from Swiss Tom Luthi at mid-distance, but held him off and in fact Luthi was lucky to keep second from Jordi Torres.
The only other rider with a sniff at the Moto 2 title, Espargaro’s team-mate Tito Rabat, made a mistake at about half-distance and nearly crashed, dropping back to ninth and eventually finishing eighth. That leaves him 36 points behind Espargaro, with two races left and second-place Redding eliminated by his injury.
For real racing, the Moto 3 event was again by far the best event of the day. With the field basically split into two howling groups, the first dozen squabbling over first and the next dozen over 13th, it was about as good as racing gets. Even on the last lap, no fewer than seven riders had a shot at the win, with leaders going from first to fifth and back in a matter of a few corners almost every lap.
In the event, it was once again an all-Spanish podium, as Alex Rins beat Maverick Vinales by 3/1000 of a second with series leader Alex Salom a heatbeat farther back, followed by Rins’ team-mate Alex Marquez and Aussie Jack Miller in his home race. You had to give a gold star to Miller, who dragged his underpowered Honda into fifth and unbelievably led the race briefly in the last couple of laps. The top five riders finished within half a second. Spectacular stuff. You’ll want to watch Miller in future – he’s got a better ride on a much faster KTM-powered machine in 2014, and looks promising as The Next Big Thing from Australia’s wild racing fraternity.
Salom still leads the title chase, but Rins is only five points back and Vinales still has a mathematical chance, back another 17.
Moto GP Championship Point Standings after 16 of 18 races
1. Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 298 points
2. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 280
3. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 264
4. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 214
5. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Tech 3 / Monster Yamaha, 179
6. Alvao Bautista, Spain, Go&Fun Gresini Honda,147
7. Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 135
8. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Racing Team, 127
9. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Ducati Racing Team, 111
10. Bradley Smith, U.K., Tech 3 / Monster Yamaha, 99
Next race October 27, Motegi, Japan.
[…] in the years since, as riders aren’t always happy with Bridgestone. Incidents like the 2013 Phillip Island race (where Moto2 supplier Dunlop also ended up with egg on their face) and this year’s Austin GP […]
“Scott Redding suffered a nasty high-side, fracturing his right wrist”
That’d be his left wrist.
Not sure how that photo of InterWetten’s Julia is representative of the Moto3 racing, but I won’t complain. LOL