PHILLIP ISLAND, Australia – Well, that was damn exciting. One could argue about “best race of the year” in any of the categories, but taken as a whole it would be hard to argue that the last couple of seasons have seen a better collection of three superb races than this year’s Australian GP, held at perhaps the most beautiful and challenging race track in the world.
The Moto GP race was certainly the most entertaining of the 2014 season, filled with unexpected crashes and results, ending with veteran Valentino Rossi winning his 82nd Moto GP/500 GP race in his 250th start – that’s an unbelievable record, even for “The Doctor.” He was followed home by team-mate Jorge Lorenzo and Tech 3 Yamaha’s Bradley Smith – his first-ever Moto GP top three finish – for an all-Yamaha podium.
The Moto 2 race, I’d say, was definitely the best in the last couple of seasons, at least if you count lead changes as a quality criterion. Until the last few laps, the lead changed among five riders nearly every time around, with Moto GP-Suzuki-bound Spaniard Maverick Viñales finally eking out a small lead over Swiss Tom Luthi in the last few laps, with series leader Tito Rabat third.
And in Moto 3 local hero Jack Miller, also bound for Moto GP next year, squeaked out a thriller of a victory by 0.029 sec over title leader Alex Marquez and Marquez’ team-mate Alex Rins to keep his own title hopes alive.
From the flag, Marc Marquez grabbed the lead and rode away until crashing when the front end suddenly folded on him. By this time, Rossi had overcome his third-row starting spot and was positioned comfortably between Marquez and his team-mate Lorenzo, so inherited a comfortable lead.
Rossi: “I’m so happy because Phillip Island is one of the most important and most beautiful tracks of the season. I won here many times in the past, but over the last few years I was only able to get onto the podium without winning the race. To come back and take the first position after 10 years is great … When I was in front [of Lorenzo] Marquez crashed and I said to myself ‘victory!’ ”
The key to his win – other than excellent setup, a great start from the third row, and perfect riding, of course – was probably managing his soft-compound front tire.
Temperatures had dropped steadily through the day, from 25 degrees during the Moto 3 race to only a cool 16 when the Moto GP grid lined up. Combine that with the usual strong chilly wind off the Bass Straight (the track is right on the ocean) and any number of riders crashed out with snap front-end collapses, including new world champion Marc Marquez and Ducati’s Cal Crutchlow from an amazing second on the last lap.
Marquez, unhurt, shrugged off his disappointment and said, “It was a pity that I went down at a time that I was not riding on the limit or faster than the lap before. It was a race where there were many crashes, and almost all happened the same way: the front wheel locking up. The temperatures were down a lot …”
An extremely upset Crutchlow agreed with the analysis, saying, “I’m absolutely gutted with today’s result. We didn’t deserve that. The first time I slowed throughout the whole race was on the last lap and the front tire obviously cooled down … It was just a shame that the only mistake I made was slowing down a bit …”
Rossi’s team-mate Jorge Lorenzo by his own statement lucked into second. He had destroyed his front tire and although he stayed up, lost considerable pace as a result.
He was a very unhappy racer after it was all over, considering he could have carried the battle to Marquez and blaming Bridgestone for giving him a faulty tire. Bit of sour grapes there, perhaps …
Behind the podium finishers and Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso in fourth, the top 10 results included quite a few unfamiliar names.
Hector Barbera collected fifth on his new customer Ducati, followed by Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini satellite Honda, then Scott Redding and Hiroshi Aoyama on customer Hondas, Alex deAngelis on a Forward Yamaha, and Nicky Hayden on another customer Honda in 10th .
In addition to Marquez and Crutchlow, other top riders to crash out or retire were Andrea Iannone, Dani Pedrosa, Stefan Bradl, and both Aleix and Pol Espargaro. Iannone missed a gear while braking and hit the back of Dani Pedrosa’s factory Honda; Iannone crashed and damaged Pedrosa’s bike enough that he had to retire.
In a similar incident Stefan Bradl collided with Aleix Espargaro, crashing out himself and damaging Espargaro’s bike enough that the Spaniard had to retire.
Shortly after, Pol Espargaro followed his brother into retirement after a front-end crash identical to Marquez’ and Crutchlow’s.
While the title has already gone to Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo, and Pedrosa were within three points of each other for second coming into the weekend. Rossi now has an eight-point advantage over his team-mate, and 25 over Pedrosa, with two races left.
Maverick Viñales’ third win of the season came after a hard battle with Marc VDS team-mates Tito Rabat and Mika Kallio, Tom Luthi, and Sam Lowes, the young English rider definitely having the best ride and result of his rookie season in Moto 2.
All of the five led at one time or another, occasionally being shuffled from first to fifth in one lap. Rabat had been by far the fastest rider all through practice and qualifying and indeed seemed on pace when the race started, but he continually suffered braking issues into the hairpin, running wide there and losing positions on at least four occasions.
Being pushed back to third after Viñales took control in the last few laps and Luthi, really on form after his victory last week at Motegi in Japan, jammed his way past for second, so Rabat wasn’t able to sew up this year’s title as he’d hoped. At least he finished one spot ahead of his team-mate, so he did slightly increase his lead in the championship, now 41 points ahead of Kallio with 50 available for the last two victories. It’s not certain, but it’d take double disasters for Rabat for him to miss the title.
The racing for sixth through 12th was hard-fought as well and equally entertaining, albeit more than eight seconds behind Lowes. Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP), Marcel Schrotter (Tech 3), Dominique Aegerter (Technomag carXpert), Xavier Simeon (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and Jordi Torres (Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2) completed the top 10.
The junior class, as usual, provided the most excitement of the day, although the drama in the two senior classes came close to rivaling it for the first time this year. For most of the race, the front nine competitors did their usual impression of a bar-room brawl on track, with hair-raising drafting, out-braking, and passing manoeuvres shuffling riders from first to ninth in the space of a few corners.
Drafting was especially critical, once again the Hondas clearly showing more power than the KTMs. That came down to the last corner, last lap – at Philip Island two fast lefts lead onto the 900-metre Gardiner Straight, with the finish line nearly half-way down. With a slower bike, you normally don’t want to be leading out of the last corner.
But local hero Jack Miller, in his last race in the junior category before his home crowd, made it work by somehow squeaking out a touch of distance in the two fast lefts, then weaving his KTM sharply on the run to the flag to break the tow for the Hondas of Alex Marquez and Alex Rins, team-mates and Miller’s only rivals for the 2014 title. It was a brave and smart move that left him only 20 points behind Marquez and 21 ahead of Rins – Marquez is in the cat-bird seat, but it’s definitely not over yet.
It was a very busy run to the line behind the top three. Efren Vazquez (SaxoPrint-RTG) was unlucky to miss the podium, finishing just 0.012 sec behind Rins; John McPhee (SaxoPrint-RTG) was less than a tenth of a second behind Vazquez; and Alexis Masbou (Ongetta-Rivacold) was just 0.108 sec behind the Scotsman in sixth.
Jakub Kornfeil (Calvo Team), Niklas Ajo (Avant Tecno Husqvarna Ajo) and Niccolo Antonelli (Junior Team GO&FUN) completed the top 10.
Next race October 26, Sepang, Malaysia.
Moto GP standings after 16 of 18 races
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 312 points (champion)
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 255
- Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 247
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 230
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 166
- Aleix Espargaro, Spain, NGM Forward Racing Yamaha, 117
- Pol Espargaro, Tech 3 / Monster Yamaha, 116
- Bradley Smith, U.K., Tech 3 / Monster Yamaha, 108
- Andrea Iannone, Italy, Pramac Ducati, 102
- Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 96
Moto 2 standings after 16 of 18 races
- Esteve Rabat, Spain, Marc VDS Kalex, 310 points
- Mika Kallio, Finland, Marc VDS Kalex, 269
- Maverick Viñales, Spain, Paginas Amarillas HP 40 Kalex, 249
- Thomas Luthi, Switzerland, Interwetten Sitag Suter, 161
- Dominique Aegerter, Switzerland, Technomag carXpert Suter, 151
Moto 3 standings after 16 of 18 races
- Alex Marquez, Spain, Estrella Gallicia 0,0 Honda, 251 points
- Jack Miller, Australia, Red Bull KTM Ajo, 231
- Alex Rins, Spain, Estrella Gallicia 0,0 Honda, 210
- Efren Vazquez, Spain, SaxoPrint-RTG Honda,187
- Romano Fenati, Italy, SKY Racing Team VR46 KTM, 174