Four men spent 45 minutes defying the laws of physics to fight for victory at the Australian round of the MotoGP world championship. Unlike most motor races, on whatever vehicles, today’s race was a legitimate battle for every corner, every meter of the track that lasted from the green lights to the checkered flag, with no quarter asked and none given. The only loser today being a hapless seagull.
Qualifying for the race presented the usual suspects on the front row, with Honda’s Marc Marquez setting a blistering lap pace to secure another pole position. Ducati’s Andrea Iannone secured second place and Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo started from third, which was not at all unique except that his teammate and currently only rival for the world championship, Valentino Rossi, was way down in 7th place starting from the third row.
Rossi, a man who is clearly not as fast as his much younger rivals, was visibly anxious and devoid of his usual childish grin on the starting grid. Having six riders ahead of him before the first corner, especially given his weakness in launching off the line, clearly had him deeply concerned with keeping Lorenzo in sight.
He needn’t have worried, since from the middle of the second lap, he was in fifth place in a string that included Lorenzo at the front, followed by Iannone, Marquez, and for a brief while Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow. After Crutchlow and Pedrosa dropped back, the remaining four men spent the rest of the race swapping places, literally every lap and in many cases every corner.
The battle was so intense, that even the sudden violent impact of a seagull into the front fairing of Iannone failed to slow them down or introduce any semblance of caution. While descending into a tight left-right combination, in full view of all the leaders save Lorenzo, the bird was literally obliterated into a cloud of white feathers after smashing into the Ducati’s front fairing.
Post race images revealed a baseball sized hole punched into the carbon fibre bodywork of Iannone’s bike, but that didn’t have any impact on the young Italian’s speed. The following twenty laps were an endless series of demonstrations of the Ducati’s awesome straight line speed, as Iannone repeatedly overtook all comers on the long Gardner straight, looking as though it was in a completely different speed class to the Honda and Yamaha.
Both Ducati and the Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo featured new horizontal aerodynamic winglets on their respective front fairings, which seemed to contribute significantly to top speed. Viewed from helicopter shots, it was evident that even Lorenzo’s Yamaha M1 was able to in some cases match the speed of at least the more powerful Honda, whereas Rossi’s Yamaha, which didn’t wear the winglets, struggled.
Words fail to adequately describe the sheer energy and pace of leadership exchanges that characterized this race. MotoGP has enjoyed many great battles this year, and most years. But Grandstand has not witnessed this kind of titanic struggle for every inch of a racetrack, in the top class of motorcycle racing, since the days of Rainey/Schwantz in the early 1990’s. Rossi climbed up to second a couple of times, only to be beaten back. Lorenzo and Marquez traded places at the front, while Iannone executed the ultimate double pass by slipping through from fourth to second in one miraculous dance between Marquez and Rossi in the space of one corner.
That no one crashed, or even slipped off the track momentarily, was a testament to the godlike prowess and skill of these masters of motorcycle racing. The presenters and Grandstand alike were hoarse from cheering and shaking from clenched jaws and hands.
The 2015 Australian MotoGP Grand Prix was, in the original sense of the word, awesome.
Like all fairy tales, the best was left for the last lap. Marquez found a kind of speed and grip after this epic 45 minute battle to set the race’s fastest lap on shagged tires and pass Lorenzo to take victory. Lorenzo was powerless to respond, and finished second. Iannone held back a ceaselessly charging Rossi to cross the line in third relegating Rossi to fourth.
At the end, closeups of Rossi, who yielded 4 points in the world championship standings to rival Lorenzo, revealed a man completely physically exhausted. The 36 year old ten time champion worked hard, but only just maintained the pace of the leading youngsters. To win a record setting 10th world championship, Rossi will have to find the speed to defeat Lorenzo outright in Malaysia next week.
The world championship will come down to the last lap of the last race, it seems.