Prior to the 16th round of the MotoGP season at Phillip Island, the world championship class were at the pre-race press conference concerned about the weather. Knowing that it can be a huge factor by the circuit right by the sea, as the forecast was not good, they woke up still jetlagged ‘down under’ where they were greeted with rain.
Extremely wet session for the MotoGP class
By the time the MotoGP class had took to the track for their first session of the weekend, and knowing that the more experience on track in this weather the better, the riders had no choice but to brave it. They donned full wets and waterproofs as they worked to familiarise themselves as best they could on the sodden track as the rain continued to fall.
Modifications in the Ducati camp as Iannone out again
Ducati Team rider Andrea Iannone has again been ruled out of the Australian GP at Phillip Island as he continues to recover from fractured vertebrae; an injury sustained in Misano. Avintia Ducati rider Hector Barbera again takes the reigns of the factory Ducati Desmosedici GP16 for the second time after making his debut last round in Japan less than a week previous.
As Barbera has been take away from his Ducati, again Australian Superbike rider Mike Jones swapped his Panigale for the Demosedici GP15 for his second ever MotoGP round. Having already completed his debut also less than a week previous at Japan (and now being familiar with the MotoGP bike), Jones was at more of an advantage being very familiar with the track local to him.
Pedrosa out and replaced by Nicky Hayden
Now during Free Practice at the Motul Grand Prix of Japan, Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa endured a huge high-side which resulted in him suffering a broken collarbone. He was flown home to Spain where he underwent surgery to reset the bone; after a CT scan they discovered he had fractured his fibula also (that just needed setting without surgery).
Keen not to miss out on manufacturer’s championship points, Repsol Honda decided to ask former MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden, who recently returned to replace an injured Miller on the Honda, to replace the Spaniard ahead of the 16th round. The American rider jumped at the opportunity and found it very emotional when he saw the Honda with his number on it for the first time in a while.
Conditions worsened throughout the session led by Crutchlow
During an already wet session, as it had rained during when the Moto3 class were on track previously, the conditions only got worse. Riders reluctantly made their way out onto track to get as much time on track as possible. Trust a British rider to do well in the wet; LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow took the lead and remained the man to beat in the harsh conditions.
Crash from Petrucci as wing falls off
One of the notorious wings, that appear to be especially big and bulky on the Ducatis in the class, came off Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci’s bike. After it removed itself, Petrucci found himself losing control of the bike almost immediately and crashed at the end of the long straight; fortunately he was unhurt.
Local rider Jack Miller, a rider who is very familiar with the circuit, was trying to push harder on his Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda. With 15 minutes of the last session remaining he ran very deep into turn one. Fortunately he was able to rescue it, and kept it upright as he travelled over the grass and eventually made his way back on to the track.
Session practically ended early as more rain hit
With six minutes of the session remaining, the rain began to fall even heavier. With a lot of standing water appearing on track, and the rain falling even heavier, a lot of riders retreated back to the pits knowing that there was not much difference to be made. There was a lot of spray lifting from the rear of those on track.1
Crutchlow quickest after FP1
Crutchlow remained the fastest man at the end of the first Free Practice session at Phillip Island. His time of 1:40.957 remained the time to beat, and he and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) were the only riders to lap under 1:41 minutes as the Italian completed his quick lap at a time of :40.998.
Petrucci, despite his crash, was third quickest at the end of FP1, ahead of local rider Miller who was fourth quickest. The newly crowned 2016 MotoGP champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) completed the top five. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) was sixth quickest ahead of Maverick Vinales (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Pol Espargaro (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha), Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and wildcard replacement Hayden completed the top 10.
Worth mentioning, Jones, making just second appearance on a MotoGP bike was 14th quickest at the end of the session. As expected, as we have witnessed it earlier on in the season, former MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo was sown in 20th at the end of the session on his Movistar Yamaha.
The Spaniard’s confidence seems to go in the wet and this was again the case in Australia. Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider Bradley Smith was the slowest as he completed a very little amount of laps as he works to adjust to racing his bike again with the torn ligaments in his knee.
No improvements in the weather
Conditions had not improved in any way for the MotoGP class as the second Free Practice session had to be delayed due to the weather and the amount of standing water on the track. The riders sat waiting in the pits for the ‘go ahead’ but it didn’t seem to be coming as more rain fell.
Eventually when things did get underway, on a select few riders took the risk out on the track. Barbera was one of those as he tried to learn to adjust to the Desmosedici GP 16 in the wet conditions, and of course his replacement on Avintia Ducati, Jones, who also had a lot to learn. Petrucci, Aleix Espargaro (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Rossi all also made their way out to see what they could do.
Remainder of Free Practice 2 session cancelled
Eventually they were forced to call it a day. With no signs of improvements both with the weather and the lap times Race Direction brought Free Practice 2 to an end for the MotoGP class and also decided to abandon the meeting cancelling the second Free Practice session for the Moto2 class altogether.
It is not just rider safety that has to be taken in to consideration, as they are at even more risk of falling where there is low traction, but the health and wellbeing of all the staff, especially the Marshalls, and that of the public needs to also be considered.
During FP2 it was Barbera who was quickest with a time of 1:51.958. Jones was over two seconds behind him in second during FP2 and almost 1.7 seconds behind him was Rabat in third. Petrucci was almost four seconds off the pace set by Barbera and both Espargaro and Rossi were over six seconds off the pace.
Combining the times meant that those from FP1 remains the quickest as Rossi has lap times cancelled
Crutchlow was the fastest after day one. Rossi, who was second during FP1 had all of his lap times cancelled as he was found to have overused the wet tyres. He had opted to run on the super-soft Michelin Full Wet that is only allowed to be used for a maximum of ten laps. Rossi had completed more and so all lap times were removed and he finished the day at the bottom of the timesheet.
This in turn meant that Petrucci became the second fastest man at the end of day one and local lad Miller was third quickest on home water. Marquez was fourth ahead of Dovizioso who completed the top five. Vinales was sixth quickest ahead of Pol Espargaro in seventh. Bautista was eighth ahead of Hayden in ninth and Bautista’s teammate Stefan Bradl (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was promoted up to the top 10.
Yonny Hernandez (Pull & Bear Aspar), who will be returning to the Moto2 class next year where he will ride for Ajo Motorsport as his current team replaced him in the MotoGP class, was 11th quickest. British rider Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati) was 12th and Jones was 13th ahead of his temporary teammate Loris Baz (Avintia Ducati) in 14th. Rookie Rabat was 15th.
Irishman Eugene Laverty (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) was 16th, Aleix Espargaro was 17th, Barbera on the factory Ducati was 18th and he finished ahead of the Movistar Yamaha teammates Lorenzo and penalised Rossi. Bradley Smith failed to get a time as he learns to adjust with his injury in the wet.