MotoGP: Phillip Island Preview

Less than a week after the Motul Grand Prix of Japan at Twin Ring Motegi, the MotoGP paddock packed up, flew to Australia and unpacked everything at Phillip Island ready for the 16th round of the season. With two championship titles claimed, we await to see whether Zarco can remain on top in the Moto2. A preview of what is to come at Phillip Island for the Australian GP.

MotoGP: Phillip Island Preview
MotoGP: Phillip Island Preview

Just three rounds remain of the MotoGP season, and already two of the championship titles out for the three classes have been claimed. The world championship series heads to Phillip Island, Australia, for the 16th round of the season with Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez as the newly crowned 2016 MotoGP champion, Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Brad Binder as the Moto3 champion, and the Moto2 title still very much at stake.

Phillip Island a majority favourite throughout the paddock

The circuit ‘down under’ is a favourite for many of the riders, and also many fans that plan their holidays around visiting the island just for when the MotoGP fixture is on. Built on an island separate from the main land, it is surrounded by gorgeous sea views that twinkle under the sun.

Being so close to the water though means that the wind is incredibly strong at Phillip Island.There are some quite high points at the track and riders have to work hard to push against the wind. The conditions can change a lot on the island and so it could definitely play an interesting part in the weekend.

Watch out for seagulls playing ‘chicken’

If you cast your mind back to last year at Phillip Island, you may remember when the race got underway and a seagull flew across the track meeting Ducati rider Andrea Iannone’s line. But the Italian ‘Maniac’ showed him who is boss when he head-butted him out of the way and then so cool and calmly carried on with his business. Iannone won’t be there so the seagull will have to seek his revenge another way.

History of Phillip Island

Motorcycle road racing has very much been a thing since 1031 in Australia as originally they took to the streets. The circuit was initially built in 1956 but then it fell into disrepair in between the 1970s and 1980s. Australia decided to invest five million dollars into bringing the facility back to lie and the MotoGP returned in 1989 and in 1990 for two years. Phillip Island became a regular track on the calendar from 1997.

Michelin sponsoring the Australian GP

This round is the first race sponsored by French tyre manufacturer Michelin who took over from Bridgestone as suppliers to the MotoGP class this year. Although it is their first year here, it is a track that they have tested at earlier on in the year and as a result they have able to produce tyres specifically suited to the configuration of the layout and the asphalt surface.

The 4.4km (2.76 miles) track is made up of seven left and five right corners; the design of the corners means there are many very fast and sweeping bends. The longest straight is 900m (2952 ft) and 13 metres wide. The MotoGP class will complete 27 laps of the circuit during the race meaning they will cover just over 120km (or 74.5 miles).

New compounds introduced for Phillip Island

Because of their being two more left handed corners per lap, an extra 54 more than right, Michelin will be again providing an asymmetric tyre with a harder left hand side. They will be providing the riders with soft, medium and hard compound front Michelin Power Slicks, and two new compound rear tyres available in medium and hard.

Should the weather change over the weekend, the French supplier will have three wet fronts available; extra-soft, soft and medium. They will also have available to accompany those options, a soft and medium compound rear full wet. As per usual they will be bringing along the Intermediate tyres should the conditions look like they will improve during the race.

Honda rider bMarquez crowned 2016 MotoGP Champion

Marquez and the Honda team have not had long to celebrate their recent success at their home track that was designed, built and used for testing by the Japanese manufacturer. It a shock result, as many of what seemed like ‘highly unlikely’ contributing factors that would have led to the Spaniard claiming the championship (that he didn’t even want to discuss prior to the round), came true.

If Marquez won his first round at Motegi, second in the championship Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) finished 14th or lower and Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha) finished third or lower then it was his. They all were on the front row, Rossi on pole and Marquez sandwiched between him and his teammate Lorenzo, the Spaniard made his way to the front and behind him Rossi first crashed out and later on so did Lorenzo. Marquez won, and was shocked to see his team were very organised with his championship t-shirts, helmet and other memorabilia ready to celebrate his success.

Who will get second in the MotoGP?

The championship battle has switched to second place now as we wait to see who out of the Movistar Yamaha duo will secure second. Rossi has a lead of Lorenzo who is moving to the factory Ducati Team next season; a move that sparked lots more movement throughout the paddock.

Mad rush to Australia

The riders are all over there. Literally as soon as they finished racing in Japan (I am sure Honda and co stayed for an extra night of course), the paddock was packed up and shipped further across the world. Again the riders have taken to social media to document their journeys and to update fans of their safe arrival and antics in the build up to the race.

It could be anyone’s…

Honda have been the most successful manufacturer in Phillip Island with six wins here, Ducati claimed four successive wins with local lad Casey Stoner, and Yamaha have also claimed four; in 2014 it was an all Yamaha podium as Rossi won, Lorenzo was second and Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider Bradley Smith was third. The last time Suzuki were on the podium here was in 2006.

Rossi has won the most races here throughout his career with eight, Stoner has claimed six wins; four of them with Ducati between 2007 and 2012. The Italian rider, who last won in Australia in 2014, surely is annoyed with seeing the championship slipping out of his grasp like that and is most likely more determined to prove he would have been able to put up a fight had he not crashed out in Motegi.

It was Marquez who was last victorious here winning in 2015 after starting from pole position, Lorenzo was second and Iannone completed the podium (the two were in the opposite positions on the grid). Rossi just missed out finishing fourth; he lost vital championship points to his teammate who went on to claim the title last year.

Marquez holds the official lap record

The current Circuit Lap Record is held by Marquez who in lapped during the race at 1:29.280. The best ever lap at Phillip Island was completed by Lorenzo with a time of 1:27.899 which secured him pole back in 2013. Will the riders be able to match that or improve with the new tyres and electronics? It won’t be long to find out.

Crutchlow strongest in Australia

Out of the independents, British rider Cal Crutchlow’s history at Phillip Island identifies him as the biggest threat, or the man to watch. Currently leading the independent teams’ championship, and placed sixth in the whole MotoGP championship, the LCR Honda eider was the quickest in 2015 finishing the race in seventh after qualifying in fifth.

His rival in the independent team standings, Pol Espargaro (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) was eighth and Smith was 10th. It is clearly a favourite of the British rider though as in 2014, when riding for the factory Ducati team, Crutchlow was second in qualifying. He has the ability but will he be able to pull it off in 2016.

Miller’s home GP; Hayden returns again for Pedrosa

It is Crutchlow’s good friend, Jack Miller’s, home GP though and the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS will be looking to get a great result in front of his home fans. He has missed out on an opportunity to ride the Repsol Honda of Dani Pedrosa.

The Spaniard has been ruled out of the Australian GP as he broke his collarbone and had to undergo surgery after a huge high-side in Free Practice at Motegi. Hiroshi Aoyama was brought in to replace him, but since then Nicky Hayden has been brought back (after replacing Miller two weeks ago) to stand in for Pedrosa; an opportunity he jumped at.

Changes in place again in the Ducati camp

Iannone will also not be returning to race at Phillip Island as he continues to recover from his broken vertebrae. The Italian will be again replaced by Hector Barbera (Avintia Ducati) who stepped up and made his factory Ducati debut in Motegi in place of him. He crashed out, but remounted and was able to finish the race but is hoping to make up for that in Australia.

Therefore, replacing Barbera at Avintia Ducati, Mike Jones, Australian Superbike rider, will be again stepping in for the Italian aboard his Desmosedici GP15. Pleased with finishing the race on his MotoGP debut the Australian will be hoping to contend with the others and battle for points in front of his home fans also.

Watch out for both Team Suzuki Ecstar and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini who have finally gotten to show off how competitive their developing machines can be with two consecutive top ten finishes for the two teams. Those bikes have come a long way under the reigns of them riders and in Australia they may again be able to prove their worth.

Battle for second in Moto3 championship continues

In the Moto3 class, although Brad Binder has claimed the championship, the competition is still on to see who will get second. After his amazing race win in Motegi, (his first of the season and his second Moto3 win ever) Gresini Racing Team Moto3 rider Enea Bastianini is hoping to extend his lead over Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) who crashed out of Motegi and picked up an injury.

Too hard to gues who will win in Australia

It will be interesting to watch the Moto3 race (of course it is… it’s the Moto3) in Phillip Island, as the riders who qualified on the front row, and the podium finishers are out of contention now.

Last year Danny Kent (Leopard Racing) who won the 2015 Moto3 championship, was battling with Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) for the title. After qualifying on pole Kent crashed out of the race allowing his then rival to claim vital points. Efren Vazquez was second and Brad Binder finished in third with Navarro ust missing out of the podium.

This time round there are many hungry rookies who have been absolutely amazing this year who will most likely give the championship leaders a run for their money. The Moto3 circuit record lap was set by Jack Miller in 2014 (1:36.302), the year he won the title and was then promoted straight up to the MotoGP. However, the best lap was completed by Alex Marquez in 2014 with a time of 1:36.050… let’s see who beats that then.

Moto2 championship still undecided

The Moto2 is where the championship attention is focused on now however as we look to see who will join Marquez and Binder as 2016 championship winners. Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) managed to extend his lead over Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) who had a disaster of a weekend. Behind them Motegi race winner Thomas Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) overtook Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Racing Team Gresini) in the standings as the British rider crashed out early on.

Rins strong in Phillip Island

Rins won in Phillip Island last year however, after qualifying on pole. Zarco only managed seventh position both on the grid and at the end of the race. Axel Pons (AGR Team) and Lowes joined Rins on the front row of the grid, and it was Lowes and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Team) who joined the Spaniard on the podium. Results such as last year will again bring the championship race for the 600cc class even tighter.

In the Moto2 class, the circuit lap record at Phillip Island was set by Alex De Angelis back in 2013 with a time of 1:32.814. The best ever lap completed by a rider from this class was from 2014 Moto2 champion Tito Rabat with a time of 1:32.470 when he claimed pole ahead of the race. That year Maverick Vinales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) won the race ahead of Luthi and Rabat was third.

Great weekend of racing ahead

Phillip Island is a very fast track with long sweeping corners and only a few areas of sharp corners and tight bends requiring harsh braking and hard acceleration. With that long straight leading to the finish line, surely we will not only see some fantastic racing, but we may see some very last second results especially in the Moto3. Let's just hope the wind on the coastal track doesn't affect things too much.

If you didn’t include Phillip Island in your holidays this year, you will have to pull an ‘all-nighter’ like us to watch things unfold as it happens. Free Practice gets underway on Friday 21st from midnight. This is also the same for Qualifying on Saturday; it’s an hour earlier than Motegi if that is any consolation?

On race-day (Sunday 23rd) the warm-up begins at 00:40 (GMT) and the Moto3 race starts at) 3:00 (GMT). The Moto2 race is scheduled to begin at 04:20 (GMT) and the MotoGP race itself sets off at) 6:00 (GMT).