There should have been plenty to talk about after qualifying at Phillip Island. Jorge Lorenzo’s stunning fast lap, Marc Marquez getting on the front row for the 11th time in his rookie season, Valentino Rossi’s return to the front row, and his excellent race pace, Scott Redding’s fractured wrist ending his title hopes, so much to talk about, and more.
But one subject dominates MotoGP right now: tires, the incompetence of the tire suppliers, and the stopgap solutions put in place to deal with it.
The lack of tire testing prior to the Phillip Island round has caught both control tire companies out. As such, Race Direction has decided to shorten the Moto2 race from 25 to just 13 laps, while the MotoGP race will now include a compulsory pit stop to swap bikes, and the race length has been cut by one lap from 27 to 26 laps.
In addition, the MotoGP riders are prohibited from using the softer option rear tire, and will be forced to use the harder option. Both decisions were taken on safety grounds, after it was found that neither the Moto2-spec Dunlop nor the MotoGP-spec Bridgestone can handle race distance on the newly-resurfaced tarmac.
The lighter, less powerful Moto3 bike are not affected, and the Moto3 race will run the scheduled length.
If anyone was in doubt that Jorge Lorenzo was a man on a mission at Phillip Island, his first few laps of the newly resurfaced circuit should have served to remove any doubt. Lorenzo bolted out of pit lane as soon as the lights turned green, and was soon setting a scorching pace.
By the time he had finished his first run of laps, he had already broken the existing race lap record, and had got into the 1’29s. He finished the morning creeping up on the 1’28s, before going on to start lapping in the 1’28s and dominate the afternoon session as well.
Lorenzo came to Australia to win, let there be no doubt about that. He knows it is his only chance, and even then, he knows that even that will not be enough, and he will need help from Marc Marquez. “The objective is to win the race, and if I win, that will delay Marc’s chance to take the title, but it will depend on his result,” Lorenzo told the Spanish media.
Ask any Grand Prix rider for his top three circuits, and you can bet that two names will figure on almost everybody’s list: one will be Mugello, and the other will be Phillip Island.
The order which the rider in question will put them in may vary, but the two appear so often because they share something special. Three factors make the two tracks such magical places to ride: they are both fast, they are both naturally flowing, and they are both set in spectacular locations.
Though their settings may be equally stunning, there is one major difference between the two. While Mugello sits amid the Mediterranean warmth of a Tuscan hillside, the Bass Strait, which provides the backdrop to the Phillip Island circuit, is the gateway to the cold Southern Ocean, with little or nothing between the track and Antarctica.
The icy blast that comes off the sea will chill riders, fans, and team members to the bone in minutes, gale force winds often buffet the bikes and trying to blow them off course, when it isn’t throwing seagulls and larger birds into their paths. The fact that the the track has a corner named Siberia tells you all you need to know about conditions at the Australian circuit.
Stefan Bradl has been forced to miss the Sepang round of MotoGP, after fracturing his ankle in a crash during FP4. The LCR Honda rider fell at Turn 1, sliding unhurt towards the gravel, but clipped his foot on the carpet on the outside of the kerb, which had been picked up by the handlebar of his Honda RC213V.
The impact was enough to fracture the right medial malleolus (the spur on the inside of the tibia visible as part of the ankle), ruling him out of action for Sunday’s race.