Well, it’s that time of the year. A rather warm goodbye to winter for motor racing fans – with the season opener of the World Superbikes season at Phillip Island, Australia.
Being exposed to the spectacular Bass Straits, the reality is the weather changes so often at Phillip Island that you can have all four seasons in a day.
This did indeed prove to be the case on Friday and Saturday, and it resulted in some pretty special light – which every photographer is on the lookout for. Cloudy skies, spots of sun, and micro-climate.
The green machines with Rea and Sykes seem to have picked up pretty much from where they left off last year. Chaz Davies, who had a terrific second half to 2015 was brimming with confidence – and it showed in his times.
And for American fans, there was of course the welcomed sight of Nicky Hayden’s #69 to look forward to. Welcome to the season opener of World Superbikes 2016 from Phillip Island – where questions outnumber answers.
We are creatures of habit in the paddock. After having had our biorhythms put out of whack by a wild and weird Thursday, having bikes on the track on Friday brought us all back into line, and restored a sense of normality to MotoGP.
This was a race weekend once again, and the arguments and backbiting have been put aside for a moment.
Though the return of racing motorcycles going fast around a circuit brought some joy back to the paddock, the day was also tinged with sadness. Two events punctuated the day, celebrating two mighty monuments of the paddock, who depart for pastures new.
At lunchtime, Nicky Hayden was inducted as a MotoGP Legend, with a ceremony and a brief press conference. In the evening, Bridgestone held an official soiree to take their leave of the paddock, as they ended their role of official tire supplier.
Dani Pedrosa continued his recent fine form to finish Day 1 with the second fastest time.
Jorge Lorenzo was all smiles at the start of FP2.
Andrea Iannone was third fastest today at Valencia.
After the raft of accusations he had made on Thursday, Valentino Rossi decided to keep his council on Friday. When asked by the English speaking press about the responses of Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo to his charges, Rossi cut them short.
“I said everything yesterday, and I don’t have anything else to say.” To the Italian press, he was a little more expansive, but still insisted that he had had his say.
When told that Márquez had said he had been surprised by the accusations Rossi had laid against him, Rossi rejected the suggestion. “Marc said he was surprised? I don’t think that’s true. And now, I have said everything, I have nothing left to say.”
As it turned out, he did have a little more to say, but it was short. When told that Márquez has said that all Rossi needs to do is finish ahead of or directly behind Lorenzo at the next two races, Rossi had a cutting response. “Tell him I already know that.”
Did he think that he would be safer on track with Márquez, now that he had had his say? “I don’t know. I took a risk, but I could not remain quiet. Maybe my words will have a positive effect, maybe negative, but at least I can sleep well at night now.”
The accusations made by Rossi on Thursday had left the paddock mystified, struggling to work out exactly what he had hoped to achieve. “After some hours, I’m still surprised, like everybody,” Marc Márquez said.
“I respect Valentino and I will always respect him, but I understand also his situation. That he is fighting for the title, he is really close to getting his tenth title, but he knows Jorge is really strong.” Márquez said he had no desire to be involved. “In the end, he needs to beat Jorge on the racetrack. I prefer to be out of this battle.”
Dani Pedrosa was 2nd fastest today at Sepang.
Jorge Lorenzo ended Day 1 with the fastest time, but he was only 0.047 secondss faster than Dani Pedrosa in 2nd place.
Marc Marquez completed the provisional front row.
Blame it on the Bass Strait. The weather, or perhaps more accurately, the weather, the climate, and the environment, has a huge effect on the Phillip Island circuit.
The weather, because the strong winds which blow in off the Strait brings regular dowsings of rain. The climate, because the hot summers, cool winters and wet weather places a severe strain on the asphalt. And the environment, because the sea breeze brings in salt, and the Antarctic ozone hole means UV levels are high, both of which have a corrosive effect on the circuit surface.
Perched on top of cliffs overlooking the Bass Strait is a stunning setting for a race track, but the Phillip Island circuit pays a heavy price for the privilege.
All of those factors have combined this year to throw the Australian round of MotoGP a curveball, or to make it more colloquially accurate, bowled MotoGP a googly.
The weather at Phillip Island was at its most deceptive, relatively warm and sunny, but with clouds bearing quick showers blowing in at regular intervals.
No class would escape the tricky conditions, though some were more badly affected than others, Moto3 losing the first half of FP2 to the wet.
Jorge Lorenzo was fastest in FP1 and was just 0.05 seconds behind Marc Marquez in FP2.
An excellent day for Maverick Vinales who finished with the third fastest time.
Marc Marquez was quickest on Day 1 at Phillip Island but only just from Jorge Lorenzo.
It’s only Friday, but already, one championship has been decided. Tito Rabat’s mission to outscore Johann Zarco was tough enough before he crashed at Almeria and broke his wrist, but trying to handle the immense braking stresses of the Japanese circuit with a freshly plated radius proved too much to ask.
Rabat’s attempt was brave, but ultimately doomed to failure. After riding in FP1, Rabat realized that it wasn’t so much the pain, but rather a lack of strength in the arm needed to control the bike safely. Forced to withdraw, Rabat’s title defense came to an end, and Johann Zarco became the 2015 Moto2 World Champion.
It was a rather bewildered Zarco who faced the press later on Friday. His mind was still focused on Sunday’s race, rather than on becoming champion. He could barely comprehend that he had already won the title.
Mentally, he had prepared to celebrate on Sunday, after the race, so the title had come unexpectedly early. It did not put him off his stride, however. Zarco was twelve thousandths slower than Tom Luthi in FP1, and nineteen thousandths faster than Alex Rins in FP2. He remains the man to beat in Moto2, exactly as he has been all year.
What’s the value of testing? Judging by Jorge Lorenzo’s time on Friday – a second under the race lap record, and three tenths off the outright lap record – you would have to say that it’s good at least for a day’s worth of practice.
The Movistar Yamahas came to the Motorland Aragon circuit having tested here twice, once after Barcelona, once before Misano. The test in September allowed them to find a strong set up for this weekend, one which works well, as Lorenzo’s blistering lap time in the afternoon showed so clearly.
Though Lorenzo set his time, as Valentino Rossi put it, in “a real time attack, 100%,” it was one lap in a series of four, three of which were quicker than anyone else. It was perhaps not so much an early attempt at a qualifying lap as it was simulating the start of the race.