Phillip Island is a glorious race track, in a glorious setting, with a history of serving up glorious racing, especially when the weather plays ball. On Sunday, it did just that, the circuit bathed in warm sunshine, almost taking the edge off the antarctic chill which can still hit the circuit in very early spring.
And great weather brought fantastic racing, starting with a spectacularly insane Moto3 race, followed up with a thrilling Moto2 race, and finally topped off with an intriguing and incident-packed MotoGP race.
The MotoGP grid arrived at Phillip Island mindful of the lessons of last year. In 2017, a large group had battled for the win for 20+ laps, until their tires were shot. Marc Márquez, having been mindful of his tires for much of the race, made his move in the last five laps, opening a gap over the chasing group of a couple of seconds. Everyone Márquez had beaten last year had spent the weekend concentrating on tire preservation for the last part of the race.
“Last year we lost the race because the last five laps, we didn’t have anything more,” Andrea Iannone said after practice. “Everybody had one or two tenths more than us, and at the end, finished in front of us.” Jack Miller, who had led the race for the first four laps in 2017, finishing seventh behind Iannone, made a similar point.
“What I learned from last year is try to manage the tire a little bit better,” the Australian said. “We’ve been playing a lot with the maps and setting up for the race. It’s not going to be a crazy fast race, almost from the get go, but it’ll wind up sort of five, six laps to go.”
The first section starts with the controversy from Motorland Aragon: the crash of Jorge Lorenzo, which the Ducati rider blames on Marc Marquez. This then pivots to a discussion about the championship rivalry that is brewing between Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso, as the pair once again found themselves trading corners in Spain.
How do you win a MotoGP race? In the Michelin era, you need a strategy. With all six tires that the French manufacturer brings to each weekend capable of lasting the race, selecting the right tire for your bike, and your setup, is crucial.
Once the race is under way, you have to manage your pace, know when you can push hard, and when you have to sit and wait. Watch for weakness by your rivals, try to match them when attack without wrecking your own chances. With spec electronics and a wide range of tire options, MotoGP is a more intellectual game.
But it has also become more of a gamble. To find the ideal setup, the best strategy is to focus on the race during free practice, rather than worry about qualifying. But that risks leaving a rider stuck in Q1, and having to juggle front tires for Q2. You get an extra rear tire if you go through from Q1 to Q2, but not an extra front.
Betting on Marc Márquez to take pole and win the race at the Sachsenring looks like the safest bet imaginable. From 2010 until 2017, Marc Márquez has started the race on pole and gone on to take victory in all three of the Grand Prix classes he has raced in. Márquez is truly the King of the Sachsenring.
Friday seemed to merely underline the Repsol Honda rider’s dominance at the Sachsenring. Though he didn’t top the timesheets in either FP1 or FP2, that was only because he hadn’t bothered putting in a soft tire in pursuit of a quick time.
Take a look at underlying race rhythm, and Márquez was head and shoulders above the rest of the field.
That pace continued into Saturday morning. Once again, Márquez was not the fastest – he finished sixth in FP3 – but in terms of pace, he had half a step on everyone else. But it was only that: half a step. Others were starting to catch the Spaniard. Could he really be in trouble for the race?
Márquez looked even weaker in FP4. Sure, he had a bunch of mid-1’21s, but he had lost a couple of tenths to the sharp end of the field, perhaps discouraged by the small crash he had in the first corner, when he failed to save the front from going.
He ended the session in tenth. A worrying development, given there is no incentive for riders to stick in a soft tire for FP4, as it does not have an effect on whether a rider progresses straight to Q2 or not.
The tale of the TT Circuit at Assen is really the tale of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
That is hardly surprising, given that the race has featured on the calendar since Grand Prix racing was born, or rather, since the FIM Motorcycle Grand Prix Road Racing World Championship was established, back in 1949. And like Grand Prix racing, it has roots which go back a long way before that.
The first race took place in 1925, a year after the Dutch government passed a law permitting racing on public roads. It ran over cobbled roads and sand tracks between three villages to the east of Assen: Rolde, Borger, and Schoonlo.
The next year it moved south of Assen, again over public roads, between De Haar, Oude Tol, Hooghalen, Laaghalen, and Laaghalerveen. It stayed there until 1955, when the first sections of what would become the modern circuit were built.
The roads were closed and the circuit was separated from the world, an isolated loop of tarmac, where racing was safer, easier to organize, and, not coincidentally, easier to monetize.
The inaugural Grand Prix season in 1949 took place mainly on circuits set out using public roads, which made for long tracks taken at high speed (Bremgarten in Switzerland and Monza in Italy were the two purpose-built circuits on the calendar, but Bremgarten, in particular, was a spectacularly dangerous circuit which wound through a forest).
Mark this day, because today is the day that Aprilia Racing signed Andrea Iannone to its factory MotoGP – the Italian motorcycle brand sealing its fate to the Italian rider for the next two seasons.
The news had been expected, for quite some time, and today when we saw Suzuki Racing formally ending its relationship with Iannone, we knew it was only a matter of time before Aprilia announced its contract.
Iannone’s third factory team in the MotoGP paddock, it will be interesting to see what he can accomplish with his teammate Aleix Espargaró at Aprilia – a team that is still struggling for results in the MotoGP Championship.
Breaking up with Suzuki before he could be dumped, Andrea Iannone has already made it clear that he would not be returning to the ECSTAR Suzuki team for the 2019 MotoGP Championship season, but now the break up is official.
Issuing a press release today, Suzuki Motor Corporation announced that the Japanese factory and the Italian rider would not be collaborating further, into 2019.
Though Suzuki won’t mention it, it is widely held that Joan Mir will be taking Iannone’s seat at ECSTAR Suzuki, and as such he will partner Alex Rins inside the factory team next year.
In its press release, Suzuki thanked Iannone for his help and positive results during their time together, but the reality is that Iannone never gelled with the team, with considerable friction existing between him and the Suzuki squad.
Episode 74 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and recorded straight from Tuscany region of Italy. On the mics are David Emmett, & Neil Morrison, and they are joined by Adam Wheeler of On-Track Off-Road.
The trio discuss the happenings of the Italian GP, which extends beyond just the on-track action. Not only did Mugello show us the return to form of Jorge Lorenzo, but significant movements have occurred in the MotoGP riders market.
Of note, today’s episode was recorded before the news that HRC announced the departure of Dani Pedrosa, and reliable reports that Jorge Lorenzo is set to replace Pedrosa at Repsol Honda. We will update you with what’s happening for next year in a soon-to-come MotoGP Silly Season.
Of course the show ends with the guys picking their biggest winners and losers from the weekend’s events, which isn’t as obvious this week as one would think.
We think you will enjoy the show. It is packed with behind-the-scenes info, and insights from teams and riders in the paddock.
As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!
Mugello is many things: Majestic, magical, magnificent. It is also mendacious. It can catch you out, lead you down the wrong path, make you think you’ve found the right direction, only to find it is a dead end. It rewards sleight of hand too.
There are many different ways to skin a cat at Mugello, if you will excuse the expression, so you have to keep your cards close to your chest. To win at Mugello, you need to be fast, you need to be brave, but you also need to have a good poker face.
Qualifying on Saturday was both magnificent and mendacious. Pole was won through a combination of sublime riding and a good deal of meddling, subtly controlling rivals to keep them from any chance of a counterattack. It was a masterclass, but then what else would you expect at Mugello?