There are many fine racing circuits on the MotoGP calendar, but two of them are genuinely glorious. The reasons Mugello and Phillip Island are so glorious are pretty much the same.
First, the setting: Mugello sits amidst the stunning hills, woods, and farmland of Tuscany, while Phillip Island is perched atop a granite cliff overlooking the wild and windy Bass Strait.
They are both tests of courage and skill, fast, flowing tracks which require a deep understanding of what the motorcycle is doing, the bravery to let it do what it’s doing at that speed, and the reflexes and talent to manage the bike within the confines of its performance envelope.
Like Mugello, Phillip Island flows across the terrain, following the natural slopes, dips, and hollows of the rock it is built on. The speed and the location provide a spectacular backdrop for motorcycle racing, and a terrifying challenge for the riders.
That speed also makes them dangerous, though the two tracks are dangerous in different ways. At Mugello, the walls are a little too close in places, meaning that a crash can leave you to slam into an airfence.
At Phillip Island, the problem is not so much the walls, as the sheer speed at which you crash. There are only really two slow corners at Phillip Island, meaning that if you fall off, your momentum is going to carry you a long way.
Two things make Phillip Island unique. First, there’s the weather. With only Tasmania between the Island and the Antarctic, and the vast Southern Ocean beyond, the westerlies batter and blast the Island, bringing harsh squalls in one moment then carrying them away the next.
Four seasons in one day, the locals say, and if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. The one constant in October is the cold, however. Though the sun be out, the icy Antarctic wind can suck the heat out of tires, brakes, and bodies. The weather there is a treacherous thing.
Secondly, the fact that the track is so fast and flowing, with only really one corner where hard acceleration is needed, means that machinery is secondary. Faith in your front end will take you a long way, allowing you carry corner speed to launch yourself onto the straights.
If elsewhere, being a few horsepower down leaves you incapable of putting up a fight, at Phillip Island, you need simply ride the front as hard as you dare through Turns 11 and 12, then tuck in behind the faster bikes and try to slingshot past them down the Gardner Straight.
Phillip Island is far more a test of the rider, rather than the bike.