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.”
Racing is always about balancing risk and reward, but sometimes, that balance is put into very stark contrast. Phillip Island is a very fast track with notoriously blustery weather, with strong winds commonly blowing in rain showers.
The weather gods have not looked kindly on this year’s Australian Grand Prix, though it has stayed largely dry. Gale-force winds, icy temperatures, and the occasional downpour have, shall we say, livened the proceedings up considerably.
The upside to being battered by strong winds is that the weather can blow out again as quickly as it blew in. Scattered showers are just that: scattered away towards the mainland in the blink of an eye. But they can be scattered over the circuit again in a matter of minutes.
This does not exactly make things easy for the MotoGP riders. Heading along the front straight well north of 330km/h and seeing spots on your visor, then wondering whether Doohan Corner, a 200+km/h corner is going to be completely dry or not is, shall we say, unnerving.
Doing all that during qualifying, when you know you only have 15 minutes to post a quick time, doubly so. As the reward goes up, so does the tolerance for risk.
Phillip Island is a magnificent circuit. Perched on the edge of the Bass Strait, it is a visceral thrill in a spectacular setting. It is fast, flowing, the very essence of what a race track is supposed to be. But all that glory comes at a price. It is also a dangerous place. When you crash at Phillip Island, then it hurts, and more often than not, it hurts a lot.
Veteran US journalist Dennis Noyes points out that in the 1990s, the FIM commissioned a study into crashes at various tracks. The track with the most crashes, Estoril, had the fewest serious injuries. The track with the fewest crashes was Phillip Island.
But it was also the track with the most injuries. The difference? Estoril was the slowest track on the calendar, thanks to a couple of tight turns, while Phillip Island was the fastest. Newton’s second law is immutable, and enforced 100% of the time.
The weather makes things even more complicated. A freezing wind blows in with great force off the Bass Strait, sucking any heat you may have generated out of your tires. Cold tires plus high speeds are a recipe for disaster, and hospital food. “Obviously the weather is really strange here,” Aleix Espargaro said on Thursday.
“Very cold, not easy to warm the tires. I would say that it’s one of the more, close to being dangerous tracks that we have on the calendar, but I don’t know why this makes the track enjoyable, and I think almost all riders like this layout.” Behold the dilemma of Phillip Island.
For the 2018 WorldSBK season, we are changing up our coverage format a little bit from last year, in order to provide more useful content for our racing fans.
First up, we are pleased to have Steve English providing coverage from the World Superbike paddock. Regular Asphalt & Rubber readers will recognize Steve’s name from a number of stories here on A&R, and he is also a regular host of our Paddock Pass Podcast.
With his day job being the voice of WorldSBK on the commentary feed, Steve’s expert insight will provide for us a preview of each WorldSBK round, as well as a debrief at the end of each race weekend, which will highlight the major takeaways from the racing action.
Additionally for our A&R Pro readers, Steve will be providing us with added racing analysis, as well as interviews with the WorldSBK riders, team members, and paddock fixtures, which you won’t want to miss. -JB
With that out of the way, let’s get to the opening round of the 2018 WorldSBK season, which is now in the books and certainly provided us with plenty of excitement and plenty to talk about.
Because of tire wear issues during Race 1, at the World Superbike season-opener at Phillip Island, Sunday’s Race 2 will include a mandatory pit stop, where riders can come in and change machines.
Due to the extra-abrasive conditions found at Phillip Island this year, these race change will also affect Sunday’s World Supersport race, as well.
Similar to the tire issues we saw in the MotoGP Championship at Phillip Island, back in 2013, Sunday’s race will include a mandatory pitstop before the end of the 12th lap for WorldSBK riders (after nine laps for WorldSSP riders), which will operate under the series’ flag-to-flag rules.
This means that riders will dismount their machine, and mount a new bike, fitted with fresh Pirelli race tires, in order to avoid the tire-wear issues found during Saturday’s race.
Don’t call it a comeback, Troy Bayliss has been here along, as the Australian never really hung up his racing leathers.
Partaking over the years in numerous one-off and short-term racing endeavors, the 48-year-old Australian is looking for a little bit more two-wheeled action in his life though, and accordingly has his eyes on a proper championship go.
As such, Bayliss has announced that he will compete in the 2018 Australian Superbike Championship, riding with the DesmoSport Ducati team, which he co-owns with team manager Ben Henry, with an eye on the series’ #1 plate.
“Initially I did want to see another young guy on the bike, but after I rode it I felt that I needed to contest the championship and try and win myself the elusive Australian Superbike title,” explained Bayliss.
MotoGP’s stops in Asia and Australia have proven to be pivotal to the championship standings, as Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez have been battling during the latter half of the season.
Now going into the final round of the season, Marquez leads Dovizioso by 21 points, creating a do-or-die scenario for the Ducati rider at Valencia. There are only a few ways that Dovizioso can win the Championship, but during this episode, we focus on how that came to be.
Examining the results of the top riders in MotoGP, and the highlight of the flyaway races, Neil gives his insights from being at the races, while David provides is usual analysis.
The focus then turns to the Moto3 and Moto2 classes, with the show wrapping up with our winners and losers from the flyaway rounds. It’s another great show from the Paddock Pass crew, and you won’t want to miss it.
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!
Aleix Espargaro will not be racing at Sepang. The Spaniard broke a bone in his left hand when he crashed out of the MotoGP race in Phillip Island, and is to fly back to Barcelona for surgery.
Aprilia will not replace Espargaro, his absence coming at too short notice to find a replacement rider in time.