It has been a while since we have had a chance to host a show, so there is much to discuss, and the guys get right down to it.
Amongst the discussion of the various rounds, there are some good side conversations about the internal workings of the GP factories, the career of Dani Pedrosa, and what makes a rider the “Great Ride of All Time” in the eyes of the MotoGP paddock.
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.
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.
Phillip Island always delivers. If you came to the track on the edge of the world hoping for a spectacle, you got more than your money’s worth.
Three stunning races at arguably the greatest racetrack in the world. Three races which really mattered: with just two rounds left after Phillip Island, the results had a significant impact on all three championships.
And to cap the day off, one of the best MotoGP races of all time, the second here in the space of three seasons. The sun even shone. Well, most of the time, anyway.
Is it a coincidence that two of the greatest Grand Prix races, perhaps of all time, have happened at Phillip Island in the last three seasons? I don’t think so. This place, and this time, have conspired to create the perfect conditions for motorcycle racing.
Firstly, there has never been a greater concentration of riding talent on the grid at the same time in the premier class. Secondly, performance parity between the different factories, and between factories and privateers, has never been so great.
And thirdly, the Phillip Island circuit is simply made for motorcycle racing. A flowing track in a stunning setting, where brave and skilled riders can make passes at nearly half of the corners on the track.
The 2015 MotoGP race at Phillip Island was a four-way dust up which saw Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, and Valentino Rossi pass each other a grand total of 52 times in 27 laps.
The 2017 race saw seven riders slug it out over the same distance, passing and repassing each other a total of 73 times. Blink, and you missed a change of the lead.
But you had to blink, just to catch your breath. It is a good job the assiduous Tammy Gorali was willing to go back and tally up the action.
If there is one thing that you need to ride fast around Phillip Island – apart from an appetite for scaring yourself silly, that is – it is confidence.
You have to have blind faith the front will stick as you pitch it in to Turn 1 at 190 km/h, or slide the rear at 250 km/h plus through Stoner Corner. You want to be sure you’re going to make it through, because if you don’t, you’ll fall off at speed, and it will hurt. A lot.
Meanwhile, the elements are doing their best to sap your confidence. Gusts of 40 km/h or more are coming in off the Bass Straight at different angles, picking the bike up in some places, pushing it down in others, getting in under the fairing and trying to pull the front away from you.
Clouds rush past, some sprinkling droplets onto your visor, others dumping enough rain onto the track to leave it soaked, most blowing over without leaving a mark. Cold winds suck the heat out of your tires.
When you’re in the zone, you can blaze around the track lap after lap, banging in times that should be good enough for the podium.
But one misstep and you take a tumble. And one tumble is enough to shake your blind faith in the front end, plant the seeds of doubt in your mind. At other tracks, that might cost you a tenth or two. Phillip Island will find your lack of faith disturbing, and punish you with a second or more on your lap time.
At the MotoGP round for which they are title sponsor, Michelin announced that it has extended its contract as official tire supplier to MotoGP for a further five years. As such, the French tire manufacturer will continue to be the sole tire supplier until the end of the 2023 season.
The news did not come as a surprise. Dorna has made no secret of how happy it has been with the job Michelin have done for them, in helping to make the MotoGP series a much closer and exciting championship.
During the press conference held to announce the deal, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta lauded the fact that there had been nine race winners in 2016, saying “this is a championship of bikes and of riders”. Ezpeleta added “We are happy Michelin has helped the competitiveness of the championship.”