Simply looking at the final results, the 2014 Tissot Australian Grand Prix appears to have been a clear Yamaha triumph. In fact, it was a demolition derby in which the winners managed to survive, rather than dominate, the proceedings. True, at the end it was an all Yamaha podium, featuring Valentino Rossi on top, followed by Jorge Lorenzo and first-timer Bradley Smith. But with nine riders having crashed out or retired, the phrase “you need to be in it to win it” has never been more true.
The weekend featured the debut of Bridgestone’s latest creation, a asymmetric front tire, one which looked great on paper but proved to be the ruin of several top riders. Designed to withstand the searing temperatures generated on the left side of the tire in high speed lefthanders, it proved ineffective in cool conditions under braking into the rights, causing the shocker of the day – series leader Marc Marquez crashing out of a four-second lead on Lap 18, appearing as though his front tire was made of glass, replicating the almost identical crash Yamaha icon Lorenzo experienced in FP1. Young Pol Espargaro suffered the same fate on Lap 25 while challenging for his first ever premier class podium. From a spectator’s point of view, it appears Bridgestone still has some work to do on this particular model. Plenty of work, in fact.
That the top Honda finisher today was Alvaro Bautista in 6th place demonstrates the scale of the Debacle Down Under for the Minato factory. Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa got hit in practice by Karel Abraham, then got assaulted again on Lap 6 by crazy Andrea “Maniac Joe” Iannone, who plowed into the rear of Pedrosa’s bike without a prayer of getting through cleanly. Iannone and his Pramac Ducati went flying up and off the track, while Pedrosa managed to stay upright, only to pit on Lap 7 in sheer disgust. The incident will be looked at by Race Direction in Sepang, with a stern slap on the wrist possible for the Italian rider, while Pedrosa’s chances to finish second for the season suffered a serious blow. Iannone appeared to suffer a bump on his knee, which qualifies as “just desserts” in our opinion.
The third bizarre incident took place on Lap 19 and involved LCR Honda defector Stefan Bradl and Forward Yamaha’s Aleix Espargaro, who graduates to the factory Suzuki team next year. Similar to the incident on Lap 6 (and an earlier incident at Indianapolis), Bradl attempted to fit himself into space that didn’t exist, smashing into the rear of Espargaro’s bike. Bradl and bike immediately left the premises, while Espargaro continued on for a few hundred yards before pulling off into the grass and smashing his windscreen in frustration. He was probably irked, in part, by the thought that his little brother would overtake him in their season-long battle for 6th place in the standings. But Smith’s podium and Pol’s own crash means they brothers re still separated by a single point, with Smith suddenly right behind them.
The fourth and final shocker today involved my boy Cal Crutchlow, who had qualified his Ducati GP14 in second place – on a dry track – and had climbed from 9th place on a terrible first lap to third at the end of Lap 22. On the next Lap he blew by Lorenzo into second place and appeared interested in Rossi’s whereabouts, his Desmosedici looking fast, stable and dangerous. On the final lap, with second place firmly in his grasp, and a second podium in three outings his for the taking, he simply lost the front for no visible reason. In doing so, he reminded us of an NFL wide receiver who gets behind the defense, makes the catch, high-steps 30 yards all alone, and spikes the ball on the five yard line. And so it is that Crutchlow, with a higher opinion of his riding ability than almost anyone anywhere, remains stuck at 63 points for the season and, as predicted here last year, sits well behind both of the Tech 3 Yamaha riders, proof that in MotoGP as elsewhere, you gotta be careful what you wish for.
After the race, Rossi was ecstatic, having won in Phillip Island for the first time since 2005. Lorenzo was dejected, complaining that his front tire was destroyed, and that his poor choice prevented him from challenging for the win. Tech 3 pilot Bradley Smith who, from a distance, appears to have no eyebrows, was shocked and elated to discover, only after the checkered flag flew, that he had podiumed, so busy with what was happening around him that he was completely unaware of what had been going on in front. He acknowledged getting pushed around earlier in the race, and was suitably self-effacing during the press conference, attributing his first premier class podium to luck and the work of his team. It is gradually becoming easier to understand why Herve Poncharal chose Smith for his #2 bike back in 2012 rather than Scott Redding, although Redding’s future is exceedingly bright, with the Marc VDS team soon to be in the premier class fold.
Calamity at the Top = Celebration at the Bottom
With the likes of Marquez, Pedrosa, Bradl, et al failing to finish today, it became an all-you-can-eat banquet for the back markers of the premier class. Danilo Petrucci, the heavily-bearded hope of Octo IodaRacing and soon to be Pramac #2, saw his season points total increase by 44%, adding four points to his previous total of nine. For Avintia’s Mike di Meglio it was a 50% increase, the last rider crossing the finish line adding two points to his previous four.
From there, the percentage increases were otherworldly. Alex de Angelis, having taken Colin Edwards’ seat on the Forward Racing team, doubled his point total for the season by finishing ninth, going from 7 points to 14 for the year. Another big winner today, in percentage terms, was Paul Byrd’s hapless Michael Laverty. Seeing his MotoGP career come to an end just as his brother Eugene’s is starting, Laverty experienced a 150% increase in his point total for the season in just one cool, windy afternoon. Coming into Round 16, he had amassed two (2) points in 2014. Today, he earned four. And although this may not sound like much, in truth, well, it really isn’t. Byrd and Laverty have some fierce defenders amongst the readers of this column, but they’re just not terribly good at either the racing or the business of raising money and bamboozling sponsors. Fans of David versus Goliath will applaud every single point these guys earn, but there has to be a better way to make a living than this.
The king of the have-nots today, however, was Hectic Hector Barbera, once again propelled by Ducati power for Avintia after a year and a half away from Pramac Racing. Not only was he the top Open class finisher today, but his 11 point, fifth-place finish, on top of the three points he had earned all season before today, represent an almost incalculable increase of 366%.
That, my friends, is some racing. A day of functionality in a season of despair.
The Road to Sepang
The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were the big losers today, Marquez coming back to the pack while Pedrosa dropped from a tie for second for the season to fourth place. We will be traveling to Malaysia this coming week to keep an eye on things at Sepang next weekend, posting a few extra bits between now and then on Facebook (www.facebook.com/MrBruAl) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/mrbrual).
Unlike Phillip Island, Sepang is a very Honda-friendly place, and we look for Marc and Dani to get back some of the mojo they left behind in Australia. But Rossi and Lorenzo, each having now won twice this season, both believe they can compete with the Hondas, so it promises to be an exciting “penultimate” round of racing. Watch this space during the coming week for news and views from the self-styled Land of Adventure.
|2014 MotoGP Phillip Island Top Ten Results|
|1||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||–|
|2||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+10.836|
|3||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+12.294|
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+14.893|
|5||Hector Barbera||Avintia Racing||+30.089|
|6||Alvaro Bautista||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+30.154|
|7||Scott Redding||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+30.158|
|8||Hiroshi Aoyama||Drive M7 Aspar||+33.166|
|9||Alex de Angelis||NGM Forward Racing||+33.577|
|10||Nicky Hayden||Drive M7 Aspar||+34.144|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 16 Rounds|
|6||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha *||117|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|