Sunday’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from a great track after the championship had been decided. Anointed champion Marc Marquez, on the factory Honda, having given a clinic on Saturday to take pole, obliterated the field early, apparently on his way to an easy win. Until Lap 10, when he apparently lost focus, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to the ascendant Cal Crutchlow.
Due to what the locals call “a bit of weather” and visitors often refer to as “a bloody howling gale” practice on Friday was basically a windy washout, FP1 being a scramble and FP2 called off entirely. Which meant that the revised practice schedule and times on Saturday would be crucial in getting through to Q2. The solution would require the use of differential equations.
Whereas the weather on Friday had been impossible, by Saturday it had improved to awful. Marquez, homeboy Jack “Jackass” Miller and the Espargaro brothers peopled the top of the timesheets in FP3. Beer sales in Australia jumped. FP4 featured more rain and a top five of Nicky Hayden, Marquez, big brother Aleix Espargaro on the Suzuki, plucky Loris Baz and Miller the mudder. Beer sales in the United States were unaffected.
After several computer runs, Race Direction concluded the following riders would have to pass through Q1 if they wished to participate in Q2: For the first time since the current format was adopted, The Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, along with Maverick Vinales, Crutchlow, and Bradley Smith, etc.. To make things worse, Lorenzo and Crutchlow took the top two spots in the session, leaving Vinales in 13th and Rossi in 15th and, joined by Smith, producing one of the strongest fifth rows in MotoGP history. There would be some cutting up to do on Sunday. Meanwhile, for the first time, Rossi failed to make it to Q2. Timing, poor luck, karma, slowing synapses, whatever.
Q2 was run in drying conditions with rain expected to arrive mid-session. Tire combinations ran the gamut. The conventional wisdom was that pole would be decided in the first 10 minutes. Interlopers included Repsol Honda’s Hayden, Aprilia’s Stefan Bradl and Pramac Ducati striver Danilo Petrucci. After a single lap on intermediates, Marquez, Miller on the Marc VDS Honda and Petrucci came back in to change tires. Marquez changed over to slicks front and back. As the skies darkened, Marquez went out and ran a series of fast laps, one of the only riders on slicks, ultimately capturing pole by 8/10ths of a second. Moral: With a trophy in your back pocket, you can afford to take a few extra risks. And the rain never arrived.
Marquez was joined on the front row by Crutchlow and Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who pimped Miller and brother Aleix on the last Q2 lap to jump from fifth to third. Row 2 included Aleix, Jackass and Petrucci, the top Ducati qualifier. For the record, Lorenzo and his factory Yamaha limped to an embarrassing 12th place on the grid, slow even on slicks on the final few laps. Lorenzo seems to be saving himself for Ducati, where he will have to re-learn how to ride fast in the rain and perhaps in general.
Hayden is in for Dani Pedrosa this weekend. Dude qualified seventh. Ahead of guys named Dovizioso and Lorenzo and Vinales and Rossi. With no time to learn his way around a bike that loves to throw you into the cheap seats. (Had he podiumed, unlikely as it was, they could have made a movie out of it. Paging Mark Neale.)
Kudos to Dorna for such beautiful helicopter images of the track and the ocean. They call to mind a ground-level photo of #58 Sic on the gas, the air fractured around him, the ocean behind hin, head down, a week before Sepang 2011.
The 2016 Australian Grand Prix
A brilliant sun rose over the windswept beauty of the venue on Sunday, a visual spectacle, while on the track conditions were cold, raw, crisp, brisk, etc., and dangerous. Getting heat into the tires, especially the fronts, was at the front of everyone’s mind. Once the lights went out, Pol Espargaro took the holeshot from third into the early lead, but surrendered it to Marquez at Turn 4, from whence The Champ would eventually crash on Lap 10. Crutchlow found himself sandwiched by the two Espargaros.
My notes on Lap 5 include “Here comes Rossi,” who, at that time, had worked his way from 15th to sixth. The MotoGP version of trying to get to a center seat in a crowded theatre. “Excuse me… thank you… pardon… yes, thanks… sorry… many thanks…”
Crutchlow, now firmly ensconced in Tranche 2, appeared to put second place away by Lap 8 except for the pesky Rossi, who kept picking off riders – Pol Espargaro on Lap 7 to 5th place; Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati on Lap 8 into 4th; Aleix Espargaro on the Suzuki on Lap 10 into 3rd. When Marquez went down, everyone received a promotion, Crutchlow into the lead.
During all of this, Rossi’s future teammate and Alien apprentice Vinales, also on a Suzuki, also starting from the southern end of the island in 13th place, was moving on up to join his current teammate and Dovizioso as they sparred for third. Though unable to attack Crutchlow, Rossi secured second place as the battle for third widened, and Dovizioso found himself between the two Suzukis.
At the end of the day, Crutchlow, Rossi and Vinales stood on the podium. Dovizioso, Pol Espargaro and an irrelevant Jorge Lorenzo, on his way to Tranche 3, trailed, with Scott Redding, Smith, Petrucci and Jck Miller completing the top 10. Yes, Aleix crashed his Suzuki late in the day. Yes, Redding failed to make any real headway in his personal battle with teammate Petrucci for a factory GP in 2017, with Petrucci in the lead, contrary to what I wrote a week ago. Yes, Bradley Smith came out of nowhere, after dawdling in the mid-teens most of the day.
And yes, Nicky Hayden crashed very late, courtesy of a nudge from an oblivious Miller, so intent on securing his own lackluster place today that he would ruin Hayden’s likely last ever MotoGP appearance, at least in factory colors.
Come on, man. You’re racing for, like, 10th place in a season going nowhere, nothing really at stake, right next to a former world champion and MotoGP legend. Give the guy a little space, cosmic or earthly; make up for it later. Hayden has earned your respect. They don’t call you Jackass for nothing I suppose.
The Big Picture, Heading for Sepang
Marquez is STILL the champion. Rossi has now put some daylight between himself and teammate Lorenzo, carrying a 24-point lead for second place into Round 17. Lorenzo, apparently loafing around these days, needs to start worrying about Vinales, who trails him by 11 points and vectoring upward. Or maybe the Mallorcan is beyond worrying.
The injured Dani Pedrosa has fallen to fifth and is not expected to compete in Malaysia, opening the door for Crutchlow, who sits sixth after today’s win and could easily jump a spot next week. Dovizioso trails the Brit by a mere four points and could have his own designs on fifth place. Pol Espargaro appears to have eighth place to himself. Andrea Iannone is expected back next week to defend his 12-point margin over Hector Barbera, who crashed out of both races in which he was allowed to ride The Maniac’s GP16, gaining no ground on the Italian whatsoever. Mike Jones did a very credible job parachuting in for the Avintia Ducati.
From freezing gale to equatorial heat in three days, the flying circus heads off for Kuala Lumpur, where it’s brutally hot and rainy. The track at Sepang has recently been re-modeled and re-paved to eliminate much of the standing water of the type that almost cost Marquez his career, his 2011 hydroplaning practice crash there overshadowed by the Simoncelli events the next day. He would experience double vision for six months, his career in jeopardy. One trusts he will be more circumspect this time around.
|2016 MotoGP Phillip Island Results|
|1||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda||–|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+4.218|
|3||Maverick Vinales||Suzuki Ecstar||+5.309|
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+9.157|
|5||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+14.299|
|6||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+20.125|
|7||Scott Redding||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||+28.369|
|8||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+28.781|
|9||Danilo Petrucci||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||+28.792|
|10||Jack Miller||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+28.815|
|11||Stefan Bradl||Aprilia Gresini||+31.809|
|12||Alvaro Bautista||Aprilia Gresini||+47.734|
|13||Yonny Hernandez||Aspar Ducati||+47.749|
|14||Eugene Laverty||Aspar Ducati||+54.311|
|15||Mike Jones||Avintia Racing||+55.875|
|16||Tito Rabat||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+1:06.395|
|17||Nicky Hayden||Repsol Honda||+1:22.604|
|DNF||Hector Barbera||Ducati Corse||3 Laps|
|DNF||Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki Ecstar||5 Laps|
|DNF||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||18 Laps|
|DNF||Loris Baz||Avintia Ducati||0 Laps|
|2016 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 16 Rounds|