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.

Marc Marquez’s Honda RC213V breaks apart after his crash on Lap 10. Unhurt in the crash, Marquez later accepted full blame, admitting he missed the braking point and instead of running wide decided to lean in even further. He lost the front and slid across the corner into the gravel.

Saturday

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.

Despite the torrential rain and occasional hail, some fans refused to give up their prime viewing spot.

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.

The ominous weather helped shake things up during qualifying, making for an unexpected line up on the starting grid.

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.)

Nicky Hayden and his stars-and-stripes #69 were a much-missed sight on the MotoGP circuit.

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

The miserable weather on Friday and Saturday gave way to a beautiful race day Sunday.

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…”

We tend to rag on our Pal Cal on these pages but Crutchlow deserves credit for winning his second race of the season.

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.

Maverick Vinales continues to impress, scoring his second-consecutive podium and fifth-straight top five finish.

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.

Says Nicky: “I felt like I had the best tires left in that group and that I could win that battle… but then in the Honda hairpin, Jack knocked me down. That’s racing. I didn’t actually see him, I just felt him when it was too late to do anything. But that’s racing, especially in a group like that, where it makes a big difference winning the battle and getting seventh or losing it and finishing out the top 10.”

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 gap behind Valentino Rossi widens as Jorge Lorenzo is now in danger of falling behind his future replacement with Yamaha, Maverick Vinales.

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.

MotoGP’s upcoming ban on wings doesn’t apply to the seagulls that frequent Phillip Island.

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
Pos. Rider Team Time
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
Not Classified
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
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1 Marc Marquez Honda 273
2 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 216
3 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 192
4 Maverick Vinales Suzuki 181
5 Dani Pedrosa Honda 155
6 Cal Crutchlow Honda 141
7 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 137
8 Pol Espargaro Yamaha 117
9 Andrea Iannone Ducati 96
10 Hector Barbera Ducati 84
  • Ian Parkes

    I can understand why you might be grudging with praise for Crutchlow, Bruce, so I’ll just have to chip in here and say that was an absolutely bloody brilliant performance, especially to win so comfortably. When Rossi climbed into second, his enduring star quality shining brilliantly again in the watery sunshine, Crutchlow just went faster. Crutchlow, who some predicted would never push through his own wall of bluster to the podium again, schooled the entire grid. What came through for me is how much the opposite of a boufhead he is in reality. He has consistently made insightful tyre choices right up there with Marquez – but who override their tyres yesterday? Was it Crashlow? No. Marquez. I will concede though, there is a Brit who does deserve a crashy nickname. Sam Lowside.

    • spiff

      Marquez said he didn’t over ride the tire. He said he broke too late, but tried to hold his line.

      • Ian Parkes

        So he braked a bit harder and…

        • spiff

          Fine, you going to get technical? My angle is he over rode the track, the tire was perfect. 🙂

        • Michael Howard

          “… Marquez later accepted full blame, admitting he missed the braking point and instead of running wide decided to lean in even further. He lost the front and slid across the corner into the gravel.”

    • Gruf Rude

      Crutchlow has upped his game on the bike and in front of the mike since the birth of his daughter. Been nice to watch.

      • Old MOron

        It’s very touching, how his face lights up, when he talks about Lucy and Willow.

      • Born to Ride

        “Oh shit, my daughter is gonna grow up and see videos of my shenanigans. Better grow the hell up.”

    • Bruce Allen

      Well said. One more win and he will tie Hayden for career wins. Guy needs a factory ride and a title and I will most def shut up.

      • methamphetasaur

        He did win as many non-MotoGP championships as Hayden but only about half as many wins.

  • spiff

    First, that was an entertaining race, I blame the track. Second, I think Crutchlow bitched long enough to Honda about good parts that they finally gave them to him. My guess is they said “here you go, if you do okay maybe we will give you some next year”. This is partially based on his statement he made about next year in parc ferme.

  • Allison Sullivan

    “Beer sales in the United States were unaffected” …”I always laugh out loud reading Bruce’s MGP coverage. Thanks for another great read.

    • Bruce Allen

      Perhaps I should have them re-name the column “Fun with MotoGP.” And thanks for the kind words.

      • Old MOron

        That was a highly entertaining race, and your commentary is no different. I very much enjoy your irreverent reverence 🙂

    • Born to Ride

      I got a solid chuckle out of “Strongest fifth row in motoGP history”. lol

  • Shlomi

    It’s quite amazing to see Rossi slicing through the field, for the good of the sport I suggest he starts every week from P15. Congrats to Crutchlow for becoming true alien. There are only other 2 riders that can outpace Rossi when he charges from behind MM and Lorenzo. From this week add Crutchlow.

    • Bruce Allen

      So, since there is a limited number of Alien stickers available at any one time, does this mean you are demoting Pedrosa? I’m okay with that if you are, but it still seems like conditions need to come together perfectly for Cal to be competitive. He probably wouldn’t have started from the front row without some luck on Saturday, which is okay, too.

      • Shlomi

        I want to say you read it here first…. Padrosa retires by year end and he is being replaced by Cal. How many time can a man break his bones and come back?

        • Bruce Allen

          This idea makes way too much sense to have a chance. It depends upon #26 retiring, which he should but probably won’t. Seems almost certain that if he does they would promote Crutchlow yesterday. CC and MM would be a frightening combination, working as wingmen until the chips were down, then switching to blades for the last two rounds. Perhaps with Vinales and Rossi sticking his noses in things periodically.

          • Bruce Allen

            What would be great would be if Pedrosa retired and they gave his seat to Miller, since ageism is alive and well in MotoGP. Can you imagine Cal’s press conference response? Too right.

          • Old MOron

            Wow, that would be something to hear. Or would it?
            On the one hand, Cal is known to speak his mind – even if he hasn’t always fully collected his thoughts.
            On the other hand, he very clearly enjoys working with the factory. Would he decry HRC’s preference for young Miller? Perhaps he’s more wily than that. Maybe he would keep his mouth shut, keep the factory parts coming, and try like heck to beat Miller. Personally I prefer to see the battles rage on the track, so I would hope for the latter.

      • Ian Parkes

        “…but it still seems like conditions need to come together perfectly for Cal to be competitive…” You could say the same for Pedrosa, only Cal has made it happen twice as often for the checquered flag, and (potential chicken counting here) could have more points this time next week.

  • JMDonald

    What a great second half of the season for Cal. He rode without making the mistake of crashing out. It’s all part of MotoGP. Nice write up Mr. Allen.

    • Gruf Rude

      Maybe becoming a father has focused him.

      • JMDonald

        Could be. Whatever the reason I wish him well.

    • Bruce Allen

      I just moved my switch to AutoCliche, and immediately went to, “In order to finish first you must first finish.” Cal’s second half has been the best of his career. Didn’t see THAT coming. And thanks as always for the kind words.

  • Ozzy Mick

    Well done Crutchlow, smart riding in the cold conditions, managing his tyres as mentioned in parc ferme. Rossi was at his unbelievable best. I didn’t spot any rear end slides from the Doctor but I recall one year when Stoner was sliding his way around the Island, Rossi acknowledged that only he and Stoner were capable of doing that (at the time).
    It’s an amazing track, not just for the weather variations (4 seasons in one day), but the sweeping corners, blind crests and rubbing eating surface makes for breathtaking viewing.

    • Ozzy Mick

      *rubber eating surface

      • Old MOron

        Aye gorgeous track, and it always delivers good races. Even that “bit of weather” was worth it – from the comfort of my couch.

      • Born to Ride

        You can edit your posts instead of replying to it with an annotation like a text message.

  • Ozzy Mick

    No apologies for not being there, Brucey, I’m sure you appreciate my relief at not being exposed to the conditions that you so graphically described! The “G’DAY BRUCEY” banner that I planned on holding up would have landed in New Zealand by now.

  • Starmag

    Crutch ran a flawless race but would have placed second if MM hadn’t gifted him with a crash. Still, when was the last time any rider on a satellite bike won two races in the same season in the premier class?

    After riding such a great race, he seemingly gave Bruce something to complain about by having the worst helmet hair ever seen on a Motogp podium.

    What I have never seen before was a racer WALKING into Parc ferme instead of riding in. Crutch stopped just before the entrance and his mechanics rolled the race winning bike away only to roll out a bike into Parc ferme a few minutes later. Was it the same bike or his back up bike? Was there something they didn’t want pictures taken of?

    • Old MOron

      Crutch took a different route to Parc Ferme. As a result, he approached from the opposite direction. Rather than try to make a u-turn, he jumped off the bike, and his mechanics took care of it. Those bikes don’t have a lot of steering clearance.

    • Ian Parkes

      Re Crutchlow’s non-standard hair, I’m guessing that’s still an expensive haircut – moptop redux – in same vein as Bradley Wiggins’s mod do. Unless that style never went out of fashion with Manx barbers. Or his wife cuts it, with a bowl.

      • Gruf Rude

        Still better than Nicky’s man-bun or Ianonne’s Mohawk from earlier this year . . . Wait for next year, Dorna will have an ‘appearance regulation’ not only for the fairing at the start, but for the rider’s haircut for all parc ferme appearances. We’ll have beauticians added to official teams . . .

      • Starmag

        His moptop cut is fine, I’m talking helmet hair, where it’s messed up severely from your helmet. This is something I have personal experience with so I noticed Cal’s during his national anthem. It was hilariously bad. I usually notice my own only after leaving a restaurant or some such and walk past a mirror and think, that’s why the other diners were looking at me oddly.

  • Vrooom

    Dang, it even hurt to read you saying Crutchlow firmly in tranche 2 Bruce, though there’s no arguing the facts. What a second 1/2 of the season for him, It’s bizarre how much he improved. Glad Rossi seems to have second wrapped up, barring a catastrophic mistake in the last 2 races. Seeing the diminutive Spaniard and his little pumpkin in first and second would be too much. Hard to explain Lorenzo’s disappearance though, other than just not caring anymore till he’s on a new bike.

  • methamphetasaur

    We all know your opinion on Crutchlow, I’m surprised you didn’t mention his red flag wishes.

  • NielsBohr213V

    Great article!
    Just a small typo *#58 Sic

  • Old MOron

    Hey, where is Bruce’s MOronic preview of Sepang?
    I know he’s not slacking, so somebody else must be 🙂

  • Kos

    Another great write up. And cool you participate so much in the comments!

    I’m putting Rossi’s Gypsy Curse (re the Gibbernau years) on Miller for his antics with Hayden. Hard to excuse. And Hayden was so gracious. Perhaps he would be less so after reviewing video.

    And “pipped” not “pimped”.