This article originally appeared on Late-Braking MotoGP.
Italian 22-year old Lorenzo Dalla Porta, in this, his fifth year in Moto3, will have a first career grand prix match point on his racket this Sunday at breathtaking Phillip Island in southeastern Australia. His mission: extend his current 47-point lead over KTM sacrificial lamb Aron Canet – 20 years old, in his fourth Moto3 season – to 51 heading to Sepang (never mind the tiebreakers) and the 2019 title is his, lock, stock and barrel. If the price is right!
Sure, Marc Marquez has clinched in the premier class again, but there is a rather compelling fight going on for third place, compelling, that is, if you’re not an American, who is barely interested at all about Andrea Dovizioso in second.
In Moto2, Alex Marquez, yes, THAT Marquez, has a 36-point lead, along with the same magic number (51) after Sunday. Depending upon the will of the racing gods, he could clinch this week or find himself in an oh-no dogfight with, say, Tom Luthi, for the title, which once appeared to be his for the taking after so many years of trials, tribulation, etc. Young Marquez NEEDS a win in Australia, and never mind magic numbers or anything else. He needs to take it now or at least kick the starch out of his pursuers, reduce their chances from plausible to mathematical.
The 2016 Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was about what one would expect from this great track after the championship had been decided. Crown 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 another easy win. Until Lap 10, when he apparently lost focus, went to Bermuda in his head for a few moments, pushing harder than necessary, folded the front in Turn 4 and handed the win to an astonished Cal Crutchlow.
Cal was joined on the podium that afternoon by Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales, then employed by Suzuki Racing. As so often happens in this sport, the best contest of the day was the fight for 7th place, won by Scott Redding on the Pramac Ducati, trailed by Bradley Smith, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, the gap from 7th to 10th a full 45/100ths of a second.
Honda’s defending champion Marquez, in a dogfight with Dovi for the 2017 title, survived a crowded, snappish, paint-trading lead group for the win in Australia that made the 2017 championship his to lose. With Yamahas everywhere, and guys like Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone bouncing around like pinballs, it was just another picture-perfect Phillip Island grand prix. The confounding Rossi somehow finished second that day, teammate Viñales third. But landing both factory Yamahas on the podium was cold comfort on the same day the team’s faint hopes for a championship were extinguished.
Last year, despite falling as low as tenth after starting second, Viñales worked his way back up front, going through on Dovizioso on Lap 8 and checking out by around Lap 14. What with Jorge Lorenzo and Crutchlow DNS and Zarco taking out world champion-in-waiting Marquez, and himself, on Lap 6, there ensued a spirited battle for the lower steps of the podium. The contestants included, at various times, homeboy Miller, aging legend Rossi, Suzuki defector Andrea Iannone, and the two factory Ducatis.
That day Viñales was joined on the podium by the dueling Andreas, Iannone on the Suzuki and Dovizioso on the Duc. Finishing an amazing fourth was my personal punching bag Alvaro Bautista who, placing bum on seat of a Ducati Desmosedici GP18 for the first time Friday, threatened for a podium on Sunday. That was a formidable exhibition of riding and versatility. Four riders who would have beaten him were DNS or last seen gingerly leaving gravel traps. But in order to finish first one must first finish, etc. Occasionally I suck, and I apologize. Just quit futzing with your hair all the time.
Hacuna Matata of the Lion King team…wait. No, sorry, Iker (pronounced Eeker) Lecuona (hear the drums?), the up-and-coming 19-year-old Spaniard, having weathered the last two seasons in Moto2 purgatory with KTM, has reportedly been offered the vacant KTM factory MotoGP seat next to Pol Espargaro on a one-year deal, leaving Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder intact on happy Herve Poncharal’s Tech 3 KTM satellite team. In the card game of bridge, such a promotion is known as a “jump shift,” indicative of a very strong hand or, in this case, a very brave young rider, willing to tackle the KTM RC16 mechanical bull. The 2020 bike, according to the same reports, has been made ‘easier to ride’ by input from Dani Pedrosa. Hey, it’s just what I’m hearing. Oh, and for the bike to work right, the riders simply need to get their weight down under 120 lbs.
Young Scott Redding, who I feel I personally ran out of town in MotoGP, causing untold pain and hardship for his family and for which I feel terrible, got some payback this past week by winning the 2019 British Superbike title. Congratulations, Scott, and thanks for verifying the Peter Principal for us, if in reverse, and on your impending promotion to a factory Ducati in the World Super Bike championship, replacing the aforementioned Bautista, who defected to Honda WSBK. Ya can’t tell the players without a program. There are a few MotoGP riders suffering in the premier class who could tear it up in World Superbike. Paging Tito Rabat.
I will defer to some of our more energetic/unemployed readers to summarize, in the Comments section below, recent histories in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. Seriously, I’ve got stuff going on. I’ll be watching Dalla Porta and Canet all weekend; feels like a fait accompli. I need to take a separate look at who will be on what and where for 2020.
Other than Binder and now Lecuona, I’m unaware of anyone else moving up to MotoGP in 2020. Plenty of things going on between teams and classes. With teams on a full-court press for the next three weeks I don’t expect any big news and promise to do a better job going forward in the news department. One reader, Mr. Bashir, especially, is being relied upon (via Comments below) to keep readers up-to-date on goings-on in the KTM world he inhabits and which has so damaged his thought processes.
Rider lineups for both Moto2 and Moto3 will be released on November 11 or thereabouts. Musical chairs in the lightweight bikes is just as much fun as in the big league.
Per Accuweather, conditions at Phillip Island should be typical for this time of year – windy, cold and wet. If Sunday turns up clear, the track will be thoroughly rinsed, hard and cold; out laps could be hazardous. Dry practice time could be at a premium. Brolly girls may be strictly decorative, which is fine. Everybody needs to get paid.
In Moto3 I expect Dalla Porta to clinch. In Moto2 I expect Alex Marquez to not clinch, but to put a stranglehold on the title, clinching at Sepang the following week. In MotoGP, this is the race Marc Marquez generally blows off, either by a careless crash, a DQ or something. I see him finishing from pole with a handful of points, not necessarily on the podium, where I can envision Viñales, Fabio Quartararo and Dovi spraying prosecco on one another after another playing of the Spanish national anthem, three bridesmaids having a bit of a knees-up before returning to the demoralizing chase for runner up.
We’ll be back yet again on Sunday with results and analysis from Down Under. It’s Round 17. These guys are fast. It’s on like Donkey Kong.