The second of three grand prix motorcycle championships was decided today as Italian veteran Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the Moto3 title from the top step of the podium. In Moto2, Alex Marquez was unable to clinch the title, but held on to most of his margin, putting immense pressure on his pursuers heading to Malaysia. Over in MotoGP, Marc Marquez won another race. Ho hum.

Embed from Getty Images

Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the Australian Grand Prix Moto3 race, clinching his first world championship in the process.

With Tom Luthi and Brad Binder still mathematically alive in Moto2, the season trudges on. Alex Marquez was unable to get anything going all day, finally finishing eighth, while KTM teammates Binder and rookie Jorge Martin finished one-two and top challenger Luthi third. In other words, short of sailing over the handlebars, Marquez had about as bad a day as one can have in this business and still holds a 28-point cushion with two rounds left. The contest is not as close as the announcers would have you believe.

Embed from Getty Images

Alex Marquez had a lackluster race, finishing eighth behind the riders who still have a mathematical chance of catching him in the Moto2 title chase.

Practice and Qualifying

With a wet FP1 and a dry, surprisingly fast FP2 Yamaha and Maverick Viñales topped the day on Friday, to a resounding “So what?” Yamaha put all four bikes in the top nine, including young Fabio Quartararo, whose F1 highside sent him to the medical center with a bad ouchie on his ankle and which would likely affect him not a whit on Saturday. The Yams were joined by Ducatis and Hondas: Marquez and Cal Crutchlow (Honda), Andrea Dovizioso, Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci (Ducati). The Suzukis were struggling, the Aprilias showing improvement in the dry.

Embed from Getty Images

Fabio Quartararo crashed hard in FP1. X-rays didn’t find any fracturers so he was cleared to race.

Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo had a close encounter in FP2 that folks would be talking about for the weekend. I didn’t hear the post-session comments, but it looked like Lorenzo slowed down on the racing line while MM was on a hot lap and MM brushed him on the pass. Mostly by accident. Any two other riders it wouldn’t amount to much at all. After all, it was Friday. As a footnote, Johann Zarco ended his first day on a 2018 Honda RC213V in P15, ahead of both Lorenzo (Honda) and former teammate Pol Espargaro (KTM). Just sayin’.

On Saturday the weather gods, Arbitrary and Capricious, got involved, wind being their tool of choice, the result being a shambles in the premier class. Moto3 and Moto2 got all their sessions done, barely, but the MotoGP grid basically sat out FP3, after which FP4 was red-flagged, with qualifications were pushed to Sunday. Fabio was limping around all day Saturday trying fruitlessly to avoid Q1; Miguel Oliveira had what the Brits call a “heavy crash” during FP4 that’s gonna leave a mark. Left on the outside of Q2 looking in were some big names – Quartararo first and foremost, along with Joan Mir, Zarco and the KTM machines of Pol Espargaro and Oliveira. All would be sorted out on Sunday.

Embed from Getty Images

Jorge Navarro captured the Moto2 pole, joined on the front row by Brad Binder and Luca Marini.

In Moto2, Sudden Sam Lowes, Remy Gardner, Xavi Vierge and Luca Marini moved on from Q1. The Q2 front row ended up comprised of Jorge Navarro, Binder and Marini, going for a late-season hat trick on Sunday from P3. The second row included Fabio di Giannantonio, Martin (!) and Lowes, with aspiring champion Alex Marquez 7th and Luthi 11th. As to Marquez’ chasers, they would start Sunday, respectively, from P11, P17, P1 and P2. Marquez can afford to let these guys bash each other’s brains in as long as he finishes in the top ten; he does not need to mix it up at the front with Binder.

In Moto3, Can Oncu, Tony Arbolino, Jaume Masia and Tom Booth-Amos graduated to Q2. A wind-chill seemingly in the 30s produced a front row of Marcos Ramirez, a stoked Aron Canet, and another hottie, Albert Arenas with a win and a second in his last two races. Plucky John McPhee (you just know he hates that label) sits dangerously at the top of Row 2 joined by Kaito Toba and LDP, Lorenzo Dalla Porta, the putative 2019 Moto3 world champion, needing only to beat Canet by five points on Sunday to clinch. If Aron Canet were in the NFL playoffs, his team would be down six with a minute left, facing 4th and 47 from their own one-yard line.

Embed from Getty Images

After failing to finish three of the previous four races, Aron Canet put himself into a strong position by qualifying second behind Marcos Ramirez.

Quartararo and a surprising Andrea Iannone passed the Q1 test and were promoted to Q2. With times well off Jorge Lorenzo’s 2013 pole record, the race would start with Viñales, Quartararo and Marquez on the front row, followed by Rossi, Petrucci and Crutchlow. Five of these six would feature prominently in the race. Valentino Rossi, for those of you still paying attention, started fourth, finished eighth, and was a non-factor all day, although not to the extent that Jorge Lorenzo was, starting from P19 and finishing last, over a minute behind teammate Marquez, on the same bike, his nerves and spirit shot full of holes.

The Races

Embed from Getty Images

Aron Canet crashed out on the third lap while battling in the lead group, effectively ending any chance of catching Lorenzo Dalla Porta for the Moto3 championship.

Moto3 featured your typical 17 bike lead group, the first six finishers within three-quarters of a second of one another. For the suspense to have been sustained to Sepang, after jinxed challenger Canet DNF’ed for the fourth time in five rounds, Arbolino would have had to win the race with Dalla Porta finishing no higher than ninth. By about Lap 5, with those two positions essentially reversed, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. So we watched everyone go round and round and absorbed another over-the-top podium celebration, par for the course for first-time winners. For all winners in this sport, come to think of it.

In Moto2 the two KTM factory machines found some love in the long, sweeping turns in Australia and won going away. Marquez spent his entire day mixing it up with the likes of Lorenzo Baldassarri, Iker Lecuona, Remy Gardner and so on, risking a skittling that could have put a serious damper on his title aspirations. He was fortunate to finish eighth. The conditions will probably be more favorable for him in Malaysia. In my opinion, next week is his first real match point, and I expect he will put it between the white lines.

Embed from Getty Images

Brad Binder and Jorge Martin gave the Red Bull KTM Ajo team a one-two finish in the Moto2 race.

In MotoGP, in what has become a disturbingly familiar scenario, world champion Marc Marquez spent the entire day in second place, dogging the Yamaha race leader and ultimately breaking his heart into small shards on the last lap. In Buriram and Motegi it was rookie stud Quartararo. Today, it was Viñales who had his wings plucked off late in the day, at the time and place of Marquez’ choosing. Viñales panicked once Marquez went through on at Turn 1, asking more from his rear tire than it had to give, and finally lost his grits in Turn 9, gifting second place to Crutchlow and a cheap podium to homeboy Jack Miller, who couldn’t have been more surprised. An early high side from Petrucci created collateral damage for young Fabio and ended his day on the first lap.

Embed from Getty Images

Marc Marquez stalked Maverick Viñales until the final lap before making his move. The Yamaha rider couldn’t recover, crashing out on turn 9.

Premier Class Tranches

After Motegi:

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez. Tranche closed.
Tranche 2: Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, Danilo Petrucci
Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Takaa Nakagami
Tranche 4: Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Joan Mir
Tranche 5: Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Phillip Island:

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Andrea Dovizioso, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller
Tranche 3: Cal Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins, Joan Mir
Tranche 4: Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, Mike Kallio, Johann Zarco
Tranche 5: Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

Are There Any Big Pictures Left?

Sure. Moto2. For about another week.

A Look Ahead: Sepang

Recall what we said a couple weeks ago: Freeze them off in Australia and fry ‘em up in Malaysia. Despite pulling for Alex Marquez to get the monkey off his back next week, I would love to see two or three riders heading to Valencia for the finale within a few points of one another. We’ll have a few thoughts on this and other subjects on Tuesday or so.