Today’s Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix had something for every taste and budget. Repsol Honda defending double world champion Marc Marquez, in his season of discontent, laid down an historic last lap to seize the victory from Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo, trailing teammate Valentino Rossi by 18 points coming in, was blessed today by a statement performance from factory Ducati #1 Andrea Iannone who slipped past Rossi one more time on the final lap and onto the podium, trimming Rossi’s lead over Lorenzo to 11 points heading to Sepang.
One of the problems with MotoGP over the past decade is that the races were often non-competitive high-speed processions. A second problem has been the title often being decided with two or three rounds left on the calendar, reducing those races to beauty pageants. No such problems exist in 2015, and neither was relevant to today’s battle. Four bikes were in it all the way through; the results left the championship very much in doubt with but two rounds remaining and the announcers gasping for air.
Saturday’s qualifications produced a front row comprised of Marquez, Iannone and Lorenzo, followed by Dani Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow (strutting his stuff in the former British penal colony) and ROY lock Maverick Vinales on the factory Suzuki Ecstar, with Rossi mired in seventh. As the lights went out, Iannone beat Lorenzo to the first turn – a relief to everyone but Jorge – and took the early lead until Lorenzo flew past him in Turn 8. Iannone came back at Lorenzo on Lap 2, despite colliding with a seagull midway through the lap, littering the racing surface with breakfast cereal – shredded tweet – and punching a fist-sized hole in the Ducati’s fairing. (One shouldn’t consider what might have happened had the overconfident bird collided with Iannone’s helmet, packing the throw weight of a high-speed brick.)
The four riders spent the first half of the race in a tight knot, with everyone but Rossi enjoying some time in the lead. As the riders approached the halfway point, they separated into a Noah’s Ark two-by-two kind of thing, Lorenzo and Marquez the lead pair followed by the two Italians. Things closed back up with three laps to go, thanks in part to a sensational double pass by Iannone, who watched Rossi go through on Marquez, and then blistered past both Aliens into second place. At the end of Lap 25, my notes showed Lorenzo leading, followed by Iannone, Rossi and Marquez, Lorenzo praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe for Marquez to push Rossi to fourth. Which is how Lap 26 ended, setting up one of the great closing laps in MotoGP history, or something equally hyperbolic.
One for the Ages
Early in the final lap, Rossi went back through on Marquez, leaving the Catalan champion in fourth place, Lorenzo’s dream finish and nine point gain intact. Marquez quickly returned the favor, now in third, in time for the following sequence. Marquez goes through on Iannone. Rossi goes through on Iannone. Iannone goes back through on Rossi. Finally, Marquez goes through on Lorenzo very late in the lap, tires shredded, having turned his fastest lap of the race on the final lap. The four riders – three Aliens and Iannone, bucking for promotion – cross the finish line separated by just over one second. Marquez, in a demonstration of things to come next year and beyond, went from fourth place to first in less than a lap, making the two future Yamaha hall of famers look old and slow, respectively. And so Marquez took a turn hammering Lorenzo similar to the way his teammate Pedrosa thumped Rossi in Japan, leaving 11 points separating the two Yamaha veterans with two rounds to go and the Boys in Blue looking suddenly vulnerable at season’s end.
Marc Marquez, for those of you who consider him to have been a flash in the pan, asserted his will on the grid today and was not going to be denied a win (his 50th across all classes). He needed it more for psychological reasons than professional, scoring his first premier class points in Australia. Jorge Lorenzo, who appeared to have things his way early on AND late in the day, ingloriously surrendered five points to Marquez that, before the season ends, he may wish he had back. Iannone will probably be a full-fledged Alien next season, riding the next iteration of Gigi Dall’Igna’s handiwork. And Valentino Rossi – poor old Valentino Rossi, leading the 2015 championship by double digits – gave up fewer points today than his effort justified. Had Lorenzo held off Marquez at the flag, Rossi’s lead would be down to six points, a virtual toss-up in this fascinating 2015 season.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa ended a nondescript weekend in fifth position, nothing like his performance last week in Japan. Vinales tied his best result of the year in Catalunya with an impressive sixth place finish, some 13 seconds in front of veteran teammate Aleix Espargaro in ninth. Crutchlow brought his LCR Honda across the line seventh, followed by Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro. (Pol takes a slightly different approach to the “always beat your teammate” rule, substituting the word “brother” for “teammate.” Which he did again today.) Meanwhile, brother Aleix, focused on whipping his little brother, needs to watch out behind himself, as Vinales trails by only four points. Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Bradley Smith topped off an unproductive weekend by getting tweaked at the flag by Aleix, completing the top ten.
For the record, substitute rider and homeboy Damian Cudlin retired with a mechanical problem on Alex de Angelis’ bike, and Nicky Hayden became the only crasher today on Lap 10. The so-called “race to the bottom,” featuring Ant West on Karel Abraham’s Honda and Toni Elias on the #2 Forward Racing Yamaha, was taken by West, who finished 23rd, two and a half seconds behind Elias.
The Big Picture
As noted earlier, with two rounds left Rossi leads Lorenzo by 11 points, a margin capable of disappearing, or reversing itself, in an instant in the heat and humidity of Malaysia. Marquez and Iannone appear set to finish the season third and fourth, respectively. Pedrosa maintains a seven point lead over Smith for fifth place, the highly motivated Brit still not out of it, even on satellite equipment. Factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso trails Smith by a mere five points, but a disconcertingly poor showing today – 13th place, 29 seconds out of the lead – suggests he may have cashed in his chips for this season, looking ahead to 2016, new tires, and a chance to put young Iannone back in his rightful #2 place. The biggest surprise in the top ten for the season is Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci, a single point ahead of Pol Espargaro for ninth place, and only 10 points in arrears of Crutchlow. Petrucci has a bright future in this sport.
Rumble in the Jungle Next Week
The 747s are winging their way to Kuala Lumpur for another grueling Malaysian Grand Prix. We were there last year, and the equatorial heat is so punishing it’s hard to breathe, much less race motorcycles. The brolly girls will earn their money next Sunday, in stark comparison to the slackers in Assen, who basically just stand around looking delicious.
Rain is always a threat at Sepang, with thundershowers almost every afternoon. If we’ve learned one thing about this season, it’s that Jorge Lorenzo likes things dry and Valentino Rossi likes things wet. We’ll keep an eye on the forecast with the expectation that each will get some of what he likes. Personally, I’d like to see Lorenzo pick up at least seven points again next week, setting up what could be yet another Race of the Year. May the racing gods give us more like today!
|2015 MotoGP Phillip Island Top 10 Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+0.249|
|3||Andrea Iannone||Ducati Corse||+0.930|
|4||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+1.058|
|5||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+5.062|
|6||Maverick Vinales||Suzuki Ecstar||+6.800|
|7||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda||+9.375|
|8||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+18.401|
|9||Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki Ecstar||+20.039|
|10||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+20.657|
|2015 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 16 Rounds|