Australian GP Roundup

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Was the Australian GP, as some are calling it, the Race of the Century? Well, maybe so. It’s not often you have four candidates for victory all the way to the end. Even less often that Jorge Lorenzo somehow squanders a lead of better than six tenths on the last lap.

But not that seldom that Marc Marquez summons up an incredible single lap.

sually it happens in qualifying, and we’ve seen it often. Most especially at Austin earlier this year, when one bike broke and he had to sprint the length of the pits with just enough time to grab the other one, do an out lap, then set a blistering new track record pole.

He did it again in qualifying at Phillip Island, though without the jogging and the shortage of time. If you get a chance to see the video of his pole lap last Saturday, don’t miss it.

At Turn Four, Honda Hairpin, he has to save the bike by lifting it quickly, dropping his whole body down to the inside. Shoulder-scraping. I’ve spent ages trying to work out if he is doing it in response to the developing crash, or whether he is actually anticipating and forestalling it. Probably the latter.

His next great lap was a masterpiece. Happened to be the last lap of a brilliant race, where he’d led earlier on, but had to return the front position to Lorenzo’s Yamaha when his asymmetric front slick started feeling a bit too queasy. Time to cool down, as he explained.

That he won the race did more than add another little twist to the closest championship battle since … well, I was going to say 2006, when Nicky Hayden finally outpointed Rossi at the last race; but in fact it’s only since 2013, when Lorenzo took Marquez to the last race before ceding victory by only four points.

It had as much to do with the inevitable passage of time, the eventually essential changing of the guard. The old guard clinging on desperately, the new thrusting as desperately to push it aside.

The title battle between Rossi (36) and Lorenzo (28) is past-master revisited and revived, up against the once-young thruster who originally pushed him aside.

The race battle between Marquez (22) and Lorenzo was the same thing, one step younger.

And in the middle of it, the 26-year-old Andrea-Come-Lately Iannone, who has discovered dependability to add to his raw speed, and found a way to make the Ducati do things that his senior team-mate Andrea Dovizioso (29) finds no longer within his reach.

But it’s not even that simple. Older riders may lack the kind of foolhardy daring that allows Marquez to keep falling off, and the instant reflexes that allow him to get the bike back and stay on after all.

In exchange, they have experience, which adds up not just to race-craft but – as Rossi is showing in such abundance – title-craft as well. Valentino has won just four races this year, while Australia was Marquez’s fifth. But he’s miles ahead on points.

All of the other three in that blissful Australian race have had at least one non-finish this year; Marquez has five. Though to be fair to the increasingly less maniacal “Maniac Joe” Iannone, his was a breakdown rather than a crash.

So we have two races left, and the tension keeps rising. The fastest rider, most say, is Lorenzo. In fact, given the right kit, Marquez is actually faster. But the slowest of the three leads the championship.

The changing of the guard, then, is not as straightforward as you might expect.

Stand well back from the barriers. Light blue touch paper, and retire. And for pity’s sake don’t try this at home. 

Words: Michael Scott Photos: Gold and Goose

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By MCN

The voice of motorcycling since 1955