From a history maker of a Grand Prix at the Twin Ring Motegi, it’s all change as MotoGP now heads down under for the Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, a couple of hours south of Melbourne, is one of the world’s great masterpieces – a flowing ribbon of asphalt perched on the cliffs, where the Gardner Straight seems to disappear into the horizon.
It doesn’t, it becomes the Southern Loop and Stoner Corner and Lukey Heights and every other legendary kink and curve of this legendary racetrack, but the setting is a dramatic one. The racing, too, is often showstopping – with the Island fabled not only for its curves but also for its contests. Some of the greatest races of all time have happened here, and in 2018 the odds say another may well be on the way.
Marc Marquez will be the favourite as we arrive this season. Not only for his seventh crown, wrapped up at Motegi, or even for his stats from the season. It’s not even for his win count at the track, it’s his pace at Phillip Island that widens eyes – with pole position taken so often, it would take a fairly dramatic twist to deny him. Marquez has won some incredible races here – and taken some DNFs – as well as going from 38th on the grid in Moto2 and getting on the podium. The king around here used to be Casey Stoner; now he goes by another name.
The other rider with the top recent record isn’t racing, either, with Jorge Lorenzo out through injury. So that leaves only Valentino Rossi as the other man with a great track record at the Island – including his most recent win in 2014 – but the Doctor also dominated the venue before the arrival of Stoner. Phillip Island could also suit Yamaha a little more than some tracks of late – so can Rossi break that losing streak? Or will it be his teammate, Maverick Viñales, who suffered much more at Motegi but did take a rostrum in Thailand.
So what of the man whose absence on the final laps in Japan was so notable? Andrea Dovizioso’s crash may have assured Marquez the crown, but it also robbed us of another incredible duel. On a more positive note the Italian went out swinging and if the 04 machine crashes out, it usually means one thing: he gave everything. So now Dovi resets to making sure he’ll end the year second overall, and carries on trying to garner as many wins as possible, race by race.
Last year in Australia the race was one of the toughest of the season for Ducati so that may not be here, and some more points and keeping tabs on the Yamahas will be the goal. Rossi lurks within striking distance, but the gap back to Viñales gives Dovizioso a little more breathing space.
The fight to be top independent rider, meanwhile, is beginning to space out a little more too. With his second place at Motegi, Cal Crutchlow moved to 148 points, within seven points of Viñales – and he’s a previous winner at the Island. Behind the Brit, Johann Zarco is on 133 – and Danilo Petrucci has exactly the same, but Zarco remains ahead in the fight by virtue of his podiums. It quite literally couldn’t get any closer, and last season Zarco was tantalizingly close to the podium. Alex Rins is beginning to home in on all three, too, and after another podium he could be a complication for the three ahead of him.
But the home crowd will likely have more eyes for Jack Miller, who had a front row start in Japan and solid pace until crashing out of contention. He’s got form at Phillip Island, and he’ll be aiming to be more than just top independent…
Rookie of the year is also close and Franco Morbidelli is ahead but Hafizh Syahrin took a top ten just ahead of his rival last time out – so there’s plenty life left in that fight. That’s not even everything to look for in Australia – with Alvaro Bautista riding Lorenzo’s Ducati Team machine and a rookie to the GP18.