I’m like one of them gypsy fortune-tellers sometimes…
Say what you want about the spectator facilities at Phillip Island (and I have, at length), that racetrack tends to throw up some of the most magnificent motorcycle racing the world has ever or will ever see.
And that’s exactly what happened.
It was a race which, as Crutchlow observed after finally beating Iannone to the line for fifth, “Is what MotoGP is all about.”
Cal might not know much, but he sure does get that.
Qualifying and practice was subject to the usual weather vagaries of the island. It was sunny, it was windy, it was wet, it was damp, it was dry, it was sort of dry…it was what it says on the Phillip Island box, ie. “You don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes”.
And when they lined up on the grid, it looked like the championship, as far as Dovizioso was concerned sitting way back in eleventh, was going to be Marquez’s to lose. Dovi makes no secret of not liking the track all that much and it showed.
Marc was on pole, again. Beside him sat Vinales, who looked like he had found some of the form he’d been missing since the start of the season, while Zarco sat ominously in third, three-tenths of a second shy of Marquez’s time, and a scant two-tenths ahead of Iannone, who appeared to have finally found the Suzuki’s sweet spot, and was perched in fourth. Miller had obviously been incentivised by his recently broken leg and an ebullient home crowd was sitting in fifth, just ahead of KTM’s Asparagus brother.
Rossi was sixth, and Aprilia’s Asparagus completed Row Three along with a confused-looking Brad Smith.
Lorenzo, who’d had a very fast get-off in Practice and who’d been seen limping along on crutches because his knee had been turned into porridge, was back in 16th, having been out-gunned by Rabat, Rins and young Abraham – a bloke who actually doesn’t even get paid to race.
ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 0.644
ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 0.817
ESPARGARO Aleix 41 SPA Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 0.885
SMITH Bradley 38 GBR Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 0.935
CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR LCR Honda 1.043
DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA Ducati Team 1.110
PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA Repsol Honda Team 1.160
RINS Alex 42 SPA Team Suzuki Ecstar 1’29.824 Q1
RABAT Tito 53 SPA EG 0,0 Marc VDS 0.501
ABRAHAM Karel 17 CZE Pull&Bear Aspar Team 0.615
LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA Ducati Team 0.739
BAZ Loris 76 FRA Reale Avintia Racing 0.878
PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA Octo Pramac Racing 1.125
BARBERA Hector 8 SPA Reale Avintia Racing 1.197
REDDING Scott 45 GBR Octo Pramac Racing 1.460
PARKES Broc 23 AUS Monster Yamaha Tech 3 1.543
BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA Pull&Bear Aspar Team 1.554
LOWES Sam 22 GBR Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 1.812
Marquez led a fearsome charge into Turn One, but it was Miller who came out of Southern Loop in front – and then began to gap the field.
If the Australian crowd was permitted to light flares, tear off clothing and set fire to tents, like they do in Italy, France, or Spain, this is when that would have happened.
A bloke with a broken leg was leading his home MotoGP. It was almost worth going to jail for, sick with Tasering and blinded by pepper spray.
Marquez must have been amazed because he faded back a few spots, and Vinales and Rossi began to chase Jack.
Rossi actually caught him, and then there were two blokes with broken legs leading the race.
But then it just got wilder. Dovi had ridden himself back into 20th after overcooking a corner, while Marquez remained in touch with the lead, which was to change constantly, much like the manifold fights for the other two steps of the podium.
Miller led, then Rossi led, then Zarco led, then Rossi, then Zarco, then Marquez, and at times the MotoGP class resembled the Ritalin-free kids of Moto3 and a bar-fight.
Amazingly, only one rider sailed into the vegetables when Asparagus A threw his Aprilia at a passing seagull.
I was astonished and delighted at what was happening up the front. Zarco actually rode his bike into Rossi, leaving the Doctor with tyre marks up the side of his leathers, while Iannone, Vinales, and Marquez hammered away at each other like fiends.
Of course, the only rider banging for a championship was Marquez. It was his to lose, which made his ride all the more astonishing.
He must have known Dovi, his only rival for the title, was back in 12th, fighting it out with Petrucci and Lorenzo for the Slowest Ducati At The Island – which Petrucci finally claimed when he came second-last just ahead of the Tech 3 Yamaha caretaker, Broc Parkes – but it made no difference to Marquez. Like I said. The kid is carved from the very soul of racing.
And it was brutal as hell up the front, as Rossi once again demonstrated there seems to be no end of fight in his 38-year-old body.
But five laps from the end, Marquez began to stamp his authority on both the race and the 2017 title. While the battle raged for the podium, he managed to eke out a bit of a lead, as Rossi fought it out with both Zarco and his own team-mate Vinales for second.
I kept expecting Zarco’s soft-soft tyre combo to finally give up, but the Frenchman has proved to be a master at managing his hoops. It took every bit of Rossi’s decades-forged race-craft and inherent bastardry to keep him at bay, as well as making sure Vinales understood who the number one Yamaha rider still was.
It was certainly a MotoGP race that ticked every box. Old masters and young geniuses, grinding fairings, getting forced wide then recovering for (or from) seemingly impossible overtaking manoeuvres, one bloke chasing a championship but not leaving anything in the dressing room despite his rival being miles behind him…it’s almost impossible to write about what we all saw, lap after searing lap, and I had to watch the race twice just to absorb it all.
And this was after the blistering wet magic that was performed at Motegi the week before.
Great things happen in threes, they say, and while Marquez might be 33-points ahead of Dovzioso now, you’ll remember Dovi won there last year. And there is still one more race after Sepang.
I’ll get another Valium prescription. My doctor’s good like that.
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.
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