I did say I would need Valium for the Australian round of the MotoGP championship, didn’t I?
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.
- MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA Repsol Honda Team 1’28.386
- VINALES Maverick 25 SPA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 0.333
- ZARCO Johann 5 FRA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 0.358
- IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA Team Suzuki Ecstar 0.551
- MILLER Jack 43 AUS EG 0,0 Marc VDS 0.578
- 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.
MotoGP 2017 – Round 16 – Phillip Island – Race Results
- MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 25 Repsol Honda Team Honda 40’49.772
- ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 20 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha 1.799
- VINALES Maverick 25 SPA 16 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha 1.826
- ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 13 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 1.842
- CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR 11 LCR Honda Honda 3.845
- IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA 10 Team Suzuki Ecstar Suzuki 3.871
- MILLER Jack 43 AUS 9 EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda 5.619
- RINS Alex 42 SPA 8 Team Suzuki Ecstar Suzuki 12.208
- ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA 7 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 16.251
- SMITH Bradley 38 GBR 6 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 16.262
- REDDING Scott 45 GBR 5 Octo Pramac Racing Ducati 21.652
- PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 4 Repsol Honda Team Honda 21.668
- DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 3 Ducati Team Ducati 21.692
- ABRAHAM Karel 17 CZE 2 Pull&Bear Aspar Team Ducati 26.110
- LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 1 Ducati Team Ducati 26.168
- RABAT Tito 53 SPA 0 EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda 26.252
- BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA 0 Pull&Bear Aspar Team Ducati 36.377
- BAZ Loris 76 FRA 0 Reale Avintia Racing Ducati 39.654
- LOWES Sam 22 GBR 0 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini Aprilia 40.400
- BARBERA Hector 8 SPA 0 Reale Avintia Racing Ducati 45.901
- PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 0 Octo Pramac Racing Ducati 48.7682
- PARKES Broc 23 AUS 0 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha 57.711
MotoGP Championship Points Standings
- MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 269 Repsol Honda Team Honda
- DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 236 Ducati Team Ducati
- VINALES Maverick 25 SPA 219 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha
- ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 188 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Yamaha
- PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 174 Repsol Honda Team Honda
- ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 138 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha
- LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 117 Ducati Team Ducati
- PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 111 Octo Pramac Racing Ducati
- CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR 103 LCR Honda Honda
- FOLGER Jonas 94 GER 84 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha
- BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA 70 Pull&Bear Aspar Team Ducati
- MILLER Jack 43 AUS 65 EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda
- ESPARGARO Aleix 41 SPA 62 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini Aprilia
- REDDING Scott 45 GBR 61 Octo Pramac Racing Ducati
- IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA 60 Team Suzuki Ecstar Suzuki
- ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA 49 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM
- RINS Alex 42 SPA 46 Team Suzuki Ecstar Suzuki
- BAZ Loris 76 FRA 45 Reale Avintia Racing Ducati
- ABRAHAM Karel 17 CZE 30 Pull&Bear Aspar Team Ducati
- RABAT Tito 53 SPA 29 EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda
- BARBERA Hector 8 SPA 25 Reale Avintia Racing Ducati
- SMITH Bradley 38 GBR 20 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM
- PIRRO Michele 51 ITA 18 Ducati Test Team Ducati
- KALLIO Mika 36 FIN 11 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM
- LOWES Sam 22 GBR 5 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini Aprilia