MotoGP Australian Grand Prix: agony and ecstasy at Philip Island
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Will we see the youngest ever world champion? Will the rookie take the crown as the best rider in MotoGP? Or will the old guard have something to left to keep the fight for the crown going until the last race in Valencia?
Records were indeed set, but not the way Marc Marquez would’ve wanted it to. First, MotoGP tire supplier Bridgestone came out with a statement that it can’t guarantee that the tires will still perform at their peak level after more than 10 laps. This will force the riders to come into the pits to change tires, or—the more logical approach—to just change their bikes. (The sport rarely uses the pit stop option.) Second, the race was cut to two-thirds distance. From 27 laps it was now pegged to run only for 19 laps, with a mandatory pit stop for everyone at lap 9 or 10. This call was made for the safety of the riders. The circuit management had re-surfaced the track and the current spec Bridegestone tires lose grip after running 10 laps or more. Rain was also predicted to fall, which caused additional apprehension amongst the teams.
Defending champion Jorge Lorenzo who, the day before obliterated the previous pole lap record with a time of 1’27.899, started in first place. Championship leader Marc Marquez was alongside him, and crowd favorite Valentino Rossi was third on the grid. Recent Manila visitor Alvaro Bautista was in 4th, Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa was 5th, and Carl Crutchlow rounded up the 2nd row of the grid. The Yamahas of Lorenzo and Rossi started on the extra soft front tires with hard rears, while the Repsol Honda pair started on soft fronts and hard rears. (In MotoGP, teams can use different tire compounds for front and rear.)
With the 31,500 fans in attendance at Philip Island, the riders took to the grid. As soon as the lights went out, Lorenzo made a cracking start, out dragging everyone into turn 1. Rossi in 3rd was gobbled up by Marquez and Pedrosa, as both Hondas were able to gain a tighter entry into the corners and seemed to have better stability under braking.
Lap 1 saw Lorenzo leading Marquez and Pedrosa, while Rossi was fighting with both Crutchlow and Bautista for 4th. This went on for a few laps, until Jorge seemed to have missed a gear, enabling Marquez to catch the race leader and pressure him to no end. On lap 9, Dani Pedrosa was the first amongst the front runners to pit to change his bike, followed by Lorenzo the very next lap. Amazingly, Marquez went past the pit entry to the bewilderment of everyone. Marc seemed oblivious to the number of laps he had run, and when he came in on lap 11, the stewards were already deliberating on his action of missing the designated pit window.
On exiting the pits, Marc came into contact with Jorge before turn 1; Lorenzo was on the racing line and Marc on his new tires just didn’t have enough to fight for the corner. Bad luck was also in store for Pedrosa, who was caught out by the new pit lane entry marker. He was not able to slow down to the required 60 kph before entering the pits, thus garnering a penalty. After rejoining the race, Dani was told to give a place back to his teammate.
Lap 13 saw the stewards talking to the Repsol Honda team at the pit wall. The judgment was that Marc Marquez, the championship leader, would be black flagged (disqualified), thus earning no points in Australia. This decision blew open the fight for the championship. The Yamaha Factory Racing team quickly relayed the information to the race leader, and Jorge was told to push for the win and maximum points.
Lorenzo was in a class on his own up front, and left the rest of the field to fight among themselves for the remaining steps on the podium. Jorge Lorenzo crossed the finish line ahead of Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi.
At the post race interview, Jorge was asked, “18 points between you and Marc in the championship now, does that mean it will go down to Valencia do you think?” He replied,“We hope, we hope, but these guys are so fast so finishing in 2nd place is also difficult.”
Marquez still leads the championship standings with 298 points. Lorenzo is 18 points back at 280, while Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa is at 3rd with 264 points. With 50 points to play for in the final two races, all three riders still have a chance of winning the championship.
The teams now make their way to the twin ring Motegi circuit in Japan for the Grand Prix of Japan on October 27.
Will the Repsol Honda team win the championship at their home track? Or will it all be decided in Valencia in front of the rabid Spanish fans? Whatever the result, it sure to be a season for the record books.
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