Cal Crutchlow took only his second Grand Prix win, after dominating the majority of the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island.
Last year’s race was dubbed the “Race of the Century” so this year’s contest had a lot to live up to, and while it didn’t quite manage that, it did bring some fascinating battles between the riders.
After a disastrous lack of dry track time on Friday and Saturday, Sunday’s morning warmup was crucial for setup and tyre choice, with the polesitter Marc Marquez topping the session, with Rossi and Vinales rounding out the top three.
By the time the riders were lining up on the grid, it was feeling cooler even though the track temperature had actually risen. With the temperatures expected to drop during the race due to the wind and later start time, no-one was sure how the tyres would perform over the 27 laps, but the expected drop-off point was around lap 15.
All of the riders chose the medium rear, with the majority of the grid choosing the soft front tyre, with only Marquez, Crutchlow, Vinales, Aleix Espargaro and Miller opting for the harder front, which only some of them had tested earlier in the morning.
When the lights went out Marc Marquez got a bad start from pole, with his Repsol Honda repeatedly wheelieing as he opened the throttle, in comparison Pol Espargaro who started third had a great leap off the line and led into the first corner, with Cal Crutchlow pushed back to fourth despite a good start.
Pol’s time at the front was short-lived as Marquez took the lead at turn 4, while Aleix Espargaro moved into third a few corners later with a firm move on Danilo Petrucci. At the end of the second lap, Crutchlow passed Aleix on the front straight to get into the podium positions, while further back Jorge Lorenzo, Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi were slowly improving their awful starting positions.
On lap number six Crutchlow moved past Aleix Espargaro as he took the inside line at turn 10, while Rossi was continuing to gain and was now sixth, with Vinales behind him in seventh. It wasn’t until four laps later, though, that things got interesting.
On the tenth lap, Marc Marquez braked too late into the turn four hairpin and lost the front, crashing out of the race and recording his first DNF of this championship winning season. Marc took full responsibility for the crash saying “I took too many risks, it was completely my mistake” and making it very clear that he didn’t blame the tyres for his fall.
Marquez’s error moved Crutchlow into first place and with a healthy gap over Rossi, the British rider was unchallenged in the lead as he then went on to take the win.
In turn, Rossi was secure in second place as the main battle became between Vinales, Aleix Espargaro and Dovizioso for third. The three riders fought in incredibly close quarters, with none of them able to maintain an advantage for very long, until Espargaro crashed out at turn four with five laps to go. This moved Vinales into third place and the podium finishers were decided.
In the last couple of laps, turn four took another victim, this time substitute rider Nicky Hayden, as Jack Miller ran in too hot and nudged the American wide.
As Cal Crutchlow headed to the chequered flag to take his second win of the year, and of his career, he lifted the front to wheelie across the line while the LCR team hung off the pitwall in celebration.
Speaking after the race, Crutchlow admitted that he had been worried when Marquez crashed because they were running the same front tyre. He knew that he couldn’t afford to stop pushing later in the race, despite a healthy gap, because he needed to keep the temperature in the hard front slick. In quite a bizarre sounding strategy that actually makes perfect sense, Crutchlow said that on the laps when the sun was shining he didn’t push as hard, but when the sun disappeared behind the clouds he upped his pace to maintain the heat in the tyre.
For second-placed Valentino Rossi, he had found the perfect setup in morning warmup but simply couldn’t catch Crutchlow who was “too strong” for the Italian.
Similarly, Maverick Vinales in the third place had also stuck with his morning settings and was able to show good pace as he took a back-to-back podium finish after Motegi last weekend. The Spaniard’s success actually has an unfortunate effect on his team as it means Suzuki will lose their concessionary extra engines next season and also their extra testing days with immediate effect.
With this second victory, Cal Crutchlow becomes the first British rider since Barry Sheene in 1979 to score two or more wins in the premier class, while also becoming the first British rider to ever win a Grand Prix on Australian soil.
The MotoGP paddock now packs up and heads to the humidity of Malaysia, for the toughest race of the year and it promises to be an exciting weekend with Marquez keen to make amends, Crutchlow ready to continue his good form and the Factory Yamahas still fighting for second in the championship, but now with Vinales posing an extra threat.
With just two races left of this incredible season, MotoGP hasn’t quite finished handing out surprises.