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MotoGP Philip Island: Special names, special tyres, special track




Just days after the 2016 World Champion was decided, the paddock has unpacked on the shores of the Pacific for the Australian Grand Prix at the breathtaking Phillip Island Circuit.

The island itself is simply stunning and as a race track it is truly unique, there is nothing like it and for that reason, it is a very special stop on the MotoGP calendar.

The circuit boasts fast corners, elevation changes and a fast straight that makes you think you’re heading out to sea before coming to a stop as you twist and turn your way around the tarmac ribbon that hugs the coast. There are a couple of hard braking points such as the tight Honda corner at turn four and MG corner at 10, both of which are key overtaking points along with Doohan’s turn one after the long Gardner straight and the fast turns of seven and eight.


Because of it’s positioning the track is incredibly susceptible to the weather and it’s perfectly normal to experience all four seasons in one day, so the riders and teams will need to be prepared for anything to happen. It’s also vulnerable to strong winds that come off the Bass Strait, and they’re normally quite chilly! These winds do pose a problem because in the high-speed corners they make the bike feel heavier, which makes the change of direction difficult.

Stability will be the key part of the bike setup this weekend, particularly as the riders spend so much of their time cranked over on the side of the tyre. The strong winds can also cause wheelie issues, so wings will probably be out in full-force but there have been issues with them at the Island before, such as when Dani Pedrosa nearly crashed following along behind Iannone in the “bubble” they create, so make sure to keep an eye on them this week.

Michelin Philip Island MotoGP Tyre

Because stability will be so vital at Phillip Island, Michelin have continued their development and brought a special compound that will only be used at the Australian circuit. The track is an abrasive one so it will need to stand up to those demands, while still battling against whatever the weather throws at it. Both front and rear slicks will be asymmetric boasting a harder left side, with soft, medium and hard for the front (of which only the medium is symmetric) and medium and hard for the rear. Wets might get a bit of running if the current forecast is correct (let’s hope it isn’t) and intermediates could even make an appearance.


Speaking of special appearances, this weekend is going to be a very important one. Dani Pedrosa is still out injured and at Phillip Island, he will be replaced by the MotoGP Legend that is Nicky Hayden. Yes, you read that correctly; Nicky Hayden will be donning his Repsol Leathers (probably not his old ones..) once again and partnering the new World Champion Marc Marquez. Exciting isn’t it?

Speaking about his second comeback this year Hayden said: “it’s a chance, 10 years after winning my World title, to get back to my old ‘Dream Team’.. there was no way I could say no.” Now I’m not saying he’s going to win on Sunday but don’t be too surprised if he’s right up the sharp end once he’s settled himself on the Honda.


There’s more than one stand-in for Australia as Hector Barbera will once again replace the injured Andrea Iannone at the Factory Ducati team, while he, in turn, will be replaced by Australian Mike Jones, who was incredibly excited to be racing at home in “since it’s my home Grand Prix there will be a lot of support.. I know the circuit, so hopefully, things will go a bit smoother this weekend”.

With Jones’ second MotoGP appearance, there will be two Aussies on the Premier Class grid at Phillip Island for the first time since 2009 (Stoner and Vermeulen). The second this year obviously being Assen winner Jack Miller, who returns home as a MotoGP winner for the first time. The Australian rider is finally back to fitness and is looking forward to the weekend “it will feel extra special this year going back as a MotoGP winner”.

But while it will be exciting for the Aussies, the Australian Grand Prix is going to have quite a strange feel for the Yamaha riders, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo as they now only have the battle for second to focus on. Lorenzo enjoys the track and is definitely aiming for a win on Sunday but admits “Phillip Island is going to be a bit strange because the fight for the championship is over”, while his team-mate Rossi is also ready for a fight back to the top after what he calls “a very bad season, our worst season on paper” and hopes that the weather will play ball because in his words “if it’s cold it can be dangerous”. The two riders are both desperate to be the one who ends their time as team-mates on top. If they are in the same space on Sunday, and I expect they will be, things could get a little feisty.


Another person who might have all guns blazing is the new World Champion Marc Marquez. He’s been in sensible mode for so much of the season and that’s led to people lamenting the lack of the “old Marc” but the Spaniard admitted in Motegi that his alter-ego might be making a few more appearances now the championship is secure and it just so happens that Phillip Island is one of his favourites.

Aside from the Hondas and Yamahas, you’ll want to keep your eyes on Suzuki. The Australian circuit should suit their bike, and in particular Maverick Vinales, he expects to be competitive and if he’s not stood on the podium he won’t be happy. Which is pretty much how his team-mate Aleix Espargaro felt in Japan last weekend after missing out on a top-three finish. He wants a podium with Suzuki before he leaves, so if the track suits their bike as well as they think it will, both should be very competitive.


Ducati as always will pose a threat, this time with Andrea Dovizioso, although Dovi doesn’t really like Phillip Island. But the Italian has had a confidence boost after a podium at Motegi and as he said “last year I probably had my worst race in the entire championship” he’ll be wanting to put that right this time around.

While 2015 may have been one to forget for Dovizioso, for those at the front (and everyone watching) it was one of the most incredible races in recent memory, with some even dubbing it the “Race of the Century”. High praise indeed, but boy did it deserve it. The battles between Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Iannone (minus the seagull) were simply breathtaking and impossible to look away from.

Will we see the same this year? I hope so. Tyres will play their part as they always do at Phillip Island and with it being Michelin’s first visit they’ll be under intense scrutiny. The weather could make or break the weekend, and there’s an American and two Aussies ready to impress as well.

With the Yamahas at war, the new King of MotoGP ready to let loose and the Suzukis ready to get stuck in, anything could happen when the lights go out on Sunday afternoon.


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World SBK Assen: Rea holds off home hero van der Mark for race one victory




At the historic and iconic Cathedral of Speed, Alex Lowes started off strong taking his first ever World Superbike pole position.

Unfortunately for the Brit his good fortune didn’t carry through to the race, as he continuously fell back through the pack and into 12th due to a mistake with tyre fitting; his R1 was fitted with a ‘C’ compound tyre, when it should’ve been fitted with a ‘B’.

While Lowes fought furiously with his Yamaha, his fellow countrymen were fighting up the sharp end.

Jonathan Rea took an early lead, but home hero Michael van der Mark was on his tail, eventually taking the lead on lap eight. We all know that Rea isn’t one to lay down and take it though, and he regained the lead on lap ten to control the race pace and bring home his 12th win at the Dutch track.

However, van der Mark managed to stay with the reigning champion, and also managed to stay within a second of him over the line to finish second.

Towards the end of the race Chaz Davies began to pile on the pressure but dropped off towards the end to settle for third.

And now for some breaking news – Tom Sykes actually passed someone. Actually passed several people. Yes, you did read that right.

He muscled his way past Xavi Fores, who has so far impressed, and Marco Melandri, who is usually difficult to pass. Sykes even tried to pass Davies for third, but had to settle for fourth and pole position for race two.

There’s still a lot of talk around the new rules, and it’s clear that they are starting to make a difference. By regulating the entire field, there is no one bike that has an outstanding advantage as Kawasaki did last year. If anything, Kawasaki are suffering compared to Ducati, who seem to be making the most of the new rules. Although it’s great to see Kawasaki, Ducati (both factory and independent) and Yamaha fighting at the top, something still needs to even the field more for the other teams who are so desperately fighting to catch up.

World Superbike race one:

  1. Jonathan Rea – Kawasaki Racing Team – 33:40.360
  2. Michael van der Mark – Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team +0.981
  3. Chaz Davies – Racing Ducati +1.282
  4. Tom Sykes – Kawasaki Racing Team +1.413
  5. Xavi Fores – Barni Racing Team +8.625
  6. Marco Melandri – Racing Ducati +14.903
  7. Loris Baz – Gulf Althea BMW Racing Team +17.301
  8. Leandro Mercado – Orelac Racing VerdNatura +21.482
  9. Jordi Torres – MV Agusta Reparto Corse +21.938
  10. Toprak Razgatlioglu – Kawasaki Puccetti Racing +24.939

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MotoGP COTA Preview: Is Marquez still the lone star in Texas?




For round 3 of the 2018 MotoGP season, the riders and their trusty steeds have touched down in Texas, where the Circuit of The Americas is hosting the “horsepower rodeo” for the 6th year.

The city of Austin proudly proclaims to keep it weird and the track itself is certainly unique, mainly because it isn’t. When Herman Tilke designed COTA he deliberately took some of the best aspects from circuits worldwide to combine them into 5.5km of long sweeps, sharp hairpins, one of the longest straights, hard braking, both low and high-speed sections, quick changes of direction and an elevation change of 41 metres.

COTA is hard, both physically and technically, and it’s fast. It pushes both rider and bike to their limit in one of the most demanding stops on the calendar.

There is one possible upside this year though. The bumps that have plagued Austin thanks to cars that also call it home have been ground down in many areas. The surface should now be smoother, but what that will actually mean, especially for tyres, remains to be seen.

The track starts demanding absolute commitment from the riders at turn 1, which sits atop the hill at the end of the start-finish straight. With riders braking uphill it pushes suspension to its limit, but there’s not much they can do about that without seriously affecting their performance in the rest of the circuit. Making the corner itself can prove tricky; turn too soon and you hit the kerb, turn too late and you can find yourself pushed wide (you’ll see the runoff here get plenty of use this weekend).

From there the circuit starts to wind it’s way back down through a mix of fast changes of direction before they hit the hairpin of turn 11 that leads onto the fast back straight. They then hit the hardest braking zone on the circuit at turn 12, which will see riders enter at 339km/h before braking over 322 metres in 6.3 seconds to reach a final entry speed of just 67km/h.

It’s then briefly back to changing direction again, before a longer sweep through turns 16, 17 and 18, before the two final left-handers take you onto the front straight for an uphill climb to the line.

Another change this year is the race distance being reduced by 1 lap. It might not sound like much but with fuel consumption already on the limit for some teams, every little helps, and it could make tyre life a little less critical as well.

Since Austin arrived on the calendar Marc Marquez has been its lone star

With the surface being a bit of an unknown ahead of this weekend, how the tyres will perform is uncertain but slicks will be in the usual soft, medium and hard compounds, with the rears being asymmetric with a harder right side. Hopefully, we’ll avoid any rain after Argentina (although Saturday looks a bit iffy), but wets will be in soft and medium, with the rears again being asymmetric.

Texas is known as the Lone Star state and one thing is certain; since Austin arrived on the calendar Marc Marquez has been its lone star. On paper it looks similar to the weekend in Argentina.. if anyone is going to beat Marc Marquez, it’ll probably be Marc Marquez. Of course, we all know how that ended.

Marc has won the last 9 MotoGP races in the USA, plus the two races he won in Moto2 before that. At COTA he has always been on pole, with the only US pole position missing from his collection coming at Laguna Seca in 2013, which was taken by Stefan Bradl.

Ahead of this weekend, he obviously feels confident in his abilities and carries forward a good feeling with the bike from Termas 2 weeks ago. The closest rival he’s had at COTA was his team-mate, Dani Pedrosa, last year, but this time out it’s pretty unlikely that will be repeated.

Dani broke his right wrist after crashing on a wet patch during the last race and underwent surgery back in Barcelona where he had a screw fitted in his radius. Since then he’s undergone some physio and he’s decided it’s worth his time to travel to Texas and see what he can do. There aren’t really any tracks that are ideal for coming back less than 2 weeks after breaking your wrist, but if there were, Austin wouldn’t be one of them. How he’ll feel on the bike will only be discovered on Friday morning, but it’s going to be a tough weekend for Dani stateside.

In Argentina, it was Cal Crutchlow that took Honda to the top step and there’s every reason to expect him to be just as strong this time out. Last year saw the British rider cross the line in 4th and with him leading the championship he’s going to have all the motivation he needs to secure another strong result. As he said in Parc Ferme, don’t doubt him.

Also on the podium in Termas was Johann Zarco, who will be hoping to repeat the feat and if possible, take that first MotoGP win, which is surely just around the corner for the Frenchman and his Yamaha M1. Alex Rins rounded out the top 3 for Suzuki, and COTA is one of his favourite tracks, although last year didn’t go so well, with Alex crashing out and injuring himself, which then ruled him out for a large part of the season. This year he’s fully fit and with both him and the bike performing better, it should be another good weekend for him. Of course, the Hamamatsu factory will be hoping that their other rider Andrea Iannone will also start to find his feet this weekend.

When it comes to finding a good footing, no-one needs that more than Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati. It has not been a good start to the season for the Spaniard, who has taken just 1 point from the first two races. He has taken two podiums at COTA in the past, but right now his focus needs to be on finding a way to make the GP18 work for him.

All the riders face a challenge in Austin

On the other side of the Ducati garage is Andrea Dovizioso who summed Austin up simply as “a really nice track but rather a difficult one”. Marquez’s issues in Argentina helped Dovi in terms of points but this weekend he’ll be hoping to be far more comfortable and get his pace back. I fully expect him to do so and Dovi should be right at the front again in Texas.

In Argentina, Ducati was mostly represented by Jack Miller who took an extraordinary pole position before being abandoned on the grid, leading numerous laps and finally finishing 4th. His team-mate Danilo Petrucci struggled but both Pramac riders will be looking for good form at COTA.

Then there’s the factory Yamahas. Vinales salvaged 5th in Termas but this season is the first time since 2014 that there’s been no Yamaha win in the first two races. Maverick likes the layout of COTA and after crashing out of the race last year, he wants to start turning the season around, “we can’t afford mistakes. We need to fight for the victory with all our strength”. A win could be a lot to ask, especially if Marquez is firing on all cylinders on Sunday, but a podium would be a very good way to end the first flyaways of the year.

Valentino Rossi secures his first front row start since 2016

For Valentino Rossi, Argentina never really saw him threaten the front group but while he acknowledges the difficulties of Austin he enjoys being Stateside. Valentino has his focus on the setup of his bike and working towards improvements with his team. While he may not have won on US soil since 2008, he has taken 2 podiums finishes at COTA, which he’ll fight to repeat on Sunday.

All the riders face a challenge in Austin. Setup will require a compromise between agility and stability. Aero could be back as a concern. How the surface will perform is unknown, so tyre life is uncertain. Riders will be pushed physically just as much as their teams and bikes will be technically.

We’re 2 races into 2018 and already we’ve had 6 different podium finishers. Crutchlow leads the championship with 38 points, which is the lowest total for the leader after 2 races since the current points system was introduced. The top 15 is covered by just 33 points, again the lowest with this points system. And only 10 riders have scored points in both of the previous races.

MotoGP is on top form and in Austin this weekend, we’ll see some more incredible racing before finding out who will head to Europe as top gun.

I feel the need, the need for speed.

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