Australian GP, Phillip Island – Raceday roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
The drought is over. 25 races since their last win – taken by Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) at the TT Circuit Assen last season – Yamaha were back on the top step at the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix as Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) brought an end to their losing streak in imperious style. His first win since Le Mans 2017 saw him take the flag 1.5 seconds clear of second place Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar), with Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso taking his first podium for the Borgo Panigale factory at Phillip Island.
As the lights went out it was Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) who got a lightning launch from P8 to head around the outside and lead into Turn 1, but the Italian then ran off at Turn 2 to end his charge. However, fellow Alma Pramac Racing rider Jack Miller took advantage to take the lead of his home Grand Prix at Turn 4 – a rinse and repeat of 2017 for the Aussie.
Pole man Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) slotted in behind Miller with Iannone third, but heading into Turn 1 on Lap 2 it was all change: Marquez took over the reins of the freight train, with Dovi slotting into second, Iannone third and Miller pushed back to fourth. The swapping and changing at the front begun with the fast and sweeping Phillip Island circuit keeping the riders in close pursuit of each other. The racing was hard but fair under glorious clear skies.
Close then became too close for Marquez and Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), however, as the duo headed into the braking zone at Turn 1 on Lap 6 and Zarco hit the back of the number 93, causing the Frenchman to lose control and crash at roughly 300kph. Zarco’s bike also severely damaged the back of Marquez’ Honda and subsequently, the 2018 Champion retired from the race. Thankfully, Zarco walked away from the incident uninjured.
This left Dovi leading from Miller and Iannone but then Viñales began to make his move. Starting P2, the Spaniard didn’t get a good getaway and was as low as tenth at one stage, but on Lap 8 he made what would turn out to be his race-winning overtake at Turn 4. Maverick then took off in true Top Gun style and within a lap had created a 0.8 second lead.
The number 25 was in the groove and looked like he was on rails around the Island. Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) was leading the chase before Iannone then took the baton, but the Suzuki man ran wide at Turn 4 and dropped to the back of the quartet. Alvaro Bautista (Ducati Team) was taking no prisoners on his one-off Ducati factory ride, with he and teammate Dovi also taking it in turns to try and reel in Viñales. But no matter who it was out of the four, no one could match the Spaniard’s superior pace – the gap was 1.9 seconds on Lap 13, and grew to four seconds by Lap 21.
Rins got the better of Rossi on the final lap to claim a fourth consecutive top five finish; ‘The Doctor’ forced to settle for P6 after heading wide on the last lap. Miller would bring his Ducati home in a solid P7 and as the leading Independent Team rider – the Australian just 6.7 seconds from the win – with Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) earning his best result in the premier class so far in P8 to take charge in the Rookie of the Year Championship. Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) crashed out of the top on Lap 19 at Turn 4. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was able to beat Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Bradley Smith by a whisker in two great results – with 0.036 separating the duo at the line in P9 and P10 respectively – despite the Spaniard getting hit in the hand by some debris following the Zarco-Marquez incident.
11th was Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Team) in the Czech rider’s best result of the season, with Petrucci recovering to P12 at the flag. Scott Redding (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Xavier Simeon (Reale Avintia Racing) completed to points in P13, P14 and P15 respectively – the latter earning his first point-scoring finish of the season.
A fantastic and faultless ride from Viñales means Yamaha have won their first Grand Prix race in 490 days. Can this launch the Spaniard into an end of season onslaught for second in the Championship? Or will Rossi and Dovizioso hold him off? Next up is Malaysia and the last of the flyaway races to give us the penultimate piece of the 2018 puzzle.
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) claimed his third win of the season as he took the chequered flag by just 0.036 from second place Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) at the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, with Xavi Vierge (Dynavolt Intact GP) snatching a podium away from Augusto Fernandez (Pons HP 40) at the line by an even smaller 0.008. The brilliant battle on the Island in the intermediate class saw neither Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) or Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) challenge at the front, and the Championship rolls on to Malaysia.
There was drama before the race had even begun as P2 on the grid Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) encountered a problem with his bike and although he eventually got it going, the German had to line up at the back of the grid. As the lights went out it was pole man Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) who launched well to grab the holeshot, but Vierge soon cut his way through to the lead from P3 on the grid, with Binder, Iker Lecuona (Swiss Innovative Investors) and Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) slotting in behind.
Pasini’s race wouldn’t last long though, a crash at Turn 4 on Lap 2 for the Italian ended his hopes of a second podium of the year. Meanwhile, Bagnaia had initially made significant progress from P16 on the grid to get as high as P6, but the Championship leader soon dropped back to outside the top ten, along with title rival Oliveira.
Back at the front, a lead group of eight had formed. Lecuona was looking strong but the young Spaniard then crashed out at Turn 2 on lap 7 and then, looking good for a home round rostrum challenge, Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing) lost the front at Turn 10 lap 13 – heartache for the Australian.
The lead was chopping and changing lap by lap, particularly between Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP 40) and Vierge. With five to go, it was a group of six at the front, all of which looked menacing. However, Baldassarri’s race would end prematurely at Turn 10 after the Italian got his Kalex machine out of shape under braking and went down and out of contention. And so, heading onto the last lap, there were five riders in contention. Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) made a sweeping move to go from fifth to third at Turn 1 as Binder led the way from Mir, and Turn 4 then saw Marini run wide and out of podium contention, with Fernandez and Vierge also getting out of sorts on the exit to leave the battle for the win between Binder and Mir.
Mir wasn’t close enough at his particular strong point: Turn 10, but on the exit of Turn 11 Binder lit up the rear of his KTM. A run to the line then followed but the South African had just enough edge out the Spaniard – the 2016 and 2017 Moto3™ Champions going head-to-head and Binder coming out on top. Vierge won the race to the line with Fernandez to complete the podium, with Marini taking P5. Aegerter would eventually finish 2.4s from the win in sixth after being in the leading group throughout, with Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) P7 after being unable to cling on to the front runners. 2018 European Moto2™ Champion Jesko Raffin (SAG Team) earned a top P8 at Phillip Island – a very solid ride from the Swiss rider at a track at which he’s got a good record.
Schrötter produced a phenomenal comeback ride to end the Australian GP in ninth, with Fabio Quartararo (MB Conveyors – Speed Up) rounding out the top ten. Then came the two title protagonists: Oliveira P11, Bagnaia in P12. A strange race for both as neither could penetrate the top ten, and the Championship moves onto Malaysia with Bagnaia holding a 36-point advantage.
Tetsuta Nagashima (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Sam Lowes (Swiss Innovative Investors) and Edgar Pons (MB Conveyors – Speed Up) complete the points in a top 15 that was separated by 14.076 seconds – the fifth closest top 15 in Moto2™/250 history.
So the Moto2™ riders Championship continues for another race, but Kalex claimed a sixth constructors title. A second match point for Bagnaia now awaits, can he and Oliveira challenge at the front again in at Sepang? Find out next weekend.
Albert Arenas (Angel Nieto Team Moto3) has taken his second Grand Prix win in stunning style in the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, timing it to perfection to stay ahead over the line in one of the closest top fifteen finishes of all time. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) took an impressive second after fighting back from outside the top fifteen on the grid and kept his title hopes alive, with Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) completing the podium in only his second ever Grand Prix as he replaces the injured Nicolo Bulega. If you’re looking for the names of key title contenders Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP), they were off the podium – Martin in fifth and Bezzecchi not finishing after another dose of huge bad luck for the Italian as he got collected in a crash.
As the lights went out under the Phillip Island sun, it was Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Skull Rider) who got the perfect launch from the second row to take the holeshot, but he didn’t hold the lead long as Philipp Oettl (Südmetall Schedl GP Racing) pounced at Stoner Corner and Martin then repaid the favour not long after. First time down the Gardner Straight, however, the power of the KTM fought back and Rodrigo was back in the lead.
Meanwhile Marco Bezzecchi had made up a few places from his more difficult P15 starting position, and the front group remained a long freight train so the Italian was still in the fight. But it was Martin in the lead, the main he trailed by a single point coming into the race, and there was work left to do for the Italian. Slowly making his way forward, he was soon within striking distance of Martin and with 16 to go Bezzecchi went from seventh over the line to the lead within a handful of corners.
Five or six wide through Stoner Corner – somehow – it was a true classic in the lightweight class with the top 17 covered by just over a second and a half. That always brings some drama and, in yet another twist, that drama then hit one of the Championship protagonsts: Bezzecchi.
As Gabriel Rodrigo ran out of space between the Italian and Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0), he lost the front. The Italian rider was on the outside and was a pure passenger in the Argentinean’s crash, sending another shockwave through the title fight as he slid out onto the grass and was unable to get back in the race.
That left Martin with a big opportunity to try and extend the gap, but the battle still raged. The freight train remained despite a very brief breakaway for Martin, and there was nothing between those fighting for points and those fighting for the win. Canet had emerged into the lead after some more drama – a huge highside for Marcos Ramirez (Bester Capital Dubai) that then collected his teammate Jaume Masia, and then a crash between Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Tony Arbolino (Marinelli Snipers team) – and the final laps were dawning.
Martin seemed to roll out of it on the final time down the Gardner Straight and a gaggle of riders headed abreast into Turn 1 to start the last lap in style, but it was Albert Arenas who took over on the final lap. That was as Vietti held onto P2 and got attacked by Martin, but the Spaniard couldn’t get through and he headed wide as Fabio Di Giannantonio then capitalised – setting up a drag to the line. As they tucked in and bombed out of the final corner for the last time, Arenas was able to just stay clear as the field snapped at his heels, taking his second Grand Prix win of the season.
Vietti just lost out on second as ‘Diggia’ was able to get past him at the line, and for the Del Conca Gresini rider it’s a big result as he puts himself squarely back into the title fight with those 20 points. Vietti held on to third to take his first podium on only his second ever start, with Martin losing out another place over the line as Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) struck to take fourth. That, at least, was some consolation for Marco Bezzecchi as the gap didn’t grow by a full 25 points.
Canet took P6 ahead of Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing), with Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PruestelGP) and Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) completing the top ten. Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0) was back on song in P11, with Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) one to lose out in the latter stages and taking twelfth after leading early on. Andrea Migno (Angel Nieto Team), John McPhee (CIP – Green Power) and Philipp Oettl completed the points, the latter after some contact with points leader Martin.
More drama than ever once again ripped through the Moto3™ race in Australia, and it’s left us with another shake up in the points. What will happen in Malaysia? Martin arrives on top by 12 points ahead of Bezzecchi, with Di Giannantonio within 20 of the top. Those are the three men who remain in it, and the conclusion could be decided for one or all of them next time out. Tune in next weekend for another incredible lightweight class showdown, this time at Sepang.