The VROOM Blog #AustralianGP – Flippin heck! Johann Zarco finally wins at Phillip Island

 In Blog, MotoGP, News


Hot on the heels of the Indonesian GP, MotoGP was in Australia this weekend. They always say that Phillip Island produces great racing, and while the early stages of the race this weekend looked like that might not be the case on this occasion, the final couple of laps more than made up for the less than exciting start!

Before any racing could take place though, Alex Marquez once again had to face a fitness test before he could participate this weekend – he passed. Would we finally see a full grid for a GP at round 16? No, we wouldn’t. But we’ll get to that later.

There has been lots of talk over the last few weeks about the numbers that riders use. With Pedro Acosta moving up to MotoGP next year, it looks like he will have to switch from his preferred number 37 as his 2024 team mate Augusto Fernandez runs with 37. When they were team mates last season in Moto2, Pedro switched to 51 which presumably is what he will use next season. I always think it’s a shame when a rider has to change their number because someone else has the same, but that’s the way it goes! And its usually first come first served in terms of who gets use of a number, which is probably the only fair way to do it.

Miguel Oliveira and Jorge Martin were also talking about numbers this week, as they are both riders who had to change their numbers when they moved up to MotoGP. Miguel used to run 44, but when he arrived in MotoGP Pol Espargaro was using 44, so Miguel changed to 88 which was the number used by Jorge Martin in the lower classes. They were asked this week if there would be any changes in numbers with Pol leaving the championship at the end of the year. While Jorge said he would quite like to go back to 88, Miguel said he had become quite attached to the 88 as he has had some of the best moments of his career with the number so he may keep it. Jorge didn’t seem too bothered – if he can’t go back to 88, he has his eyes on the number 1 plate…

Jack Miller had a special helmet for his home GP with matching boots and gloves. The helmet included his new baby daughter’s name – Pip – on the back, and the dot above the ‘i’ was a ruby, a nod to his wife.

The Australian GP offered free admission for locals on Friday, which I think is a brilliant idea, and a great way to get more eyes on the sport. There were apparently school trips to the circuit on Friday – I cannot tell you how much I would have preferred a trip to see the superbikes at Knockhill (my closest circuit) over some of the trips we went on as kids!

The freight being transported to Australia from Indonesia was delayed, which meant that teams had less time than usual to get everything set up and ready for the weekend ahead, but everyone was able to be ready for action on Friday morning.

Talking of Friday morning, track action got underway with the 45-minute FP1 session. There was an early crash for Marc Marquez at turn 10 that saw the Spaniard ride his bike back through the paddock and in to the back of the Repsol Honda garage. Alex Rins was also a crasher in the session, with turn 6 catching out the LCR Honda rider.

Jorge Martin topped the session by 0.7 seconds (he put in a soft tyre for his last run) ahead of Augusto Fernandez, Maverick Viñales, Brad Binder, and Johann Zarco.

The crucial 60-minute Practice session on Friday afternoon saw another crash for Marc Marquez at turn 10, and he once again rode his bike back through the paddock to his pit box. There wasn’t much happening in the session really until the time attacks started with around 17 minutes to go. Aleix, Maverick, and Jorge all took turns sitting at the top of the times, with Augusto Fernandez and Fabio Di Giannantonio both spending time in the top 3.

Marc Marquez and Joan Mir had jumped on the back on Jorge Martin as he left pit lane, and as he went to the top of the times with 12 minutes remaining, he towed Marc and Joan to 5th and 9th respectively. As the clock ticked down, riders pulled into the pits before heading out for one final run, and world champion Pecco Bagnaia was sitting outside the top 10 in 14th place.

With 3 minutes to go, the session was starting to resemble a Moto3 one with several riders cruising either waiting for a tow, or trying to shake those trying to get a tow. Maverick Viñales jumped to the top of the times only to be bumped to 2nd by Brad Binder. Bagnaia pulled himself up to 11th place with 12 seconds remaining, meaning that he would get one more lap to try and gain direct access to Q2, but he crossed the line and began cruising, meaning for the second weekend in a row, he would be heading to Q1.

Fabio Quartararo was waving at Augusto Fernandez who had been riding slow on the racing line causing Fabio to run wide and lose his lap. Augusto was handed a 3-place grid penalty for impeding Fabio.

Brad Binder was the surprise name who topped the Practice session – I say surprise not because Brad isn’t fast, but because it usually takes him until the Sprint to get himself up to speed! Joining Binder in heading directly to Q2 would be Miller, Viñales, Martin, Pol Espargaro, Bezzecchi, Di Giannantonio, Bastianini, Aleix Espargaro, and Zarco.

It was announced on Friday that due to the weather forecast looking incredibly grim – those might not have been the exact words used – that the decision had been made to run the GP race on Saturday afternoon, and then have the Sprint on Sunday if the weather allowed.

FP2 began with news that Alex Rins had withdrawn from the remainder of the weekend due to pain in his leg – so still no full grid. I wonder what odds you’d get on MotoGP going a full season without the whole full-time grid starting a race? There are still 4 races left, so we may yet get a full grid, but the way this season is going I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t.

Jorge Martin topped FP2 ahead of Marc Marquez, Aleix, Bagnaia, Zarco, Viñales, and Quartararo.

Marc Marquez started Q1 by sitting on his bike in pit lane waiting for faster riders to head out – he left behind his brother Alex, and Augusto Fernandez who had shown pace so far this weekend. The last 3 riders to head out onto track having waited a little longer than everyone else, were the last 3 world champions – Joan Mir, Fabio Quartararo, and Pecco Bagnaia all headed out on track together.

After one lap, Bagnaia, Quartararo, Mir, and Oliveira were the top 4, with everyone else between 7 and 10 seconds off the pace due to cruising around rather than going fast. Once everyone had completed their first runs and returned to the pits, it was Augusto Fernandez and Bagnaia who held the top two spots. There was a real lull in the session, with the riders seeming to stay in the pits for longer than they usually would before everyone headed back out.

There was more nonsense as riders cruised around – Marc Marquez was riding ridiculously slowly as he waited for Augusto Fernandez to catch and pass him so that he could try and use him for a tow again. In the end, it was Bagnaia and Marc who topped the session to head through to Q2.

After one lap in Q2, Jorge Martin was leading the way while Marc Marquez pulled straight back into the pits, presumably as he only had one soft tyre left having been through Q1. The team changed his tyres and he sat patiently on his bike in pit lane to wait for the others to return and head back out.

Viñales, Pol Espargaro, and Binder were out of sync with the others and were already out on fast laps as everyone else left pit lane with only 4 minutes remaining of the session. Marc’s tow of choice this time was Bagnaia. Bagnaia tried to shake Marc off with a late dive around the run-off area at turn 4, but Marc is a wily character and simply followed him.

Meanwhile, Jorge Martin had scorched to the top of the times, with Binder in 2nd place. Bagnaia jumped to 3rd, and then everyone seemed to be done before the chequered flag came out – Marco Bezzecchi was the only rider on a lap that might see an improvement in time.

Bez did improve to 9th place, but it was Jorge Martin who took pole position with a new all-time lap record, ahead of Binder, Bagnaia, Aleix, Zarco, and Di Giannantonio. Marc Marquez, Miller, Viñales, Bezzecchi, Pole Espargaro, and Bastianini would be making up rows 3 and 4.

It was announced during Moto2 qualifying that in addition to the swapping of the GP and Sprint races, the schedule on Sunday would begin an hour earlier than planned in a bid to get everything in before the weather turned. There would also be warm up sessions for Moto2 and Moto3 on Sunday morning for the first time this season, to allow them to get a feel for the conditions.

For the first time since the Dutch GP in 2015 (Saturday always used to be race day at Assen), we were treated to a GP race on a Saturday afternoon. We had all of the usual ceremony before the race, with the national anthem performed and a fly-over completed before the race got underway.

There was lots of talk of tyres before the race, with only 3 riders selecting the soft rear option – Jorge Martin, Pol Espargaro, and Marc Marquez. Would the gamble pay off? We would only have to wait 27 laps to find out!

Jorge Martin was leading by turn 1, with Binder, Bagnaia, Miller, and Di Giannantonio all close behind. Jorge immediately began to pull away from the chasing pack, and as Diggia eyed a move on Miller, Miller sliced past Bagnaia for 3rd place.

Heading into turn 1 on lap 2, Bagnaia passed Miller back, before Diggia and Marc both made their way through on Miller too. All of this meant that Jorge now had 0.5 seconds over Binder, who was 1.2 seconds ahead of Bagnaia, Diggia, Marc, and Miller.

Diggia had his eyes set on Bagnaia, and though he pulled out of a move to pass him into turn 1 on lap 3, he passed him for 3rd place into turn 2! Johann Zarco was also on the move – he had passed Miller for 5th place. Marc passed Miller too, while Diggia was pulling away from Bagnaia.

Marc and Zarco were having quite the battle for 5th place, with the Frenchman eventually managing to hold the Spaniard at bay. Joan Mir crashed out of the race on lap 11 following contact with Luca Marini – the incident was investigated, but race direction felt that no further action was necessary.

Out front, by lap 14 Jorge Martin had extended his lead to 3.4 seconds ahead of Binder, while Diggia had closed the gap to Binder to less than a second. Bagnaia and Zarco were closing in on Diggia too. Diggia was a man on a mission though, and he passed Brad Binder to take 2nd place into turn 1 on lap 19.

Diggia was closing the gap to leader Martin as the laps ticked down, and on lap 22 Zarco passed Bagnaia for 3rd place, before Diggia lost 2nd to Binder a lap later. Zarco passed Diggia for 3rd on lap 25 before sitting Binder up to take 2nd on the next lap. Diggia and Bagnaia didn’t have to be asked twice and passed Binder in the gap made by Zarco’s move. Now we had a Pramac 1-2 with Martin leading Zarco, Diggia was in 3rd with Bagnaia right behind him.

Bagnaia passed Diggia for 3rd on the penultimate lap, and the gap between Martin and Zarco was now down to 0.5 seconds – Martin may have been regretting his tyre choice round about now…

Johann Zarco was all over the back of his team mate, and he took the lead of the race into turn 4, with Bagnaia following through to take 2nd. Diggia made things worse for Martin by passing him for 3rd, before Binder dumped him back to 5th.

Zarco crossed the line to win his first MotoGP race on his 120th attempt! He would be joined on the podium by Bagnaia, and Fabio Di Giannantonio who had finished in 3rd to take his first premier class podium. Just when it was beginning to look as though Zarco’s chance of winning a MotoGP race were slipping away – his move to Honda might not be the best for his hopes of a race win – he has finally done it! And he gave the fans what they wanted – a race-winning back flip!

He pulled over on his in lap to back flip off the fence, and I don’t think there was a single person in the paddock who wasn’t happy to see his first back flip since Valencia 2016 when he last won in Moto2. I also don’t think there was anyone in the paddock who wasn’t happy for Di Giannantonio – he is out of a ride at the end of this season, just when he is starting to get to grips with the Ducati. According to the TNT Sports team, Diggia and crew chief Carchedi have started making changes to the base setting used by all the other riders on Ducati machinery, and that is where his improved performances have come from, which begs the question – why were they not making these changes earlier?!

Anyway, I was delighted for both Zarco and Diggia – it was brilliant to see them both having success. We were treated to a rousing rendition of La Marseilles from Zarco who continued singing even after the music had stopped.

You had to feel a little sorry for Jorge Martin – he had been leading the race from lights out until the final lap, but he had no tyre left to fight as he was unceremoniously dumped back to 5th place. It could have been an incredible gamble – he would have won the race if it had been a lap shorter, but ifs and buts are no good in racing, and he finished 5th. He was now 27 points adrift of Bagnaia in the championship.

Warm up on Sunday morning was wet, cold, and windy, and was topped by Viñales from Martin and Marc Marquez.

We had a full Moto3 race – although conditions were sketchy, and half of a Moto2 race before race direction decided that the weather was too bad to continue. Moto2 was red flagged after 9 laps, and although they initially said a re-start would be announced, it was decided just to give half points to those who had finished the race (10 riders had crashed out of the race by the time it was stopped).

I liked Tony Arbolino’s point that half points seemed harsh – in such difficult conditions he joked they should get double points!

Shortly after the end of the Moto2 race, there was a meeting between the team bosses, race direction, and IRTA. KTM boss Guidotti said after the meeting that they would be looking again at the forecast and deciding whether the Sprint would go ahead, but that “common sense” says it is too windy to try and race, with no teams seeming keen to go ahead.

It was very quickly announced that the Sprint had been cancelled – it was the right decision, the weather was horrendous. There was heavy rain and strong winds, but it was the gusts of wind that seemed to be of most concern. Ducati boss Davide Tardozzi said that the decision not to race was not unanimous, but I wonder if some teams (probably Pramac) had maybe wanted to wait to see if the conditions changed later in the day. Gino Borsoi – Pramac boss – did say that he wasn’t happy that there was not going to be a Sprint, but that not racing was the best decision in terms of safety.

Jack Miller was quickly out of his garage and over to the fans who were still trackside once the cancellation was announced. Jack was busy taking selfies and giving his boots to kids in the crowd, and he was soon joined by other riders keen to give the fans their time even if they couldn’t give them a race.

So that was Phillip Island – a Saturday GP that saw the title lead extended to 27 points, and no Sprint for Martin to try and claw some of that gap back. There’s no time for rest though – most of the riders are already in Thailand ahead of the Thai GP this weekend. Can Martin close the gap on Bagnaia again? I can’t wait to find out.

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