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2015 has been a vintage year for grand prix motorcycle racing, with a large chunk of the nail-biting excitement generated by Italian superstar Valentino Rossi, who will return to Australia’s legendary Phillip Island circuit from October 16-18 to shoot for back-to-back MotoGP wins Down Under on his factory Yamaha.
And hold onto your seats, as the stakes will be massive! Rossi has been embroiled in a tantalising year-long battle with Spanish teammate Jorge Lorenzo for MotoGP ascendancy, while reigning world champion Marc Marquez (Honda) has regrouped after a difficult start to the year and is determined to not give up his crown without an almighty fight.
It’s been a dynamic cocktail: the metronomic Lorenzo who rarely puts a foot wrong, the exquisite skill of Marquez, and the doggedness, race smarts and sheer determination of elder statesman Rossi. And while all that’s been going on, Australia’s Jack Miller — who won the Moto3 race at Phillip Island in 2014 — has been working tirelessly in his debut MotoGP season, and will be one to watch in future years.
In a recent three-way interview, famous Aussie grand prix names Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie and Chris Vermeulen expressed sheer amazement with Rossi’s ability to constantly reinvent himself, not to mention the sheer energy and commitment of someone who is 36 years old and already has nine world championships to his credit.
Could they have hit the nail on the head? Why stop at nine when double figures are on the cards, and that’s been the mindset of Rossi in 2015 as he only finished off the podium once in the first 13 rounds — and that was in his home race at Misano (round 13) when conditions became tricky after the weather turned sour.
Two races before that Lorenzo had hammered the opposition at Brno before the traditional mid-season break, which not only put him right back on Rossi’s bumper in the standings, but left the Italian a little deflated. However, Rossi just refuses to wither on the vine and in the next round at Silverstone, he dominated in the wet as Marquez crashed and Lorenzo laboured into fourth place.
Now the stage is set for the final five rounds, and the thing is that Rossi and Lorenzo aren’t exactly moving into unfamiliar territory. After years on the MotoGP circuit, they are already old hands at absorbing pressure, so we’re unlikely to see them lose their faculties: it will all come down to racecraft and speed, and nowhere is hustle a more relevant factor than the amazing Phillip Island.
The iconic piece of 4.45km bitumen has the highest average speed of any circuit on the MotoGP calendar (182.1km/h by Lorenzo), and it’s that fast and flowing nature which the riders universally admire, especially on the thoroughbred MotoGP machines which love to stretch their legs. And there have been some spic slipstreaming battles along Gardner Straight over the years, before the riders peel into the insanely fast turn one — now named after Australia’s five-time world champion Mick Doohan. There’s just no time for riders to catch their breath: Phillip Island is a challenge like no other.
Rossi has extolled the virtues of the magnificent circuit since he started coming here way back in 1997, and he won his first race at Phillip Island just two years later. This year, while beating Lorenzo will be at the forefront of his mind, a victory at Phillip Island will see him become the most successful rider in the MotoGP class at the circuit, usurping Casey Stoner. Currently, both riders are on six wins apiece.
Lorenzo won at Phillip Island in 2013, and it has to be said that his winning form in 2015 has been more emphatic than Rossi’s: brilliantly executed turn-the-screws victories, while Rossi’s four successes haven’t been as polished — but way more exciting, including the now famous last corner stoush with Marquez at Assen!
If Lorenzo finds early form at Phillip Island, he will be hard to beat — and the same also goes for Marquez. Phillip Island is just one of two circuits on the current calendar where Marquez hasn’t won, although he came close in 2014 before crashing out of the lead with only a few laps remaining.
The factory teams from Ducati (Andrea Dovizioso. Andrea Iannone) and Suzuki (Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Vinales) will also be hungry for Phillip Island success, as well as riders like Cal Crutchlow (Honda), Bradley Smith (Yamaha), Dani Pedrosa (Honda) and Pol Espargaro (Yamaha), while Miller (Honda) always entertains — watch out for him to make his now customary charge through the pack in the early laps. It’s going to be an Island scorcher!
Phillip Island will serve up three days of non-stop on- and off-track entertainment from October 16-18, with MotoGP joined by the Moto2 and Moto3 world championship classes, the local national-level road racing categories, and the Troy Bayliss Invitational GP dirt track event on a purpose-built circuit near turn nine. And if you need a break from all the high-octane racing, there’s the MotoGP Expo to get up close with all the latest motorcycles, clothing and accessories.