2017 Phillip Island MotoGP Round Up: A Race For The Ages As Championships Near A Close

Phillip Island always delivers. If you came to the track on the edge of the world hoping for a spectacle, you got more than your money's worth. Three stunning races at arguably the greatest racetrack in the world. Three races which really mattered: with just two rounds left after Phillip Island, the results had a significant impact on all three championships. And to cap the day off, one of the best MotoGP races of all time, the second here in the space of three seasons. The sun even shone. Well, most of the time, anyway.

Is it a coincidence that two of the greatest Grand Prix races, perhaps of all time, have happened at Phillip Island in the last three seasons? I don't think so. This place, and this time, have conspired to create the perfect conditions for motorcycle racing. Firstly, there has never been a greater concentration of riding talent on the grid at the same time in the premier class. Secondly, performance parity between the different factories, and between factories and privateers, has never been so great. And thirdly, the Phillip Island circuit is simply made for motorcycle racing. A flowing track in a stunning setting, where brave and skilled riders can make passes at nearly half of the corners on the track.

The 2015 MotoGP race at Phillip Island was a four-way dust up which saw Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, and Valentino Rossi pass each other a grand total of 52 times in 27 laps. The 2017 race saw seven riders slug it out over the same distance, passing and repassing each other a total of 73 times. Blink, and you missed a change of the lead. But you had to blink, just to catch your breath. It is a good job the assiduous Tammy Gorali was willing to go back and tally up the action.

Rubbin' is racin'

It wasn't just the number of passes, it was the intensity. None of the leading group came away without rubber painted all over their leathers. Marc Márquez ended the race with the tail of his Honda RC213V cracked. Yet unlike 2015, the race ended with the protagonists all smiles. "All riders are very aggressive, so you have to be more stupid than them," Valentino Rossi laughed afterwards. As Rossi's mechanic Alex Briggs said in a post on Twitter after the race, rubbin' is racin'.

What made the 2017 MotoGP race more exciting than the edition from a couple years ago? The addition of Johann Zarco is a very big part of it. So is having Maverick Viñales on a more competitive bike, and with a couple more years experience under his belt. And Jack Miller on a factory-spec Honda, not an Open Class bike.

The old man of the paddock lauded the arrival of the youngsters. "Especially in the last period, the level of aggressivity and contact during the race is raised a lot, especially when the young riders arrive from Moto2," Valentino Rossi told the press conference. "Also Zarco is very, very aggressive. You can get angry, but anyway it won’t change nothing. This is the game, if you want to play, is like this. Is a bit more dangerous, but this is the way. If not, you have to stay at home. I enjoy very much. It was a great, great race."

Holding out for a hero

The race got off to a great start, especially for the home crowd. Jack Miller, who had broken his leg just 22 days prior, rocketed into the lead from the second row of the grid. Miller pushed hard in the early laps, trying but ultimately failing to open a gap. The Marc VDS rider's lead never grew to be a second, and the early charge would backfire towards the end of the race. "I got a little carried away at the start, maybe spent a little bit too much tire in the first three laps but it was all in good fun," Miller said afterwards.

Behind Miller a group was gathering. The cast of characters contained some of the same names as in 2015, with Marc Márquez, Valentino Rossi, and Andrea Iannone giving chase. Maverick Viñales took the role played by Jorge Lorenzo in 2015, making it two Movistar Yamahas at the front. Aleix Espargaro had tacked his Aprilia RS-GP onto the group, while Johann Zarco took a lap to make up for a thoroughly mediocre start from the front row, then flung himself with great gusto into the fray.

Battle was fierce from the beginning. Valentino Rossi put a block pass on Pol Espargaro on the first run into MG, while Johann Zarco muscled Espargaro's KTM teammate Bradley Smith aside in the same corner. Next lap, Zarco dumped his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha right onto the racing line in front of Andrea Iannone at the Honda Hairpin. He then ran up the inside of Rossi through the Hayshed, a brave move indeed.

Let battle commence

But things really kicked off on lap 3. Maverick Viñales lined Marc Márquez up perfectly to slip underneath the Honda at the Honda Hairpin, and Johann Zarco saw an opportunity to follow him through. It was an opportunity which proved illusory, Márquez slamming the door unaware that the Frenchman was coming. The front wheel of Zarco's Tech 3 Yamaha bumped the tail of Márquez' RC213V, cracking the tail unit in the contact. Márquez had the presence of mind to lift the bike a fraction, and the pair got through the corner with only a loss of ground to Viñales.

Zarco explained that he had been taken a little by surprise by Márquez' ability to make the corner. "Maverick overtook [Viñales] in Turn 4, and I was almost at the same speed so I came into the corner, but Marquez we know is strong to come into the corner with good speed," the Frenchman explained. "It was not possible to slow down more and I had to touch him. But he was clever because when he felt that something is wrong from the rear of his bike, he picked up the bike and we saved it."

Zarco's nudge had caused Márquez to reassess his expectations of the race. "From the beginning, I went out and I was quiet," the Repsol Honda rider explained. "Try to warm the tires well, try to be calm. But suddenly I don't know if it was the second or third lap, there was already the first contact from Johann," Márquez told the press conference. "I start to realize that, okay, we will see during the race, but this will be tough."

From there, the action got furious fast. The group reeled in Jack Miller, expanding its ranks to eight members with Cal Crutchlow getting past Pol Espargaro to dice with Andrea Iannone. A little later, Alex Rins also latched onto the tail of the group, putting both factory Suzukis in with the leaders. On lap 8, Aleix Espargaro lost the front at Turn 1, sliding out of the group, yet still buoyed by having run with the leaders up until his crash.

Miller had been caught at the end of lap 4, the factory Yamahas sweeping past out of the slipstream over the line. The crowd seemed in two minds as to how they felt about that. They had been willing Miller on with loud cheers ever lap. But here was universal hero Valentino Rossi coming by to take the lead, albeit briefly before being held off into Turn 1 by Maverick Viñales. The crowd cheered anyway, for Rossi, for Miller, for Viñales, but above all, for the sheer visceral thrill at the spectacle unfolding before them.

Riders running riot

The melee intensified, with riders swapping places from corner to corner. Valentino Rossi led. Then Johann Zarco led. Then Valentino Rossi led. Then Johann Zarco led. Then Maverick Viñales got involved, before Marc Márquez took over at the front. Passing behind the leaders was just as fierce: Jack Miller passed Valentino Rossi, and Rossi passed him back. Marc Márquez passed Jack Miller, and Miller got him back. Cal Crutchlow passed Andrea Iannone, Andrea Iannone passed Maverick Viñales, Maverick Viñales passed Marc Márquez, Marc Márquez passed Johann Zarco, and Valentino Rossi passed Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales. It was a rollercoaster ride for the spectators. Was the race like a Moto2 race, Johann Zarco was asked? "Maybe like a Moto3 race, but we are 100km/h more!" the Frenchman declared.

https://twitter.com/tammygorali/status/922128467696734209

It was Australian carnage from start to finish. Positions swapped hands in the group 73 times, people making passes every lap. There were five passes made on lap 3, then again on lap 25. Valentino Rossi found himself making 18 passes in total, three more than Johann Zarco, and twice as many as the rest of the group. Passes were hard, sometimes physical, with riders touching several times during the race.

The race was like watching a gang of teenagers rampage through a fairground. Sure, there were the ringleaders – Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone showed neither respect for others, nor concern for their own safety – but none among them was innocent. They egged each other on to greater heights of impudence, outdoing either other in feats of derring-do. If their mothers were watching, they would have given them a clip round the ear and forbidden them from running with the other rough boys. But these are racers: you can bet your bottom dollar they will do it again, just as soon as they get the opportunity.

The incorrigibles

When questioned by the media, the members of the Lukey Heights Gang showed no remorse and shared no recriminations. "I have marks on my leathers, on my bike, but also I was aggressive," Marc Márquez said. "They were aggressive to me but I was playing the same cards. This was racing, it was really nice." Maverick Viñales agreed. "It’s racing. We try to give our best always. I think it was quite good and nice to see these battles during all the race."

"It was a great battle, it was a great show," Cal Crutchlow added. "We enjoyed the race, a lot of us. There were some hard moves in it, but it was good fun. I think everybody gave as good as they got. There should be nobody complaining, because we all tried our best, and we all enjoyed it. Nobody knocked anybody off I don't think. And that's racing. Obviously some weekends we do knock each other off, and that's it." The point, Marc Márquez said, was that aggressive passes are a part of racing. "For me, of course it’s a limit, but today was normal. It was aggressive, there was some contact, but in the end this is racing. If we go down with the limit, it becomes like Formula 1 races. In the end this is why MotoGP is going up [in popularity]."

Why do they do it, when they know they are quite literally risking life and limb? Johann Zarco said it best. "They overtook me and there were some hard moments with Marquez. It's part of racing and I lived some moments I've never lived before. Fighting at this speed is so incredible. You need to live this emotion to believe it." Had he been scared? "More than once I think! As I said an emotion to be fighting at over 300km/h, you can fight on other circuits but here I think you are really not many times under 200km/h. It's incredible and I want to call my coach and see the race with him!"

Above all, battling all race long with Marc Márquez, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Viñales, and the rest had taught him new respect for his rivals. "I saw it before, but I had confirmation again that they are on a different planet these guys, because they can fight and analyze so many things at this speed and it's quite incredible," Zarco said. He had learned a lot.

A leader arises

There may have been even more battles in this race than in the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, but it played out the same in the end. Now, as then, Marc Márquez had been cosseting his tires, saving them for a final push at the end of the race. He took the lead on lap 21, and a couple of laps later he dropped the hammer. On lap 23, he was four tenths quicker than the chasing group, on lap 25 a whole second quicker, and by that time, he had opened a gap of nearly two seconds. He backed off a fraction, and cruised home to victory.

Saving tires during the middle part of the race had been crucial, Márquez said. "In this racetrack is so important the tire life and you cannot do all the laps at the maximum. Honestly I go out on the race and I did more or less the same strategy like 2015, try to be calm during the race and try to attack in the end. It was my job. It was my target. In the end I was going in the good way."

Márquez' win capped a weekend where he had controlled the proceedings from the start. The reigning champion had been fastest in every session but one, and even then, he was only five thousandths of a second slower than Aleix Espargaro in FP2, and without putting in a new tire to chase a time. He needed to bounce back from a sensitive defeat at Motegi, to swing the championship pendulum back in his favor. Taking 25 points from pole position was exactly the right way to do just that.

Dark days for Dovi and Ducati

That pendulum was also given a mighty shove by his main title rival, Andrea Dovizioso. The Italian had expected to have a tough weekend, but perhaps not quite as hard as this. Most of the problems were of his own making: a poor qualifying left him in eleventh on the grid. Then on lap 2, he missed his braking point at the end of the straight, and ran wide into Turn 1. He rejoined in twentieth place, and fought his way back up to eleventh place.

But that battle burned though his tires too quickly. On the final laps, Dovizioso had no traction left exiting fast corners, and fell back into the clutches of Dani Pedrosa and Scott Redding. On the final lap, coming out of the final corner, his drive was gone, and both Pedrosa and Redding slipped past to push him down to thirteenth. He finished just four hundredths of a second behind Redding, but those paltry hundredths cost him 2 championship points.

Not that it would have made much difference. With Márquez winning the race, his championship lead over Dovizioso is now 33 points. Had the Italian finished in eleventh, the gap would have been 31 points. In either case, Dovizioso has left himself with a mountain to climb. Márquez can wrap up the title next Sunday at Sepang simply by finishing in second, regardless of where Dovizioso finishes. And Márquez' job gets much easier the further down the field Dovizioso finishes.

Realistically, Dovizioso's best shot at the title needs Márquez to suffer some kind of problem that drops him out of the top ten, and preferably out of the points altogether. That is extremely unlikely: Márquez worst finish – barring three DNFs, two of which were crashes – is sixth at Mugello. And a mistake by Márquez is now also unlikely. "Now is the time to breathe, time to understand where are our options, where we can fight, if in Malaysia, Valencia," Márquez said. "But try to take points and don’t be too aggressive. I take a lot of risk during all the season, now is time to be more patient."

The old trouble

What was the cause of Dovizioso's woes? Though the Ducati Desmosedici GP17 is a vastly superior bike to the ones that came before, its core underlying weakness remains: it is still harder to turn, which means it hates long fast corners. The only way to get it around long corners is to lay on the edge of the tire and use lean angle. This eats up the edge of the tire, as the smaller contact patch is carrying more load and generating more heat, especially if you try to use the gas on the exit. Where other bikes can turn tighter, and get on to the fat part of the tire with more rubber, the Ducati is left balancing on a sliver of Michelin through the turns.

"It’s not news," Dovizioso said after the race, "because the characteristic of this track is to have good turning. This confirms we still have that limit. We finished the tire eight laps from the end, but I believe all that – our speed and the consumption of the tire - is a consequence of the turning. This track needs turning."

Ducati had made steps forward at other tracks such as Barcelona and Silverstone, but nowhere quite exposed the GP17's weakness like Phillip Island. "We did really good races this year at tracks where I wasn’t fast in the past," Dovizioso explained. "But this track has a particular characteristic and the turning is so important. In those tracks we were fast but because of the turning. But here you can be fast only if you’re fast in the middle of the corner and if you don’t use too much the rear tire."

Dovizioso admitted that his speed on Friday had been illusory. "It was the approach of the weekend. I approached it very aggressive to try and be on top in every practice. Phillip Island is a strange track with the wind, with the temperature. I tried to do that. I did that lap time because I was behind Espargaro and Maverick. It was a strange situation and I did perfect things. But it wasn’t the reality." The reality turned out to be thirteenth. Even if he hadn't made the mistake, Dovizioso said, the best he could have been capable of might have been ahead of the KTMs in ninth.

That this is a fundamental issue with the Ducati is evident from the results. Scott Redding was the first Ducati home in eleventh, 21 seconds behind the winner, Marc Márquez. The other seven finished in thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first. Dovizioso won the last race at Motegi, and was now 21 seconds behind the winner. Danilo Petrucci was on the podium in Japan; in Australia, he had only substitute rider Broc Parkes behind him. Had Jonas Folger been fit and riding the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, Ducati's day would have been worse.

Yamaha on the up

If Ducati had a disastrous day, Yamaha's turned out pretty good. OK, neither the Movistar Yamaha riders, nor Johann Zarco had anything for Marc Márquez, but they had all been extremely competitive. Valentino Rossi had been playing down his chances all weekend, speaking in the vaguest terms of the podium as a possibility. He had started from the third row of the grid, and had pass through Q1 to get a shot at P7. Maverick Viñales had been a little more positive, especially as he had started from the front row, but both he and Rossi feared their tires would not last the full distance.

What happened? Perhaps the track conditions helped a little, a combination of warmer air temperatures and recent rain showers creating conditions no one had experienced so far. But both Movistar crews also found the final details they had been seeking on Saturday night. "Sincerely, during the practice here is always very difficult to understand, but it was not so bad, especially Friday," Valentino Rossi said. "I already had a quite good pace in the normal conditions. Also, we understand the way to improve from yesterday because I was too much on the limit. This morning we had the bike ready but it was wet so we don’t try but we decide anyway to go because I was quite sure for what I need and what the right move, also the right choice. I feel comfortable with the bike."

The same was true for Maverick Viñales. "We improve a lot the traction," he said in the press conference. "I did the podium about the traction because if not I was out of the podium. I was even able maybe to overtake Vale but Vale pushed, I saw Vale like this [tucked in]! Not this time! Next one."

Exposing the fiction of team orders

The fact that Rossi had beaten Viñales also answered the question of whether team orders would be issued, and if they were, whether they would be obeyed. Coming in to Phillip Island, Maverick Viñales still had a theoretical shot at the title, though he trailed Márquez by 41 points. If Viñales had finished in second, and given up 5 points to Márquez, he would be 46 points behind the Spaniard and his title hopes would still be alive, though hanging by a thread.

When Valentino Rossi led Viñales across the line on Sunday, he took 4 vital points from his teammate. The Spanish youngster was left 50 points behind Marc Márquez. Though he could still theoretically draw with the Repsol Honda rider, Márquez has six wins, while Viñales has three, and a potential maximum of five if he were to win the next two races and Márquez were to have two DNFs. In the case of a draw in points, championship positions are decided by count back. The rider with the most wins, then the most second places, the most third places, and so on, takes precedence.

Despite losing to Marc Márquez, the results of Phillip Island were reason for hope. At a track where the rider counts more than the bike, both Rossi and Viñales proved they are still competitive. And a result like this makes it more likely again that Valentino Rossi will not retire at the end of next year, when his current contract expires. Rossi will keep racing for as long as he believes he can be competitive. Phillip Island is proof positive that this is still the case.

Could have had more?

The race may have left Maverick Viñales feeling rather frustrated, though he did not show much sign of it in the press conference. Viñales was clearly biding his time in the final laps, waiting to launch an attack on Márquez. On lap 21, Rossi passed him for second at MG, then at the start of the next lap, Johann Zarco launched a truly audacious attack round the outside at Turn 1, one of the most terrifying turns on the circuit.

It was a perfectly clean pass by Zarco, but it forced Viñales to subtly adjust his line to behind Zarco. The trouble was, a rampant Andrea Iannone saw a gap that was largely theoretical, and forced himself into it, cutting off the nose of Viñales, almost clipping his front wheel. The Yamaha rider was forced to sit up to regain his balance, losing two more places to Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller as he ran wide at the Southern Loop.

"Our plan was to push with five laps to go," Viñales said afterwards. "I was preparing myself when I overtake Johann. I think I was able to overtake riders well. I had a really strong braking point in turn four. It was my strongest point. But I had some contact with Andrea. I went back to the back of the group. Then I get some laps to recover and to overtake Jack, Cal."

Despite what may have been, Viñales was happy to finally be back on the podium and to be competitive. "Anyway I’m happy we make ourselves on the podium," he said. "It’s been really tough the last races. This is the first race in the second part of the season I felt really strong, so that’s good for us. I think in the morning we understand the way to go in the wet and that’s something really positive."

Yamaha's struggles make clear that the Japanese factory took a wrong turn in their development of the 2017 M1. While the factory team has struggled, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders have been very consistent, with Johann Zarco making an outstanding debut in the class. The 2016 Yamaha the Tech 3 riders are using is clearly better in some respects to the 2017 bike, though overall, the 2017 machine is probably better.

Zarco? No! No!

Both Ducati and Honda put select satellite riders on factory bikes to aid development. Danilo Petrucci has been used as a test mule in the Pramac garage, doing setup experiments on the GP17 which the factory riders have then used in the race. Cal Crutchlow has also taken on a significant role in the development of the Honda RC213V, providing a valuable counterbalance to the extremes of Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa.

Would it be an idea to put Johann Zarco on a factory Yamaha bike in the Tech 3 team next year, Rossi and Viñales were asked in the press conference. Their responses spoke volumes of just how much they fear the Frenchman. "I don’t know if it’s a good idea for Zarco to have our bike," Rossi joked. Viñales' tone was a little more conciliatory, but it was not an option he had any interest in exploring. "I think to have a third rider can be more experience. Johann is riding really well the last part of the season. It’s interesting, but as Valentino said maybe he get a little bit confused."

Viñales' charge out of the final corner meant Johann Zarco was just pipped to the podium. But the Frenchman was too busy buzzing with adrenaline and excitement to be disappointed. "I tried to have the second place because I was feeling good behind Rossi," he said, describing the last lap. "He is so strong on the brakes, closing well the line and you can see he has the experience. So I tried to have better acceleration by changing the line in the last corner but instead of second I had fourth. But no worry. After this kind of fight and kind of day I can just enjoy and take this fantastic moment."

Rocket rookie

Fourth place was good enough for Zarco to wrap up the Rookie of the Year title, though the absence of his teammate Jonas Folger through illness made it something of a foregone conclusion. Still, it was a strong class of Moto2 rookies who entered MotoGP this year, and Zarco has lived up to the expectations as 2016 Moto2 champion. He made a splash at Qatar by leading the first few laps, and has consistently impressed. If the field weren't so strong this year, he would probably have had a lot more podiums. The proof of Zarco's pudding will come in his second season. But the signs so far are pretty good.

Cal Crutchlow crossed the line in fifth, just holding off Andrea Iannone to the line. It was a well-deserved result, and a relief after a string of bad races. It was a surprise, too, as Crutchlow had been in two minds about racing on Sunday morning after his massive crash in the wet warm up. "A big crash," he called it. "Probably one of the worst that I had in a long, long time. Not the fastest, but I just went so high."

"I hit my head, I hit my back, my ribs and my back," he told reporters. "I came back with the bike simply through sheer adrenaline to say, OK, I'll go back out, I need to get back out if it's wet. And I went back out and went faster. But I shouldn't have gone back out, because honestly I felt so bad. An hour before the race, I didn't know whether I was going to race, honestly. I didn't feel well. I still don't feel well."

High times in Hamamatsu

It was a good day for Suzuki too, with Iannone sixth and Rins in eighth. An extra boost, coming off the back of a strong result at the last race in Motegi. It was especially good to see Andrea Iannone looking like the rider he was the last couple of years on the Ducati, rather than the shadow of himself he has been in the last few races. For a while, it even looked like Iannone would get a podium, though in the end the Yamahas and Cal Crutchlow were just too strong.

Are Suzuki back on the right track again? It is a little too early to say. The GSX-RR is a bike that handles beautifully and can carry corner speed, that makes it a perfect tool for Phillip Island. It's biggest weaknesses are a slight lack of power and problems in braking, but the layout of the track at the Island can help to camouflage those.

Suzuki's results were also perhaps flattered by the lack of Ducatis at the front. If Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, Danilo Petrucci had been competitive at Phillip Island, sixth and eighth may not have been on the cards. At Motegi, Suzuki had also benefited from the lack of Yamahas at the front. This at least shows that the bike works well in a range of conditions. There is clearly reason for hope.

Jack Miller finished his home Grand Prix in seventh, just 22 days after breaking his right leg. Given his condition, he was more than pleased. "Considering I broke my leg three weeks ago to lead my home Grand Prix for the first couple of laps and to be mixing it with the boys until the end was good," the Australian said. "I got a little carried away at the start, maybe spent a little bit too much tire in the first three laps but it was all in good fun. I was just missing a little bit of grip in those last few laps. Eight laps to go I started yo-yoing to the group in front. I was losing a lot in the last two lefts. It was a shame I couldn’t fight right at the end for a podium. But to finish that close, I’m pretty happy."

Austria rising in Australia

Behind Rins, the KTMs managed another double top ten, Pol Espargaro beating teammate Bradley Smith in a fierce battle to the line. The two were 16 seconds behind Márquez, around the same as Espargaro was at Aragon. The RC16 is clearly a more competitive machine, but what was perhaps most hopeful for the Austrian factory is that turning has long been a weakness of the bike. Like the Ducati, the KTM needs to be ridden on the edge of the tire to get it to turn, and that eats up the rear late in the race. For the KTMs to spank the Ducatis offers hope for 2018.

Phillip Island turned out to be an excellent weekend for KTM, as the Austrian factory also bagged their first win in the Moto2 class with Miguel Oliveira. Oliveira made a break shortly before the halfway mark, and escaped to take the win unchallenged. The only real threat to his supremacy was a brief smattering of rain in the final laps, which made him cautious and cost him a couple of seconds.

Adding to Oliveira's joy was Brad Binder's second place. It was the South African's first podium in Moto2, and came after what has been an incredibly tough season. Binder broke his arm badly in preseason testing, and was forced to go back for a second bout of surgery early in the season. That meant he lost a lot of strength in that arm, as the injury left him unable to train for a long time. He is only now getting into his stride, and second place at Phillip Island is a sign of things to come.

Binder took second place after Takaaki Nakagami crashed in front of him, and he put in the fastest lap of the race despite spots of rain starting to fall. He held off Franco Morbidelli, putting enough of a gap on the Italian to secure second.

Moto2 nearly done

Morbidelli was not too unhappy, however, despite only finishing third. The Marc VDS rider took a big step towards wrapping up the 2017 Moto2 title with that podium, in part thanks to the rough weekend Tom Luthi has had. Luthi had a massive crash in the wet warm up, the second of the weekend after a fall in FP2. Tenth place was a pretty decent result given how beaten up Luthi was at the start of the race.

Morbidelli now has a 29 point lead over Luthi as they head to Sepang. The Italian need only follow the Swiss rider around to be almost certain of wrapping up the title. It is a title which Morbidelli deserves to win, too, given his dominance in the class. He has won eight of the sixteen races so far, compared to Luthi's two. Luthi is only still in the championship race thanks to his incredible consistency. But this is now Morbidelli's championship to lose.

Miracle worker

Joan Mir need worry no longer about the Moto3 title. The Spaniard has been dominant all season wrong, finding ways to win race after race. After an uncharacteristically poor weekend at Motegi, where he finished outside the points while Romano Fenati won the race, Mir was back with a vengeance at Phillip Island. He was quick all weekend, and it was obvious he would be a factor during the race.

In the end, Mir crowned his championship with a win, though it came in a strange way. The race had started on a dry track with damp patches, and dark skies threatening more rain. There were spots of rain from time to time as the race went on, until a sudden downpour greeted the riders as they crossed the line to start lap 17. The leading pack all sat up holding their hands in the air, and the race was red flagged. Counting back to the last lap which the entire field had completed meant the race was called at lap 15. That just happened to be the lap where Mir had cross the line in the lead, fortuitously just ahead of his Leopard Racing teammate Livio Loi.

Even then, both the win and the championship were entirely deserved. First, the title: the only rider who could keep him from the title was Romano Fenati, but the Italian was behind Mir for 8 of the 15 laps raced, and only in a position to actively prevent Mir from winning the title for 4 laps. Mir's title had an air of inevitability to it. The only real question was whether he would get the job done in Phillip Island or at Sepang.

The Next Big Thing

Mir's Moto3 crown is just reward for his supremacy in the class. The win at Phillip Island was ninth of the season, Fenati and Aron Canet sharing three apiece. Win number nine put Mir into the record books, and among illustrious company. He is now the rider with the most wins in one season in Moto3. He is one win shy of Marc Márquez' tally of ten in the 2010 125cc season, and two shy of Valentino Rossi's record of eleven 125cc wins in 1997. With two rounds to go, he could match both of them.

This is the reason why so many in the Grand Prix paddock are excited about Joan Mir. The Spaniard has shown speed, but above all, racecraft. He won races by always being in the right place at the right time, managing his tires, and only pushing when it mattered. He was not caught out very often, and was consistently in the top three or four for almost every lap of every races. He has the most laps leading, only Romano Fenati getting close. But unlike Fenati, Mir knows how to get the job done on the final lap.

Joan Mir moves up to Moto2 for 2018, joining Alex Márquez in the Marc VDS team. He will have the right people around him and the right resources to be able to succeed. Joan Mir has all the makings of the Next Big Thing.


Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2017 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.

Total votes: 98
Total votes: 24

Back to top

Comments

WOW!  Phillip Island never fails to deliver fantastic racing. The only disappointment was not having Dovi up in amongst the group to fight it out for the championship.  As much as I’d love for him to win the championship, it seems all but a forgone conclusion. You can’t take anything away from Marquez this year though, he has thoroughly deserved it.  He really is a step above the others.

Crutchlows comments have me concerned… “An hour before the race, I didn't know whether I was going to race, honestly. I didn't feel well. I still don't feel well."  This is the second race this year where Crutchlow has raced in a condition that theoretically he was unfit for.  Was it Aragon where he crashed because he couldn’t adjust his brake leaver properly? All due to the cast on his finger.  What if he had taken someone out?  In Phillip Island he says he didn’t feel well…. Does he mean his head wasn’t right?  Was he concussed? Did he get assessed? 

I feel ashamed that some of the crowd were booing at the podium presentations, but after watching it again, it appears the majority of the booing was for the local politician that presented Marq with the trophy.  None the less, the brain dead Rossi fans that persistently boo Marquez is a real shame.  Will be glad to see the back of them when Rossi retires. 

Total votes: 40

Every time He's being booed, he comes back stronger. Every time he beats Rossi, he makes a statement to the booing horde. As far as booing goes, booing on the podium is somewhat palatable but booing when Marquez and Lorenzo crashes? That doesn't belong in Motorsport. 

The way MM is going, he will probably get his 10th title before Valentino.

Total votes: 34

At corner 1 and the speed these guys carry is unreal, the Zarco outside move was incredible and overall it was one of the best days of my life! 3 master races!

Total votes: 20

To see how David could possibly summarise this race, and this write up certainly did it justice. I haven't seen any other sports journalism that maintains this standard.

As for the race just a few observations: The best thing about Miller's performace, apart from doing well enough at the rehab to get there, was to finish the race. He is starting to develop the judgement to back up his talent. And I must say my only disappointment was that JL wasn't in that leading pack, because can you imagine his reaction to the 'racing incidents' that we witnessed?

It was fantastic to see the comments by all of the lead pack on the competitiveness of the race and how much they enjoyed it; no complaining, just racing.

Total votes: 25

I bet the only person not excited about Joan Mir is Alex Marquez

Total votes: 15

Stoner won every race when he rode the Ducati at Philip Island. I doubt that the 2017 bike is worse than some of the pigs he was riding. You would think that Ducati would test there with Stoner present.

Total votes: 29

I know the air always contains an element of moisture, but it's a bit of a stretch to declare it was a wet race don't you think?

Total votes: 2

Don't know where my head's at.  If I weren't laughing at myself right now I'd be concerned. 

Lesson - don't post while traveling and on no sleep!

Total votes: 4

The scary thing is you actually had me doubting myself momentarily!

Total votes: 2

Compare this to F1... The only agressive driver (Max Verstappen) being punished for his pass in the last lap... MotoGP is exactly the contrary of that, with all competitors smiling from ear to ear afterwards, rubber stains on their leathers and all. I love it!

I wonder if Rossi could have catch up with Márquez on the last lap. It seemed he was able to go with him until Zarco block passed him. Any thoughts?

 

Total votes: 9

To be fair he got penalized because he was not even on the track as he made the move. Had he given that position back there would not be an issue. On the other hand during qualifying and practice drivers were going off track. In the spirit of the rules the ruling is correct but I think the inconsistent policing of track limits was the main issue. 

Total votes: 9

Mock F1 all you like, but it was absolutely the correct decision. Rossi was penalized 0.3 seconds at COTA for gaining an advantage by going outside the track as well.

Drivers taking liberties with track limits on their own is frowned upon, but toleraed to an extent... not very different from MotoGP where riders are asked to drop X places if they do it too often. But going off track to gain a position and to not give it back is absolutely not acceptable in any form of racing. The defending driver doesn't have the option to cut the corner to keep his position, why is the attacking driver entitled to that extra space that they're not supposed to use?

Total votes: 10

Marc backed off after pushing for two laps. Maybe vinales could've stayed with him although I don't think anybody would've had the pace to overtake him.

Total votes: 3

I would have picked that Rossi could have run with MM, maybe Vinales too.
It was right at that end point when Rossi started to make progress on MM, then they all got caught up in overtakes, so MM got given a bigger lead. That's all racing though

Total votes: 3

 Marc will probably don the 2017 champion T-Shirt this coming weekend post race. That may be premature but he is in a situation right now where he can afford to deliberately qualify stone last on the grid, let the rest bust each other up for the first 5 laps, cruise into the top ten at race end and pull the t-shirt over his leathers. Barring a Marc DNF and a Dovi win in Sepang, this title chase is done and dusted. Sad but true. So where did it all go wrong at Ducati? The bike does not turn, chews up the sliver of rubber at extreme lean angles in long corners and blah. That is by all PI evidence still the case. Dovi had to try catch the lead group and lost the plot, not that there was much option anyway. Ducati were clearly out of it from the get go. This result for them begs a question. Has the Audi funding, the sacking of Preziosi, the appointment and organizational skills of Gigi, the demands of Rossi during his tenure changed anything at Ducati. Apparently not. The bike still does not turn on a dime like the Honda does even though they both run L-4 configuration, alloy beam chassis and spec Magneti Marelli electronics and Michelin rubber. Given KTM's fantastic results at PI in MGP/M2, the old steel trellis is still an option.. In SBK, the Panigalle twin turns on a dime and preserves its tires very well. Rider selection and Ducati. They have some kind of issue here in my opinion...always chasing established big name stars post the Capirossi/Bayliss project. They got Stoner cheap and he delivered their only title. Jack Miller did a fantastic job. The title is already Marc's as far as I'm concerned. Silly season and Ducati 2018 will be as intuiging as the 2017 title chase is/was. Jack will be on a Ducati next year. Maybe Ducati should look at Brad Binder for 2019 alongside him. Thats what I would do. Broken leg, broken arm combo and both, tough and tallented as nails. Lorenzo is just going to wobble around on the bike next year as he did this year...it will never adapt to his DNA , just as it never did to Rossi's. The thing about this race that ticks me off the most is Ducati complacency.They should have been right up there like 2015 with a championship at stake. All's forgiven Prezziosi. Gigi inherited his engine design, massive funding from Audi, Rossi's input and got his multi-faceted Lorenzo mega-dollar multi champion and did squat with it. Kudos to Dovi. He probably has no shot at the title anymore but he did do what he always did best...beat his team mate...rule #1. Rubber and spoiled for choice. Personally, I would love to see asymetric tires banned. Soft, medium, hard and one wet, one intermediate and thats it., but I guess thats like asking for them to reverse the wheel.

Total votes: 16

The Honda is a 90 degree V4, the same as the Ducati. The frame on both bikes is a twin spar made from aluminium.

Total votes: 1

David, thank you for your report! I see it took you sometime to catch your breath and write the column... didn't we all need to recover from such a brilliant breathtaking race! So true that it wasn't even possible to blink, in that fraction of a second three different riders had already swapped the lead.

Some thoughts: what a shame that this turned out to be the worst day ever for Ducati. If MM victory was almost certain since last Friday, nobody would have predicted such a catastrophic race for all the panigale boys. No matter what Dovi does in Sepang, he has lost the championship. Still, the red beast is finally competitive enough to seriously challenge the top manufacturers for next season.

Seeing the 2 factory Yam there and thinking of Le Mans, I cannot but be utterly gutted by what a total waste this season has been. Is it the tyres, the electronics, the chassis, thee balance, the...???? any and/or all of the above ? I don't know and frankly don't care any longer. That bike is a mess and has lost the edge it had last year in certain conditions. Suffices to look at Zarco and his "old" M1. Those who love conspiracy theories suggest that it has to do with electronics and TC: Ducati and Honda have found a way to bypass the less sophisticated system, whereas Yamaha did not. I'm technologically challenged and cannot comment on what sounds like a crazy rumor. But if it's more than a stupid rumor then it would be interesting to look into it.

On the Yamaha's woes,  David, i have a different take on what the the two riders said in press conference about giving the official bike to Zarco: the way they laughed and said it's better not to as  "he would be confused" sounds to me more like "it's such a problematic bike that he would not and should not  want it!" so, i don't think it speaks volumes of how much they fear him. Rather they see it as a twisted joke. But it's just my take, i was not in the press room, i saw it on TV.

Speaking of which: who hired the director of the live tv coverage? I still cannot believe that they chose to show MM crew celebrating while there were 3 bikes on the finish line fighting for P2 ! and it's not the first time... do they switch their brain off before going live?

this brings me to the B&B factor: Brain & Balls. I took inspiration from one of my favorite phrases "ignite brain before operating mouth" (a very sound piece of advice that, I'm certain, would help some of the people in Motogp) and played with anatomy... : while watching the race i really thought that some should ignite the brain before activating the balls. The 3 guys on the podium do, in the sense that most of the time, almost all their moves  are rational and strategic. But Zarco and Iannone??? FFS! I wonder if there is any wire left connecting the brain and the rest. Did Marquez have the speed to make a serious break from the pack? we don't know, because in the final 6 laps, nobody thought that wasting time in a useless dogfight was giving to Marquez the perfect chance to escape. I'm not saying it's not spectacular, but some brain from time to time would be welcome. Two passes in my opinion concur to support my theory on B&B: Zarco on MM and MM on the Yamaha veteran. The first is just plain stupid, JZ just follows MV without even thinking that there is another bike in front of him... the latter, is a typical calculated "get out of my way" bullish push. they are both bad IMO. the first one though, was a real no-brainer, literally.

all in all it was superb, and so promising on what might come for next season from KTM and Aprilia and maybe a reborn Suzuki...  

Total votes: 29

Zarco’s move on MM was pretty optimistic, but the only other moves throughout the race that could be called questionable was Iannone’s move on JZ late in the race into Siberia. MM’s move on Rossi was fine. He got up the inside pretty good there, they just ended up converging at the same bit of tarmac. Plus, there were plenty of moves by Rossi that stood some riders up too.

Marquez was always going to pull away… you could see that most of the race. The others fighting over second had no influence on the final result.

I took Rossi’s comment about Zarco in the press room as “he would confuse the development”. VR and MV clearly don’t want Zarco battling with them and confusing who could win a championship for Yamaha.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the TV director…. Had me yelling at the TV!

Total votes: 10

to make is about when the brain is on or off. And i took those two examples as they were both very clear. What you call optimistic in zarco's move I call brain off. And it happens very often. On the other hand MM's move is a classic of his and he uses his brain to do it. In my view is questionable in the sense that he pushes and pushes and pushes until the one in front is thrown out of his path: look at rubber marks on the leather, it starts almost at the neck down to the thigh....
But you are absolutely right, Iannone is the one who did the dumbest moves.
I saw that in your other post you talk about Miller not getting enough praise for his amazing recovery and his great race. You are right. But I think that the lesser coverage was probably due to the fact that the race was so crazily entertaining that it trumped his speedy recovery.

Total votes: 4

The proof Zarco was perfectly conscious he made a mistake is that he directly went to Marc Marquez in the parc ferme to apologize. Amongst the 19 overtakes he made , it's the only obvious mistake he did. He has been pushed by Rossi and Iannone and crutchlow  I think  . He gave knocks and received a few. He made in my opinion two of the best moves in the race . *Outside* MV25 in turn 1 and inside VR46 in turn 8 , capitalizing on his corner speed.  

You could have choosen better example of Zarco aggressiveness. the Move on MM93 is clearly a mistake JZ5 recognized and apologized for. The Hard move on Bradley smith in Lap 1 is much more aggressive and typical from Zarco pushing through the pack to come back to the front. Would have been a better example to defend your point ;)

By the way, haters gonna hate and it seem your opinion about Zarco is settled ( "brainless mid tier average rider who never will deserve a factory bike " if I remember all your comments) . 

 

Total votes: 17

We are going to see him battle with MM93 more frequently in the future and I'm sure once he gets the factory seat, that he already deserves, he will be fighting for many championships.
I think he has been the best addition to the sport since MM, stellar fighting spirit and a hard worker, great spirit too! We need riders like him!

Total votes: 7

You cannot put in quotes a thing I never said and especially NOT in those terms.... I'm all for discussing and happily accept to be proven wrong but I profoundly dislike misquotes and twisting words.
If I remember correctly months ago I said that Zarco was not going to the official Yamaha team arguing that age nationality charisma would be an obstacle arguing that Morbidelli would have been a more likely candidate to join the team in 2019....i never said that the other factory teams would not want him!
For you to transform and twist that very basic and neutral reasoning and label me a "Zarco hater" it's very unbecoming to say the least.
Back to the original reasoning: what you see as a mistake I see as one of those aggressive moves that are not backed by smart thinking. He said it himself in the past: he just goes in and let's see what happens. Not smart in my opinion. Though I admit the master of this is Iannone...
As for the PI race my comment on switching off the brain is backed by the final result: who ended off the podium?
I'm gonna rest my case here. Please do not ever use the word hater when referring to me.

Total votes: 13

Why does any sentient being believe I would like to watch a crew celebrate or some random person look up at a tv monitor whilst there is racing going on? WHAT IS WRONG WITH TV DIRECTORS? Please someone help me???

Total votes: 14

It has been like this for years. No matter what battle is going on behind the winner, there is always a 3 sec shot of the winning team cheering. One of the biggest annoyances of MotoGP coverage. I am sure it must have something to do with sponsors, where some kind of deal is made that the winner's team must be shown for 2 - 3 secs. Maybe David, Zara or Jared know more about this?

Total votes: 3

I was wondering how you could manage a report on a race like that...

You took your time but you did it :)

This is by far the best motorsport right now ... how could you imagine that after a sleep watching a 2010 race... a great job has been made here, in these complicated times, it is good to see it is still possible.

It can only be less good now, I can't see a better race thant that ... and PI is definitly the best motorbike's track on the planet.

Thank you Marquez, Rossi (come on), Dovi (for the season) and thank you Zarco for the show ! Thank you so much it is so inspiring.

Total votes: 11

All the BS about no team orders has clearly been exposed. Ducati depends on a wink and a nod and if that isnt clear enough, dashboard messages. Not that team riding doesn't work (look at Motegi, and tell me Lorenzo and Petrucci didn't make Marquez wear out his tires... For Dovi of course).

Total votes: 4

I'm pretty sure I saw Petrucci kick a leg out very early in the race (exit of turn 1) to let Dovi past.  Looked real suss to me.......

Total votes: 6

It’s funny how relatively little adulation from the press that Miller got for his herculean effort to come back from a broken leg, lead a grand prix in the dry, battle in the lead group and finish in a position higher than normal…. All in a shorter time than Rossi.

When Rossi did it, it was “oh… it’s amazing, I don’t know how he does it”… “ what a champ, the guy just keeps rewriting the history books”.. blah blah blah.

All the riders out there come back in ridiculously short periods from injury, let's not always make out like Rossi is soooo special when he does it. The fans will always do it, but do the Journo’s have to too?  It really diminishes the bravery, guts and talent of all the other riders that do it on a regular basis.  

Total votes: 33

I don't think anyone is detracting from what all the riders are doing, they all go through some pretty horrific injuries and astounding comebacks. We see it year after year

Rossis ride really was a cracker though, by my count it was 10 or 11 days till he was riding in practice, race on the 13th day. That was also a fracture of the tib and fib. While also at a rather ripe old age for top level grand prix motorsports. So I think that it certainly is worthy of comment, much as the same as Miller is too, with a brilliant showing for his home crowd.

Total votes: 4

It's called the hypocrisy​ of low expectations. The guy has one race win in the last 25 races in a factory Yamaha and like two podiums in the last 10 (one because Marc's engine blew). Still you hear things like "Sunday man" and "never count Rossi out".

Total votes: 10

I think it was the age (38!) of the protagonist's recovery that was the most impressive, not necessarily the raw speed of the recovery. The commentators on Sunday did mention Miller's recovery more than once, but when you're up against the fame of Rossi nobody can really compete for better or worse.

Total votes: 6

Probably should keep the conversation to that, but no we have the ever present Rossi hate brigade throwing rubbish in.

I think that this actually could have been the greatest race we've ever seen had Ianonne not dive bombed Rossi and Zarco in the late stages. This potentially should have gone right down to the wire for the win, but in a race of insanity, this type of move is to be expected and they all did similar anyway.

Yamaha finally showed up again, its been a long while

Total votes: 10

mgm and PeteRC8?  Noted.

Pitcrews waving on a wall deserve space on the same cutting room floor as Brollie Dollies and I guess there's a few Mums and Nans watching around the world who like it.

During races time is spent downfield and I guess there's a few sponsors of mid-pack teams who like it.

And for most GP's I can just shrug, roll my eyes and handle it.

But yeah! This one was a stinker! During one of the most exciting frontline battles in GP history we were denied a podium finish. During that battle we're also treated to at least four similar cuts to the race for Ducati's 11th,12th,13th....(I can't be arsed clocking it). Shame on Italian owned world feed TV. Shame on Dorna.

Guess the only thing to fix me is a ride on my old Superlight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total votes: 3

Perhaps, but this has been going on as long as there has been televised racing coverage, no matter the series it's always the same on the last lap... or at least the last half a lap.

Now what I would like to shame them about was the emabarassing feature during the Japanese race with the various teams talking about the braking demands of the Motegi circuit. Most of the video had English subtitles and throughout it's duration (5 minutes or so), over a dozen times, whenever brakes or braking was mentioned it was spelled out on screen as "breaks" and "breaking". 

This is the pinnicle or motorcycle racing remember. <sigh>

Total votes: 4

...but a lot of subtitles are made using voice recognition software rather than someone sitting and typing it out.

Total votes: 1