Phillip Island, Australia
If there is one thing that you need to ride fast around Phillip Island – apart from an appetite for scaring yourself silly, that is – it is confidence. You have to have blind faith the front will stick as you pitch it in to Turn 1 at 190 km/h, or slide the rear at 250 km/h plus through Stoner Corner. You want to be sure you're going to make it through, because if you don't, you'll fall off at speed, and it will hurt. A lot.
Meanwhile, the elements are doing their best to sap your confidence. Gusts of 40 km/h or more are coming in off the Bass Straight at different angles, picking the bike up in some places, pushing it down in others, getting in under the fairing and trying to pull the front away from you. Clouds rush past, some sprinkling droplets onto your visor, others dumping enough rain onto the track to leave it soaked, most blowing over without leaving a mark. Cold winds suck the heat out of your tires.
When you're in the zone, you can blaze around the track lap after lap, banging in times that should be good enough for the podium. But one misstep and you take a tumble. And one tumble is enough to shake your blind faith in the front end, plant the seeds of doubt in your mind. At other tracks, that might cost you a tenth or two. Phillip Island will find your lack of faith disturbing, and punish you with a second or more on your lap time.
That, in a nutshell, was the tale of qualifying. Marc Márquez is so confident at Phillip Island that he was able to punch in lap after lap during FP4, then toy with his rivals to take pole by a third of a second. Andrea Dovizioso was shaken by a crash in FP4, and that hit his confidence, and left him lapping slower in qualifying than he had in FP2 on Friday. With Márquez on pole and Dovizioso in eleventh, Phillip Island may have helped steal the championship away from the Italian.
At the MotoGP round for which they are title sponsor, Michelin announced they have extended their contract as official tire supplier to MotoGP for a further five years. The French tire manufacturer will continue to be the sole tire supplier until the end of the 2023 season.
The news did not come as a surprise. Dorna have made no secret of how happy they have been with the job Michelin have done for them, in helping to make the MotoGP series a much closer and exciting championship. During the press conference held to announce the deal, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta lauded the fact that there had been nine race winners in 2016, saying "this is a championship of bikes and of riders". Ezpeleta added "We are happy Michelin has helped the competitiveness of the championship."
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class in Phillip Island:
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class in Phillip Island:
In an apt description of Phillip Island, half the sky ahead of the final practice session was nearly black, while the other half was marshmallows on a light blue background. Making the best of the still dry track, most riders joined the action on the soft rear tyre, with the exception of a couple Ducatis, including Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo and Danilo Petrucci, as well as the Yamaha trio of Valentino Rossi, Maverick Viñales and Johann Zarco.
Marc Marquez trialled both rear tyre options, starting on the soft around sixth position and switching to the medium for the final stage of the session, snatching the lead soon after. The Spaniard picked up Andrea Iannone to inadvertently show him the ropes and drag him into second position. Marquez maintained top spot to the flag and posted a short run of consistent mid 1:29s.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Phillip Island:
If you skipped the previous FP3 sessions, you would never guess the struggles of the premier class judging by the clear and sunny skies that welcomed the Moto2 grid. Back to slicks it was but the intermediate class still had to face jumpers & gloves conditions.
On a drying track, not only the times tumbled but also the riders themselves, with some fast crashes for the likes of Iker Lecuona, Lorenzo Baldassarri or Axel Pons. Miguel Oliveira escaped that faith to set himself at the top of the timesheets early in the session and holding station through the brief lull caused by some new drops of rain falling in the final fifteen minutes. The Portuguese rider went on to improve his own time and put a gap of six tenths into the pursuers.