2016 Phillip Island MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Why Hondas Thrive and Yamahas Struggle in the Cold

There are plenty of ways of explaining the results of qualifying at Phillip Island. Lack of set up time in consistent conditions make the qualifying order a bit of a lottery. Rain and wind coming in off the Bass Strait and the weather changing every minute or so meant getting your timing and strategy right was crucial. Changing track conditions and unpredictable weather meant that some teams gambled right on whether to have their bikes in a wet set up, on intermediates, or on slicks. Or even on the correct mixture of tires front and rear.

In reality, though, the main factor in determining the qualifying order was this: the temperature in the front tire. Riders who could generate it had confidence in the front and could push hard in the sketchy and cold conditions. Riders who couldn't, languished well down the order, unable to feel the front and unable to lap with any confidence or feedback from the tires.

That explains why Marc Márquez and Cal Crutchlow are on the front row of the grid at Phillip Island, while the factory Yamahas languish back in twelfth and fifteenth place (or "on the fourth and fifth row of the grid" as it is known in press release speak). The Hondas have a tendency to overheat the tires due to the way they brake and their geometry. The Yamahas lean heavily on the front tire to generate corner speed, and on the edge of the rear tire to maintain it. At Phillip Island, it was too cold and too windy to do either.

2016 Phillip Island MotoGP Preview: A Wild Weekend at the Greatest Track in the World

If you needed to find a time and place to organize a MotoGP race, then Phillip Island in October is among the worst combinations in the world. A track located on the edge of the freezing Southern Ocean, with nothing between it and the South Pole but the brief blip of Tasmania. Held while the southern winter still has a firm grip on the track, wracking it with blasts of icy wind and soaking it in freezing rain. And yet it is the best race on the calendar.

The answer is simple. Phillip Island is arguably the purest motorcycle racing circuit in the world. Like all great circuits, it follows the lines dictated to it by the landscape. The track ebbs and flows, dips and rises its way around the rolling hills which sit atop the cliffs overlooking the Bass Strait. It is fast, the second fastest track on the calendar, but unlike the Red Bull Ring, which knocked it off top spot, its speed is all in the corners, brutally fast turns which require courage, balance, and bike feel in equal measure. It is above all a test of the rider, rather than machinery.

That makes Phillip Island beloved of every rider on the grid. The love of the place is nigh on unanimous, up there with Mugello, and the uncastrated part of Assen. It encapsulates the reason motorcycle racers ride: a chance to surf the wave of inner terror, face it down, and overcome it. The flood of adrenaline that engulfs the senses, knowing that you are teetering on the brink of disaster, and if you step over, it is going to hurt. Controlling the bike, sensing its movement, riding the edge of the tires and the limits of adhesion. This is what it means to feel alive.

2016 Phillip Island MotoGP Preview Press Releases

Press releases from most of the MotoGP teams and Michelin ahead of this weekend's Australian Grand Prix:

2016 World Champion Marquez and Repsol Honda Team en route to Australia. Nicky Hayden to replace Pedrosa

Fresh from clinching the Riders’ Championship at Motegi with Marc Marquez, the Repsol Honda team has packed up in Japan and is headed to Australia for Round 16 of the World Championship.

2016 Motegi MotoGP Post-Race Press Releases

Press releases from the teams and Michelin after Sunday's MotoGP race at Motegi:

Marc Marquez crowned 2016 World Champion at Motegi

Marc Marquez took a remarkable victory at Motegi today to become the 2016 MotoGP World Champion with three races to go, in front of Honda President Chief Executive Officer and Representative Director Mr. Takahiro Hachigo, who joined Marc on the podium, Operating Officer and Director Mr. Shinji Aoyama and HRC President Mr. Yoshishige Nomura.

2016 Motegi MotoGP Round Up: The Path of the Sensei

Chasing down a championship lead can be both liberating and extremely stressful. On the one hand, your objective is simple: beat the rider who is leading the championship, and try to outscore them by as much as possible. On the other hand, you have to take more risk, as riding conservatively means you risk not scoring enough points to close the gap to the leader. Finding the balance between the two is always difficult.

Defending a championship lead is just stressful. The best way to defend it is to keep trying to win races, and make it as hard as possible for your rivals to catch you. But winning races means taking risks, and a crash can mean throwing away a big chunk of your lead in a single race. Riding conservatively is not necessarily an easier option: it is paradoxically harder to ride just off the pace than right on the pace, requiring more focus and concentration to manage the race. Giving away points every race can be like Chinese water torture, your rivals closing the gap with each drip. Tension rises every race, and containing it without bursting is extremely stressful.

The Motegi MotoGP race provided a perfect example of both of these situations. Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo came into the Japanese Grand Prix knowing that they had to win the race if they were to retain any hope of keeping the 2016 MotoGP title out of Marc Márquez' hands. The job was significantly easier for Rossi than for Lorenzo. Outscoring an opponent by 52 points in four races is easier than trying to make up a deficit of 66 points. Conversely, that put more pressure on Rossi: keeping an achievable target within reach makes winning paramount.


Subscribe to Aprilia