Cal Crutchlow

2017 Phillip Island MotoGP Friday Round Up: A Fast Aprilia, Marquez vs Dovizioso, And Pit Lane Safety

They say that you can experience four season in one day at Phillip Island, but on the first day of practice for the 2017 MotoGP round, the weather gods restricted themselves to just the two. The sun burned down as if it were summer, while the icy wind blew in off the Bass Straight bringing the chill of winter. I suppose if you average summer and winter, you get the Antipodean spring, which is the current season at Phillip Island chronologically, if not necessarily meteorologically.

That wind was a major problem. It buffeted the riders and bikes and stripped any semblance of stability. It also rendered the aerodynamic fairings largely useless, or for some riders, made the bikes more unstable than with the standard fairing. "The wind makes our life very, very difficult," Aleix Espargaro said, echoing a common sentiment from Friday.

It had not stopped Espargaro from being fastest on Friday, however. It was a remarkable achievement for the Aprilia RS-GP, the first time an Aprilia had been fastest in a session since the start of the four-stroke era. The last time an Aprilia was that quick was in 2000, when Jeremy McWilliams put the Aprilia 500cc V twin on pole at Phillip Island. Proof, if it were needed, that the key to speed at the Australian track is corner speed, rather than outright horsepower.

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2017 Phillip Island MotoGP Preview: Showdown At The Island

There are many fine racing circuits on the MotoGP calendar, but two of them are genuinely glorious. The reasons Mugello and Phillip Island are so glorious are pretty much the same. First, the setting: Mugello sits amidst the stunning hills, woods, and farmland of Tuscany, while Phillip Island is perched atop a granite cliff overlooking the wild and windy Bass Strait. They are both tests of courage and skill, fast, flowing tracks which require a deep understanding of what the motorcycle is doing, the bravery to let it do what it's doing at that speed, and the reflexes and talent to manage the bike within the confines of its performance envelope.

Like Mugello, Phillip Island flows across the terrain, following the natural slopes, dips, and hollows of the rock it is built on. The speed and the location provide a spectacular backdrop for motorcycle racing, and a terrifying challenge for the riders. That speed also makes them dangerous, though the two tracks are dangerous in different ways. At Mugello, the walls are a little too close in places, meaning that a crash can leave you to slam into an airfence. At Phillip Island, the problem is not so much the walls, as the sheer speed at which you crash. There are only really two slow corners at Phillip Island, meaning that if you fall off, your momentum is going to carry you a long way.

Two things make Phillip Island unique. First, there's the weather. With only Tasmania between the Island and the Antarctic, and the vast Southern Ocean beyond, the westerlies batter and blast the Island, bringing harsh squalls in one moment then carrying them away the next. Four seasons in one day, the locals say, and if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes. The one constant in October is the cold, however. Though the sun be out, the icy Antarctic wind can suck the heat out of tires, brakes, and bodies. The weather there is a treacherous thing.

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2017 Motegi Friday Round Up: Slow Yamahas, Fast Ducatis, And Blame For Crashes

The rain in Japan is separating the sheep from the goats. There are bikes that work well in the rain, and they are up at the front, and there are bikes which don't, and they are struggling. Including, well, the GOAT, to extend a metaphor.

The 2017 Yamaha M1 simply does not work well in the wet. "Sincerely we tried to do a lot of things with the bike but we are in trouble," Valentino Rossi said after finishing the day in twelfth, over a second and a half slower than the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso. "We don't understand why. Because last year I was very competitive in the wet. I had a good feeling with the old bike. But this year we are struggling. Something strange."

The problem is mainly wheelspin and rear traction. "We’ve been struggling all the time with rear grip," Maverick Viñales said, agreeing with his Movistar Yamaha teammate. "We change a lot the bike during all the practices but finally the same problem remains. It’s been very difficult for us during all of this year trying to be fast and competitive."

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2017 Motegi MotoGP Preview: The Weather As Wildcard

The three Pacific flyaways are all tough, but each is tough in its own particular way. At Sepang, the brutal combination of heat and humidity punishes the body and the mind. At Phillip Island, the fickle weather, which can change in the blink of an eye, always manages to catch out the unwary. And Motegi is tough because of the physical demands of the circuit, featuring the hardest braking sections on the calendar, combined with often cold and wet weather.

Motegi can really take its toll, on machinery, but especially on the riders. Braking is so tough at the circuit that the MotoGP rules specifically state that 340mm carbon discs must be used there. There are plenty of riders who paid the price of trying to run the smaller 320mm discs, their brakes overheating on the run into Turn 1 and then never really getting a chance to cool off properly as they approach the next hard braking section after crossing the finish line.

Those braking sections are illustrative of the stop-and-go nature of the Japanese track. Like Le Mans, the circuit has a bunch of straights which loop back toward each other, with tight corners in between. Once the riders exit Turn 5 and head under the bridge, they enter a more flowing and natural section. 130R is a fast right hander, which is followed by one of the better overtaking points on the circuit, the left of Turn 7, then the right-handed S Curve of Turn 8.

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2017 Misano MotoGP Post-Race Press Releases

Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after Sunday's rain-sodden race at Misano:


Powerful win for Marquez at wet Misano to take back the Championship lead

Marc Marquez perfectly mastered today’s very tricky wet conditions at Misano, taking his fourth win of the season and the 59th in his career, putting him back at the top of the Championship standings, equal on points with Andrea Dovizioso (with Marquez ahead by virtue of more second-place finishes).

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2017 Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Changing Conditions, Lorenzo's Speed, Yamaha's New Chassis, And Viñales Struggling In The Wet

It feels like the two days of practice we have had at Misano are set to come to naught. With a cold first day of practice, a cool morning on the second day, and a hot afternoon, conditions have been hard enough to track, especially after heavy rain on Thursday scoured any rubber from previous events from the surface. But the riders have had no practice in the wet, and with rain set to fall on Sunday – exactly when, we don't know, but fall it will – everything is very much up in the air.

The five factories who tested here should be used to it. The track feels totally different from the test here back in August, grip levels radically lower. Tires feel very different too, despite Michelin insisting they are using the same tires this weekend as they brought to the test. It's all a bit topsy turvy, so why should adding a bit of rain make it any more complicated.

A wet Sunday would be a shame in more than one way. The Misano races in all three classes are shaping up to be fantastic spectacles. In Moto3, four of the top five in the championship start from the first two rows, with Enea Bastianini thrown into the mix for good measure. Moto2 pits Franco Morbidelli against a resurgent Mattia Pasini, the Italian veteran making it four pole positions in a row. Tom Luthi may be on the third row, but his qualifying position belies his pace. Sadly, Alex Márquez will be absent, the Spaniard having banged up his hip badly enough that it's trapped a nerve.

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