Fabio Quartararo

Phillip Island MotoGP Sunday Notes: A Track Where You Have To Feel It

That Phillip Island is a special racetrack is self evident. It is unique in so very many different ways. It flows like Mugello, and has the same high speed nature, with fast corners sweeping through a loop dictated by geography rather than a CAD program. It has a fast front straight, yet it is also a track where slower bikes can find a way to stay with, and even beat, faster bikes. Speed is a factor, but the rider counts for a lot more.

What makes Phillip Island even more unique is its location, exposed to the wild weather which blows in across the Bass Strait. The track has grip, but conditions can change quickly. The sun can warm the asphalt, and the cold ocean wind can whip the heat right out of asphalt and tires just as fast. The track feels more like a force of nature than a technical challenge to be mastered.

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Phillip Island MotoGP Friday Round Up: Wild Weather, Big Crashes, Bigger Saves, And Comparing Hondas

Four seasons in one day. That's how they describe the weather at Phillip Island, and that's exactly what MotoGP got on Friday. Jack Miller's day summed up conditions nicely. "It was quite windy early as the doors were nearly blown off my house," the Pramac Ducati rider said. "Then it started calming down, then bucketing down, and believe it or not I was sitting out having a coffee at 6:30 this morning in a t-shirt as it was 18 or 19 degrees and then as I was driving to my parents’ house the temperature started going down and down and then the rain came in. I thought it would be set in for the day but it managed to clear up this afternoon and we managed to get on the slick tires."

In the end, the MotoGP riders got three session in different conditions. FP1 was cold, wet, and blustery. FP2 was warm, dry, and fairly sunny. And the special tire test session, to put the final touch on the new construction rear tire Michelin wants to introduce in 2020 was cooler, with temperatures dropping.

Those changing conditions had a fairly significant impact. First, it meant the MotoGP teams were trying to cram an entire weekend's worth of setup work and tire testing into 35 minutes, followed by chasing a time for Q2 in the final 10 minutes. Even Marc Márquez, who never stresses about chasing a time for Q2, stuck in a soft tire in pursuit of a quick lap, nearly losing out when he found his teammate Jorge Lorenzo sitting on the line through the final two corners.

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Phillip Island MotoGP Preview: Great Track, Wrong Season, Retirement Rumors, And Silly Season Kicking Off Early

From one seasonally misplaced track to another. Fresh from Motegi, which MotoGP visits at the tail end of typhoon season, the Grand Prix paddock heads south – a very long way south – to Phillip Island, on the south coast of Victoria in Australia, perched on the edge of the Bass Strait. It is a glorious location at the end of the antipodean summer, with good weather very nearly guaranteed. But unfortunately, MotoGP doesn't visit at the end of the antipodean summer in February or March.

Instead, MotoGP is condemned to brave the elements in October, when it is spring in the southern hemisphere. And all because the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, the company which runs the MotoGP round at Phillip Island, is also the promoter of the Australian Formula 1 race, held in Melbourne Park, pays a premium to host the first F1 race of the year.

With Melbourne just under two hours away, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation doesn't want to have its two biggest events too close together, to prevent fans from being forced to choose between the two races. And having paid to make the F1 race the first of the season, moving MotoGP to October is the obvious choice. An understandable choice too: the F1 race at Melbourne Park draws over 100,000 fans on race day. Race day at Phillip Island sees around 35,000 paying customers through the gates.

Real racetracks

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Motegi Race Notes: On Fuel Management, The Rookie Surprise, Ducati's Weakness, Rossi's Future, And Lorenzo's Progress

To win a motorcycle race, team, rider, and machine need to get as close as possible to extracting 100% of performance from both motorcycle and rider. In the Socratic Ideal of a motorcycle race, as the bike crosses the line, it runs out of fuel, explodes into a thousand pieces, the tires destroy themselves, and the rider drops down dead. That, however, would contravene the engine durability regulations, be extraordinarily expensive, and make winning a championship impossible.

Instead, what the riders and teams try to do is maximize the performance of the bike, and allow the rider to manage performance throughout the race. That means finding the right engine mapping to extract as much power as possible without burning through tires and fuel, and setting up suspension and electronics to keep as much edge grip, corner speed, and braking ability as possible for as long as possible.

In 2017 and 2018, tire consumption was often the limiting factor. Riders knew tire performance would drop significantly at some point, so they had to design their race strategy around that: either push hard from the beginning and manage to the end, or slow up the race and hope to keep as much performance as possible to make a dash for the end. Andrea Dovizioso was a master at this, which allowed him to control the races such that he could win them, or at least keep them close.

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Motegi MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Records Broken, Yamaha's Challenge, And Engine Allocation Issues

On the one hand, you could say that MotoGP got lucky. The heavy rain that was expected to cause flooding and potentially force Dorna to delay or even cancel practice at Motegi was not as bad as had been feared. The sessions started on time, and ran without incident, other than the normal perils of motorcycle racing.

On the other hand, the sessions were pretty much useless in terms of race setup. The weather forecast for Sunday is the best it has been all weekend, with some sun and high temperatures. FP3 on Saturday morning was drenched, a fully wet session making race setup and tire testing impossible. FP4 saw a line dry enough for slicks to be used, though times were 4 seconds off the best time from Friday.

And qualifying took place on a mostly dry track, but again, times were more than a second off what the pole time should have been. MotoGP pole was slower than Maverick Viñales' fastest lap in FP1. Even if the track had been fully dry, qualifying is just too hectic to be working on race setup and assessing tire life.

On the record

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Motegi MotoGP Friday Round Up: Heavy Weather, A Cold Track, And Improvement For Lorenzo

Two decisions plague the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi. One, a historical choice made back in 2010, when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, throwing so much ash and dust into the air that it severely disrupted air travel around Europe, forcing Dorna to postpone the race from the original date in April to October. The other, a more recent change made before the 2018 season, where tire allocation for all of the races throughout the year is already fixed before the season even begins.

The change of dates forced on the Japanese Grand Prix as a result of Eyjafjallajökull has stuck, meaning the race is now always in October, as part of the three flyaway races in Japan, Australia, and Malaysia. That has the unfortunate effect of putting the race right at the tail end of typhoon season, which stretches from July to October. Over the years, heavy rains, high winds, and low-hanging clouds have caused the action to be canceled or postponed before. In 2013, Friday practice was canceled completely due to rain and fog, while the 2015 race start was delayed while we waited for the low-hanging cloud to clear, so that the medical helicopter could fly.

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Motegi MotoGP Preview: Can Ducati Upset The Marquez Machine?

The first race of the flyaway triple header is arguably the most important. It is, after all, the home Grand Prix for half of the manufacturers on the grid. It is the one race where the top echelons of Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha management gather, the people behind the companies which put 10 of the 22 MotoGP bikes on the grid. If, for some sick and twisted reason, you wanted to destroy the Japanese motorcycle industry by removing its senior management, then the Motegi MotoGP race would be your second-best chance of success. Only the Suzuka 8 Hour race is a bigger deal for the Japanese manufacturers, and a more important race in Japan.

Motegi matters most to Honda. The Japanese motorcycling giant owns the circuit (as it does Suzuka) and it houses the Honda Collection Hall, a magnificent display of motorcycling history. As it is Honda's 60th anniversary in Grand Prix racing, this year's race is even more important. Before the previous Grand Prix in Thailand, HRC President Yoshishige Nomura told Marc Márquez to wrap up the rider's title in Buriram, so he could arrive in Motegi as champion, a goal Márquez dutifully fulfilled. The target at Motegi will be to clinch the manufacturers crown, which he can do by simply finishing ahead of the first Ducati.

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Marc Marquez vs Jonathan Rea: Is Winning Enough?

Marc Márquez and Jonathan Rea have rewritten the history books in recent years. Their successes in MotoGP and WorldSBK have made them legends of their disciplines and while it’s highly unlikely we’ll see them line up on the same grid in the future they share more than their status as world champions.

Alex Ferguson famously said “some players have world class moments, others have world class careers.” The legendary soccer manager was talking about the difference between being a transcendent player and one that only ever flashes their potential. If you want to be a legend you have to do it every time you lace up your boots.

If you want to be a legend of motorcycle racing you have to be all-in at every opportunity. Any time that you’re on the bike is an opportunity to assert your dominance. Racing is the ultimate test of nerve. Can you dig deep enough into your soul to constantly get the most from yourself? Can you take the will out of your rivals?

New rivals

Márquez and Rea have both done this consistently but this year both faced their toughest tests. For Márquez it’s been the coming of a rookie sensation, Fabio Quartararo, and for Rea it’s been a MotoGP refugee, Alvaro Bautista. Both rookies came to the 2019 season with something to prove.

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