Marc Marquez

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Cal joins the Pommie pantheon

Cal Crutchlow dominated at the greatest MotoGP track of them all. What a shame that some fans spoiled a great day by cheering Marquez’s crash

Cal Crutchlow’s second MotoGP victory was even better than his first, mainly because every rider knows a dry win counts for more than a wet win. He now stands alongside Leslie Graham, Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Phil Read and Barry Sheene as the only Britons to have scored two premier-class victories in one season. In other words, he’s in the Pommie pantheon.

Once again Crutchlow showed aggression and intelligence – he was one of the few to choose Michelin’s hard-option front slick and understood that whenever the sun disappeared behind the clouds the track temperature dropped, so he had to push harder (but not too hard) to keep the tyre hot enough to grip the track.

Marc Marquez and Aleix Espargaro chose the same front and both fell, proving the tyre had riders walking the narrowest of lines. Managing tyre temperature is a big part of MotoGP and Crutchlow did it perfectly. He beat the best in the world by over four seconds, which is proper domination during an era of close finishes. Even nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi couldn’t match the winner’s pace during his inspired comeback from 15th on the grid.

2016 Phillip Island Sunday Round Up: What is an Alien, Anyway? And Who Is One?

Is there such a thing as an Alien? The provenance of the term is uncertain, though most people believe that it was coined by Colin Edwards in 2009, after he kept finishing in fifth place behind Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa. Whatever he tried, he could not stay with them. "They are riding out of this world," he said.

The term has stuck. Since then, the term Alien has been applied to the top four riders, the only difference being that Marc Márquez has been swapped for Casey Stoner now that the Australian has retired. The reality is that since Jorge Lorenzo entered the class until the start of the 2016 season, the five MotoGP Aliens had accounted for all but two of the 143 MotoGP races held. The two non-Alien wins were by Andrea Dovizioso (Donington 2009) and Ben Spies (Assen 2011). Both of those races came in unusual conditions. The five Aliens dominated the podiums throughout that period as well.

2016 looks like becoming the year the Alien died. Or perhaps more realistically (and less dramatically) the year we had to readjust the concept of a MotoGP Alien. The season was going very much to plan up until Assen, when Jack Miller won an interrupted race in the driving rain. Then in Austria, Andrea Iannone finally did what everyone has been waiting for, won a race with a Ducati. Cal Crutchlow used a drying surface to his advantage to win at Brno, and then Maverick Viñales won at a dry but cold Silverstone. Questions were asked whether Maverick Viñales was the next Alien.

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 Friday Press Releases

Press releases from the MotoGP teams after a miserable day of practice at Australia, including the press release on the sanction imposed on Valentino Rossi:

Marquez fourth and Hayden ninth in rainy first day at Phillip Island.

Marc Marquez set the fourth-best lap time at a rainy, windswept Phillip Island Circuit on the opening day of the Australian Grand Prix. Conditions had been harsh enough during the FP1 session and became even worse in the afternoon, so the FP2 session was delayed to 3:45 p.m. from the original schedule of 3:05.

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.

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Mighty Marc: life on the knife edge

How does Marquez ride the way he does – apparently always over the limit – and get away with it?

All of racing – if you are anywhere near the front – is a knife edge. And the closer you get to the front, the sharper that knife edge becomes. MotoGP is a razor edge, sharpened to the point where any normal person will bleed if they even dare touch the blade. MotoGP is not a forgiving environment, no matter how easy it looks through the lens of the television cameras. Despite all the smiles, the sponsor meet-and-greets, the armies of PR people marching this way and that, it is a mean, vicious and pitiless sport. Like cage fighting, but at 200 miles an hour.

I am not a great follower of Formula 1 car racing, but I was glad to find out a few weeks ago that Nigel Roebuck, doyen of F1 reporting over the past few decades, is a big fan of MotoGP. It reminds him of how F1 was many years ago: men putting themselves out there in a wild world of risk, walking the line, because that’s what excites them.

“I never miss watching a race,” he told me when we met at a Motor Sport magazine do a few weeks ago.


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