Brad Binder set a scorching lapa late in the session to take the top spot Saturday during FP3 at the Philip Island Circuit in Australia. Binder's 1’36.519 was the weekend's fastest Moto3 time and put the South African two-tenths of a second ahead of Jakub Kornfeil.
Championship points leader Danny Kent grabbed the third fastest time -- a performance that is duplicated in the race Sunday would secure the Moto3 championship for the British rider.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after practice on Friday:
Jorge Navarro claimed the top second free practice time Friday at the Phillip Island Circuit, finishing the blustery session at 1'37.531, a tenth of a second ahead of Brad Binder. Miguel Olivera, who finished second in Motegi last week, took third in FP2.
But on the wet and windy day, it was Oliveira with the top combined time from both practices, just ahead of points-leader Danny Kent. A technical problem prevented Kent from improving on his FP1 time from earlier in the day.
Miguel Oliveira has stamped his authority on the first session of free practice for the Moto3 class at Phillip Island. The Red Bull KTM rider picked up his pace in the second half of the session, increasing his pace lap by lap to first match the time of championship leader Danny Kent, then leave Kent behind. It was an animated Kent who returned to his garage, though he had a very strong session, leading for most of the way, and ending 2nd behind Oliveira, but more importantly, finishing half a second ahead of the man who finished in 3rd, Efren Vazquez.
Brad Binder took 4th, making it two Red Bull KTM riders in the top four, finishing ahead of Romano Fenati in 5th. It was a tough start for the other two Italian favorites, Niccolo Antonelli suffering a very fast crash at Turn 1, and ending the session in 10th, while Enea Bastianini just struggled to find speed, finishing FP1 way down in 18th spot, over a second and a half slower than his championship rival Danny Kent.
2015 Phillip Island MotoGP Thursday Notes: On The Yamaha Rivalry, Bridgestone's Brilliant Asymmetric Solution, And Bastianini's Future
Is the strain of the championship starting to take its toll on the relationship between the two Movistar Yamaha riders? It was all Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo could do to roll their eyes when they were asked this question during the press conference. They get asked it a lot: in just about every press conference at which they are together, in their media debriefs after every day of practice, and presumably, in just about every TV and media interview.
Valentino Rossi had armed himself with a quip to deflect the question. "We are very happy about your interest," he joked. "We have a diary about our relationship, which we will keep secret until the last race." It is a shame he was only joking. There is no doubt that a diary, especially a video diary, following Rossi and Lorenzo behind the scenes through this season would have made compelling reading or viewing.
Once he was done with gently mocking the questioner, Rossi acknowledged that both he and Lorenzo are "hard rivals" and that fighting for a championship was always difficult. But they were used to it. When two riders are in the same team, they get used to seeing each other in the box and out. Lorenzo agreed, adding "We are two world champions who both want the same thing. It's normal that the relationship gets a little bit more tense." He also pointed out that it would be the same with whoever he was fighting with for the title.
Previews from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams ahead of this weekend's Australian GP at Phillip Island:
Phillip Island, like Mugello, is one of the tracks which any motorcycle racer worth their salt puts at the very top of their list of favorite tracks. And rightly so: swooping over gently undulating ground sitting atop cliffs overlooking a bay on the Bass Strait, it is perhaps the greatest of the natural race tracks. It has everything a race track should have: a collection of fast, sweeping corners which richly reward bravery; a couple of hard braking corners fast and slow at which to overtake; a superb and treacherous combination of turns in Lukey Heights and MG at which to make a last ditch passing attempt, and a long enough run to the finish line to make drafting a possibility. Add in arguably the most breathtaking setting on the calendar, and you have just about everything.
Of course, the glory of Phillip Island also has its downsides. The flowing nature of the track and limited number of turns means that the bikes spend a lot of time on the left-hand side of the tire, often at very high speed. With very high loads on the left-hand side, and very low loads on the right, both producing and managing tires is difficult. Add in the fact that in October, the start of the Australian spring, it can be still be very chilly indeed, especially with the strong winds blowing off the Bass Strait, with next to nothing between them and the Antarctic, and it is a potential recipe for disaster. Tires cool quickly, and each right hander has to be approached with respect. Get it wrong, and your race is over very quickly.
Tires have always been an issue at Phillip Island, providing just the sort of challenge which tire manufacturers relish. That they are not always up to the challenge was demonstrated in 2013, when Bridgestone drastically underestimated the effect of the newly resurfaced circuit. Massive problems with overheating forced Race Direction to shorten the race and introduce compulsory pit stops, a workaround which produced a fascinating race, with the added spice of a disqualification, Marc Márquez being black-flagged for not making his pit stop in time.
With the title chase so incredibly tight, it is inevitable that every MotoGP race from now until Valencia will result in journalists and writers – and I include myself in that group – spend most of their time writing about the clash between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. The outcome of that confrontation matters, as it will decide the 2015 MotoGP championship.
This is tough on the rest of the MotoGP field and the riders in other classes. They, too, are riding their hearts out, aiming for – and in Moto2 and Moto3 attaining – glory, yet they are ignored as the rest of the world gazes in wonder at a few names at the front of MotoGP. They do not deserve such treatment, but life in general, and motorcycle racing in particular are neither fair nor just.
There were plenty of tales to tell at Motegi, however. The biggest, perhaps, is the tale of tires. To some extent, this has already been covered in part 1 of the round up, as tire wear ended up determining the outcome of the race. Jorge Lorenzo pushed early, then went backwards in the second half of the race. Valentino Rossi tried to follow Lorenzo at the start, realized that was not possible and so paced himself, and found himself catching and then passing Lorenzo in the latter stages of the race. And Dani Pedrosa felt uncomfortable in the first part of the race, as he figured out what the rear tire needed, then gradually upped his pace – or more accurately, maintained his pace – from about lap 8, and started reeling in the riders ahead as their pace began to flag. Whether accidental or deliberate, Pedrosa's strategy ended up winning the race.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Sunday's races at Motegi:
2015 Motegi Saturday Round Up: The Key To Rossi's Qualifying, The Perils Of Data Sharing, And Fast Fenati, Finally
Has Valentino Rossi finally mastered qualifying? The Italian has struggled since the format changed, from the extended hour of qualifying which started out as free practice and ended up as an all-out time attack, to the frenetic fifteen-minute dash for pole. His biggest problem, he always explained, was getting up to speed from the start: leaving pit lane and going flat out from the very first meters. He had spent a lifetime slowly sidling up to a blistering lap, rather than getting the hammer down as soon as the lights changed. The switch from an analog to a binary format had been hard to swallow. Millions of older fans sympathized, as they faced the same struggle in their own lives.
Lorenzo, on the other hand, has thrived in the new format, having learned the skill while doing battle with Casey Stoner. The Australian's greatest legacy was his ability to go as fast as possible the moment he left the pit lane. I was once told by Cristian Gabarrini, Stoner's crew chief, that when they looked at his sector times, they would see that he had set his fastest sector times on his out lap. To beat Stoner, Lorenzo had to learn to emulate him. That ability has benefited him twofold: firstly, in the new qualifying format, he can put the hammer down right out of pit lane, without any mental preparation for speed. Secondly, Lorenzo has been able to convert those pole positions into a lot of wins by being able to blast off the line and into the lead before the first corner, then open a gap which his pursuers can never bridge.
That blistering speed has given Lorenzo an added advantage in qualifying. By having the pace to push from the start, he cuts vital seconds from the out lap. Those seconds add up, and can under some circumstances mean the difference between managing to get in for two stops, and being forced to make do with a single stop. There are upsides and downsides to both approaches: more stops means you need more tires, both front and rear, to be able to extract the maximum lap time. You have no time to make set up adjustments, and you are usually forced into swapping bikes as well, something riders often do not like as the two bikes can feel slightly different.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after qualifying at Motegi: