The 2009 MotoGP World Championship begins the longest road trip of the year with its annual visit to the picturesque and challenging Phillip Island road course for the Australian Grand Prix. Followed a week later by the Malaysian Grand Prix in...
The 2009 MotoGP World Championship begins the longest road trip of the year with its annual visit to the picturesque and challenging Phillip Island road course for the Australian Grand Prix. Followed a week later by the Malaysian Grand Prix in Kuala Lumpur, these two final flyaways, on different continents on consecutive weekends, could well determine the outcome of the MotoGP World Championship.
Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa will be looking to build on fine third place finishes in the previous two races in Estoril and Misano as he tries to solidify third in the championship. The Estoril result was his eighth podium of the season, three of which came in the last four races, as he gains strength for the final push. Pedrosa had an off day at Phillip Island last year-he crashed on the first lap-but the track is one of Honda's most successful. Of the 15 Australian GP's run at Phillip Island, nine have been won by an eclectic mix of Honda riders, including victories by Australia's 500cc World Champions Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan, 1999 500cc World Champion Alex Criville, Japanese star Tady Okada, former 250cc World Champion Marco Melandri, and three by Valentino Rossi en route to his three premier class titles for Honda. The fastest lap record of the fastest track on the calendar was also run by a Honda rider.
Only Rossi or teammate Jorge Lorenzo can win the 2009 world title, with Pedrosa locked in a battle for third with Ducati's Casey Stoner, the winner here the past two years. Pedrosa has been successful at Phillip Island in the 250cc class-his 2005 win here helped cement the second of his two 250cc crowns-but he's yet to crack the podium in the premier class.
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) will look to Phillip Island as a springboard to solidifying fifth place in the championship in his first season as a factory rider. Last year the British GP winner improved on his qualifying position to finish a deceptive seventh. It was deceptive because he was in the mix of a furious four-way fight that might have landed him in fourth. Instead he finished just over a second from the fourth place finisher. Like Pedrosa, he's been successful in the smaller classes; he won the 125cc GP here in 2004 and was on the podium aboard a 250 in 2007.
Aside from individual glory, the teammates from southern Europe are well positioned to take runner-up in the Team championship.
Now that he's been confirmed to stay with the LCR Honda team for a third season in 2010, Frenchman Randy De Puniet can concentrate on racing. De Puniet hasn't been able to build on his lone podium of the season in Great Britain, but lists Phillip Island as one of his favorite tracks. Currently eighth in the championship, De Puniet is among six riders separated by nine points with only three races remaining. There will be fierce competition to finish seventh-sixth place is likely out of reach-which means the veteran will have to call on his vast experience to stay ahead of the pack.
The San Carlo Honda Gresini teammates arrive in Australia separated by only two points, with both Toni Elias and Alex De Angelis aiming for seventh in the championship. Elias has been on the podium in Australia and would like to be there again on Sunday afternoon. But he knows he'll have to improve on his qualifying performance at Portugal-he was 13th on the grid-if he's to give himself a chance at glory Down Under.
Since finishing second at the Indianapolis Grand Prix, Alex De Angelis has hit a patch of bad luck. The San Marinese crashed on the first lap of his home grand prix in Misano, which ended a perfect season of scoring points in every race. Following Misano he was forced out of the Portuguese Grand Prix with a mechanical issue. De Angelis twice visited the Phillip Island podium during his 250cc days.
And the team has history on its side. The San Carlo Gresini Honda team has the distinction of being the only non-factory team to win at Phillip Island. Marco Melandri, who will return to the squad in 2010, enjoyed a spectacular, nearly ten second win in the 2006 race.
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda MotoGP) continues a rookie season of visiting tracks for the first time on the Honda RC212V. Having only ever ridden a 125 at Phillip Island, the Hungarian will quickly discover it's a different track on a MotoGP machine and will be hoping for a dry weekend if he's to get enough track time to properly set the machine up for Sunday's race. It will take a team effort if Talmacsi hopes to crack into the MotoGP top ten for the first time.
Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) arrives in Australia with the mathematical possibility of winning the 250cc World Championship. Given the quality of the field, it isn't likely. But Aoyama is in control of his own destiny and can secure the title by scoring 50 points over the final three races, regardless of where his competitors finish. This year the Japanese rider has been the model of consistency, with front row starts and top four finishes in all but two races, including six podiums and three wins, a career best.
Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda) is looking forward to racing at his favourite track late in what is guaranteed be his best ever end of year result in his first year in the highly competitive 250cc class. Prior to a non-finish in Portugal, De Rosa had scored points in every race. That consistency has put the 22-year-old from Naples seventh in the championship and only four points out of sixth.
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF-Honda SAG) is hopeful of rebounding from a crash in Estoril that aggravated a prior back injury. The prognosis for the 26-year-old Spaniard is that he won't be at 100% fitness for the final two flyaways, but expects to be fully fit for the season finale in Valencia, a track where he's won twice on a 125cc machine. Solid finishes could propel him up the championship ladder; he's one of five riders capable of finishing sixth overall. Faubel has a career best finish of second at Phillip Island in 2007, the year he was the 125cc World Championship runner-up.
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) has had a feast or famine season. Five non-points paying finishes in the year's 13 races have relegated him to 14th overall. The upside is that the races he does finish are consistently the best of his career and a strong final three rounds would assure a career best championship placing. Wilairot is coming off a sixth place finish in Portugal, the second best of his career. More than Australia, he's looking forward to the following round in Malaysia, which the Thai rider considers something of a home race.
Shuhei Aoyama, the younger brother of championship leader Hiroshi Aoyama, rode a Repsol Honda to the 2006 Rookie of the Year award. The 24-year-old from Chiba, who raced in the World Superbike Championship last year, made his full-time return to the paddock in Portugal with a 12th place finish on the Racing Team Germany Honda RS250. Two years of experience at Phillip Island on a 250, with a best finish of fifth, should ease his return to the circuit.
The CIP Moto-GP250 team of Shoya Tomizawa and Valentin Debise have been threatening to score more top ten finishes ever since Tomizawa finished 10th in his home grand prix at the Twin Ring Motegi. At 17 years of age, Debise has had a steep learning curve, while Tomizawa, 30, has done himself no favors by failing to score points in six races. Both are looking forward to visiting Phillip Island for the first time.
Phillip Island is one of the great race tracks of the world, the favourite of many in the MotoGP field for its fast, flowing nature, and the favourite of fans for its picturesque location on cliffs above the Bass Strait.
Located 130km southeast of Melbourne, Phillip Island staged Australia's first ever round of the 500cc World Championship 20 years ago, in 1989. Before a highly partisan crowd of 90,000, Rothmans Honda's Wayne Gardner, the Wollongong Whiz, scored a popular and emotional win by fending off Wayne Rainey and Christian Sarron in an instant classic, the top three covered by just .470 sec. It's that sort of close racing that has been the hallmark of the 4.448km circuit.
The track rewarded Gardner for his heroism, popularity, and 1987 World Championship by affixing his name to the 900m straight. The straight leads into the daunting turn one, named after another Australian legend, Honda's five-time 500cc World Champion Mick Doohan. One of only five right-hand turns, to go along with seven lefts, Doohan Corner is a 215kph fourth gear corner that truly begins the rollercoaster ride that is Phillip Island.
Next comes the first of the left-handers, the 180 degree Southern Loop that leads onto the Bass Strait. Then the track drops quickly to the a first gear right hand hairpin Honda Corner, from which riders accelerate hard up to the looping left hand Siberia. Two long flowing fourth gear corners follow, a left then a right, before the riders encounter Hayshed, a third gear left at the top of Lukey Heights that leads to the second of the first gear hairpins.
A rush through the gears up to third leads to the first of the two fast lefts that complete the lap, the second of which, Swan Corner, is taken in fourth gear at roughly 175kph onto the Gardner Straight.
The preponderance of sustained lean angles in the fast, left hand corners demands the use of dual compound tires. Still, late race heroics on worn tires provide some of the best racing on the calendar. With only two choices of control Bridgestone rears, a favorite should quickly emerge in Friday practice, allowing riders Saturday's two sessions to fine-tune machine set-up. With hard braking in only the track's two slow corners, Phillip Island puts a premium on high-speed stability and changes of direction, but offers a wide variety of challenges that play to the strengths and magnify the weaknesses of the diverse MotoGP field.
The wild cards here are the weather, with unpredictable winds and rain blowing off the Bass Strait, and sea birds. Phillip Island is a well-known destination for bird watchers-the nightly Penguin Parade of "Little Penguins" draws birders from around the world-and more than a few riders have had unfortunate encounters with sea gulls and various other airborne friends.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) says: "I'm really looking forward to racing in Australia again. It feels like one of the most important races of the season for me and I'm very motivated to do my best there, get a good result and hopefully challenge for the win. I've had mixed experiences at Phillip Island but there have been some very good memories and those are the ones I'll be focusing on going into this weekend. The objective for the remainder of the season is to keep third place in the championship and score at least one more victory, so if that can come in Australia, all the better. The circuit is great to ride and the atmosphere is also unique and special. The track itself is a little bit bumpy in a few places and that combined with the really fast curves makes set-up very important because you need to be able to ride aggressively here to go quickly. I've had podium finishes in the last two races at Misano and Estoril and this weekend we'll be looking for that little bit extra to give us a chance of winning. The weather can be unstable in Phillip Island, but it'll be good to get out on track on Friday."
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) says: "Phillip Island is one of the best places to race because of the track layout and laid-back atmosphere. It's a beautiful place - very green -and the circuit is right by the sea which creates an unusual feeling. Unfortunately, we race here at a time of the year where it's usually cold and windy, but still it's an event I always look forward to. The race track is really spectacular and it's always a big challenge to race here. The fast corners and elevation changes make it a circuit that's technical and demanding to ride, and it's one of the tracks where the bike slides a lot, so achieving good machine control is essential. There are always a lot of fans at Phillip Island whatever the weather and they are really passionate about MotoGP. At the end of the race they all come under the podium and this makes for a very special atmosphere, so I hope I'm up there to enjoy the reception. I usually have decent results here and so I'm confident of having a good race. I'm certainly looking forward to getting back to this special track and pushing as hard as possible."
Toni Elias (San Carlo Gresini Honda) says: "Phillip Island is a wonderful track and I love it there, it's a great track to ride when you've got traction. Unfortunately, that has been our main problem at a lot of the circuits we've been to this season and I'm concerned we'll be struggling this weekend, because if you don't have grip you can't do the lap times. I'm expecting a difficult weekend, but we'll give it our best shot and see what happens when we get there."
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Gresini Honda) says: "Alongside Sachsenring, Philip Island is my favourite track on the calendar, without a doubt. It is fast and flowing, which suits my riding style, and it gives me an opportunity to really get the full potential out of my bike in the fast corners. After scoring zero points in the last two rounds we go there with the will and determination to do a good job and our potential is high so I'm confident. I'm thinking positive also because I've come really close to victory on many occasions here in both the 125 and 250 classes and I feel that after the good form we showed in the middle of the season we are overdue another good result."
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda MotoGP) says: "Phillip Island is a fast and difficult track. We must have a setup that helps me better. We are working hard to find it."
HONDA 250cc RIDER QUOTES
Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda): "I love this circuit. It's one of my favourites. I enjoyed it and got some interesting results. Its straight is not too long, and the layout of the track suits pretty well our Honda. I go there aiming to get a good result and strengthening my lead in the world championship."
Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda): "Phillip Island is the circuit I love most. With a 125 bike you are almost always at full speed; with a bigger bike like a 250cc, it is more tricky. But, as I said, I love it and not only because of the characteristic of the layout, I also appreciate the camaraderie that here is stronger than in other places."
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF-Honda SAG) says: "Since the last race outside Europe, in Indianapolis, to Australia there has been a great improvement physically in me, and the last race was a shame as we were in a very good position in the race. In the crash at Estoril I reinjured the back injury I had before and I've been recovering well to get to Australia. According to my doctor, in 15 days I will be fully recovered. The next race is important, because there are only three, and we need to hold the race up and be in the 'Top 8' to move up the 250cc World Standings."
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) says: "In the last race I had a good feeling with the bike. Back in Barcelona I got in touch with Jordi Dalmau to go to trials riding, because it is something that needs very good throttle control. For Australia I have a good feeling, because I have a lot of confidence with the bike, but we must keep working as we do to get good results. We have before us two races, and Malaysia is close to my home, so I hope that I have two good races and move up a place in the overall championship."
Shoya Tomizawa (CIP Moto-GP250) says: "After my DNF in Estoril, I'm looking forward to getting back to racing in Phillip Island. I know it's quite a challenging racetrack with a lot memorable races in the past and sometimes with difficult weather conditions. I need to score some more points, I know I have to finish, but my target remains a top 10 finish."
Valentin Debise (CIP Moto-GP250) says: "I've been scoring points for the last four races and why not make it five in a row? Phillip Island looks like a very tricky place. I've heard that it's a great race track, but I also know the strong winds and cold weather can make it challenging."