All eyes on Marquez and Rossi, tyres get a workout, and birds should beware …
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
There’s just six days of pre-season testing remaining for MotoGP before the lights go out under lights on the 2016 championship in Qatar on March 18-20, meaning this week’s three-day test at Phillip Island is critical for teams and riders alike.
The year’s opening test at Sepang in Malaysia a fortnight ago answered plenty of questions and posed countless others; at one of the world’s most picturesque circuits this week, what are the storylines to watch and why?
Here’s five talking points ahead of the February 17-19 hit-out.
1. Short break, long memories
It was just under four months ago when a race reckoned by many seasoned paddock observers as the best in MotoGP history rocked the Island and left those watching – and competing – shaking their heads. One second separating first (Marc Marquez) from fourth (Valentino Rossi) after 27 breathtaking laps of the sweeping Island layout. A staggering 52 overtakes between Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone and Rossi, and 13 changes of the lead. And Marquez’s last-lap surge from third to first – and the subsequent war of words between the Honda rider and Rossi that turned the back-end of last year’s title fight into sporting drama the likes of which we have never seen. Expect the key protagonists in that soap opera to avoid saying too much about last October this weekend, even though it will be in the back of their minds.
2. The chill won’t come solely from Bass Strait
Phillip Island’s famed microclimate – freezing windswept rain one minute, baking sun the next – shouldn’t be as capricious in February as it is in October, but there’ll still be some frost in the summer air this week. Just last week, an economically-worded press release from the Marquez camp confirmed what had been an open secret since the end of last year – that VR46 Racing Apparel, the merchandising company owned by ‘The Doctor’, would no longer sell licensed Marquez merchandise at Grands Prix and online. Anyone who thought the dawn of a new year would temper the acrimony between the two biggest names in MotoGP was clearly mistaken …
3. Michelin under the microscope
Ever since the 2013 race in Australia, where a newly-laid track surface and a lack of pre-season testing shredded Bridgestone’s tyres to such an extent that the race was shortened to what were effectively two 10-lap sprints, there’s been plenty of eyes on the rubber on the road at the Island. Michelin, MotoGP’s new sole tyre supplier, will be doing their homework for a track that produces higher rear-tyre temperatures (in turns 11 and 12, the final two sweeping left-handers before the start-finish straight) than any other track on the calendar. Expect plenty of tyre chat from the riders in their daily debriefs.
4. Jack’s back, Stoner sits
The sole Australian on the 2016 MotoGP grid, Townsville tyro Jack Miller, might just need to adopt an unusual steady-as-she-goes approach after missing the Sepang test after breaking his right leg in a pre-season motocross accident in Spain. “In terms of riding, it’s just the boot that’s going to be the biggest obstacle,” he says. “Once I’m on the bike, it’ll be fine – it’s just getting used to which one of the three different boots I can wear with the injury.”
Meanwhile, newly-installed Ducati test rider and two-time MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner won’t be testing for the Italian marque at a track where he has a corner (Turn 3) named in his honour; after giving regular Ducati factory riders Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso plenty to think about with his searing pace at Sepang, the six-time Island winner will sit this test out. Stoner in Stoner Corner for old times’ sake would have been a sight to behold.
5. Gone, but not forgotten
Iannone’s third place at the Island in last year’s GP was all the more meritorious given his Ducati spent most of the race with a seagull-sized hole in its front fairing, courtesy of a clash with a bird that was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he led the race in the early stages. It didn’t slow him down much – 344km/h down Gardner Straight was faster than anyone else managed in the race – but Iannone was sympathetic to the plight of his feathered friend, turning up to the Sepang test with a special tribute helmet. Let’s hope the local wildlife doesn’t loiter around Lukey Heights again this week …