Rain made for a dramatic race at Sepang, where Dani Pedrosa (26) earned his third consecutive win and moved closer to points leader Jorge Lorenzo. He will look to continue chipping away at Lorenzo’s lead at Phillip Island.
MotoGP riders will descend upon the Australian circuit at Phillip Island for the 16th consecutive year to face-off in the penultimate race of the 2012 season. Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo enters the round with a 23-point advantage over Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, but the RC213V pilot continues to ride with hopes of earning his first premier-class title. Both riders will likely be challenged again by the weather as the previous round at Sepang was shortened by a storm and forecasts predict showers Friday and cold temperatures throughout the weekend.
Lorenzo has enough of a lead in overall points to finish second or third through the remaining races and still capture the title, meaning his strategy going forward will be to finish without incident rather than push for race wins. He narrowly escaped disaster in Sepang after losing control of his YZR-M1 in the rain-soaked final lap of the shortened contest. The Mallorcan was able to remain upright, only ceding five points to Pedrosa, but it was a stark reminder of just how quickly the tables could turn in the battle between the two riders for this year’s title.
Phillip Island is the site where, in 2011, Lorenzo crashed during practice and suffered an injury to his finger which took him out of competition, giving Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner claim to the overall championship. He will be working to avoid incidents like this at all costs.
Pedrosa has been riding in the best form of his premier-class career lately, taking his first-ever wet-race win at Sepang and has bested his personal record for total points earned and podiums won in a single season. The Repsol rider has tallied seven total wins so far this year, too. He’s been on top through five of the last six rounds and though he’s only been on the podium once in GP at Phillip Island, taking third in 2009, he enjoys the layout of the circuit and is looking forward to the challenge.
“Phillip Island is a great track, especially on these machines where you can usually see rear slides,” said Pedrosa. “The layout of the track makes racing very nice, so I hope we have good luck and that the bike is working well there also.”
Casey Stoner has won the last six years at Phillip Island in the premier-class, though a lingering injury in his right ankle might keep him from reacing the top step this year.
Since his return to the grid at Motegi, Stoner has faced his fair share of obstacles. Persistent pain from his injured right ankle has made maneuvering the bike difficult and he left both Motegi and Sepang unhappy with his bike set-up. This will be Stoner’s final MotoGP race at his home track and the event has already generated huge interest from racing fans in Australia. Tickets are nearly sold out and near-by campgrounds have had to expand to accommodate spectators.
Over the course of his MotoGP career Stoner has been most consistent at Phillip Island, winning the previous six rounds at the circuit. He was able to finish third at Sepang in spite of his injury and could well be a threat to those contending for a top-spot on the rostrum in the Australian Grand Prix.
“We’ve really struggled with the bike set-up in the past two races and I’m pretty disappointed with this,” said Stoner. “We always seem to find our rhythm in Phillip Island but I don’t expect it to come easily this year. Thankfully the track goes to the left and we’re having a lot less issues with chatter when it goes this way. Also there aren’t so many sharp turns so my right leg might be able to deal with it a little better. I’m still nowhere near 100-percent physically and I still need time to be back to full strength so I’m not really sure what to expect this weekend, we’ll do our best and see what happens.”
Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow fell victim to the challenging conditions at Sepang, with Dovi crashing on Lap 10 and Cructhlow following suit on Lap 11. Dovizioso was able to remount and finish in 13th, giving him three valuable points in the hunt for a third-place finish overall, but Crutchlow wasn’t so lucky. The British rider had clawed his way up the ranks from 10th to fifth, looking to gain ground in the points battle for fifth overall between himself, Ducati’s Valentino Rossi and San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista. His crash left him with a DNF instead, just two laps before the contest was red-flagged due to unsafe conditions. Dovi finished third at Phillip Island in 2011 while riding for Repsol Honda whereas Crutchlow fell out of competition with four laps remaining.
Alvaro Bautista (19) and Cal Crutchlow (35) battled at Sepang before Crutchlow crashed out. Bautista took sixth.
Bautista moved into fifth overall at Motegi after earning his second podium of the year and then weathered the storm at Sepang to finish sixth. Though his record at the Australian circuit at the GP level is lackluster, he is confident that with the proper set-up he will be a podium threat this time around.
“The result in Malaysia was positive and it gives us confidence for the future even though we know that we need to keep working with the same level of enthusiasm so that we can improve further,” said Bautista. “Of course we have to work hard to find a good setting because it is a high speed track and you need a stable bike. We will keep working along the same lines as recently and hopefully we can be as competitive as we were at Motegi.”
Rossi and his teammate Nicky Hayden are both looking forward to the contest at Phillip Island since it’s a circuit both riders personally enjoy. The fast, flowing turns of the track and wide vistas of the ocean offer an aesthetic appeal that makes the round one-of-a-kind for the Ducati duo. Rossi has five career wins at the circuit and six additional podiums while Hayden currently holds claim to the circuit record lap. Both have struggled to garner optimal performance from their Desmosedicis this season, but both also are within range of moving up the overall ranks before the year is over. Rossi trails Bautista by six points and Hayden, currently in ninth, has an 11-point deficit on LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl.
“Phillip Island is always a fantastic track, as it’s special and unique,” said Rossi. “It’s very fast and is near the ocean, which opens up in front of you after the main straightaway, and there are corners that are different from each other, with varying speeds and steepness. It’s a track that a rider has to love.”
Bradl has had variable results over the past few rounds, crashing out at Sepang, taking sixth at Motegi and earning a DNF at Aragon. The MotoGP rookie is still chasing his first premier-class podium and will be fighting to find a competitive pace from the start of practice on Friday.
Ben Spies is out tending to injuries sustained during a high-side crash at Sepang. With the Spies out, Pramac Racing’s Hector Barbera has a chance to move to 10th overall.
Pramac Racing’s Hector Barbera will have a chance to move past Lorenzo’s teammate Ben Spies into the top-10 overall since Spies is out of the round due to injury. The Yamaha rider high-sided at Sepang and later found that he’d sustained an AC shoulder separation, a cracked rib and bruised lung. Barbera lags by nine points and could move ahead with a finish of seventh-place or better.
CRT rider Aleix Espargaro of Power Electronics Aspar leads the Claiming Rules effort in 12th overall and is coming off his best performance of the year at Sepang, where he finished eighth. His teammate, Randy de Puniet, didn’t fare as well in the Malaysian Grand Prix as he crashed out of competition three laps before the red flag. NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards also crashed out at Sepang. His season has been marked by difficulty and he will be looking to improve his results through the final two rounds.
Festivities will begin Thursday at Phillip Island when Turn 3 is officially renamed the ‘Casey Stoner’ turn and later in the afternoon there will be a parade lap in honor of Barry Sheene. Practice sessions will proceed through Friday with qualifying set for Saturday and the main event on Sunday.