News 12 Oct 2010

MotoGP: Australian GP set for Phillip Island this weekend

The Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix will be a chance to hail MotoGP’s new king, support the local hero, and celebrate the return of the man whose presence lifts two-wheeled racing to a different level this weekend.

Fiat Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo will enter the Australian GP as the new world champion this weekend.

Fiat Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo will enter the Australian GP as the new world champion this weekend.

The 2010 IVECO Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix will be a chance to hail MotoGP’s new king, support the local hero, and celebrate the return of the man whose presence lifts two-wheeled racing to a different level this weekend.

The first is Jorge Lorenzo, whose third place in the last round in Malaysia was enough to guarantee the 23-year-old Spaniard his first premier-class world championship after a season of dominance on Yamaha’s YZR-M1.

“This is really the maximum a motorcycle rider can achieve in his career so we have to celebrate and enjoy these hours, minutes and seconds like it’s the end of the world,” said Lorenzo, winner of seven of the 15 rounds in 2010 so far.

“You imagine this moment in your head your whole life but when it comes you don’t know how to act or what to say. I am trying to be relaxed, to speak clearly and not say anything crazy!”

The second is Casey Stoner, whose Ducati roared back to the front of the pack with back-to-back victories in Spain and Japan but came to grief on the opening lap at Sepang. Now Stoner is focused on a fourth straight win for the Italian marque at Phillip Island before he heads for Honda in 2011.

“I couldn’t have asked for more out of the last two races,” Stoner said before his Malaysian misadventure. “It’s a long way through the weekend at Phillip Island before I can say how well we will do, but if we can just get the grip round that track then we could be in with a shot.”

And the third, of course, is ‘The Doctor’, Valentino Rossi, who returned to race-winning form in Malaysia to take some of the gloss off Lorenzo’s big day. Rossi defied a disastrous start to win for only the second time in a season disrupted by a broken leg sustained at Mugello and the ongoing handicap of a shoulder injury.

“This is a wonderful moment for me, I am so happy to win like this and take my 46th win with Yamaha on ‘my’ M1,” said Rossi, who carries the number 46 on his racing bikes. “It was one of my worst starts and for a moment I was really worried, but within a few corners I understood that I could go for it.”

Rossi too is on his bike after this season, moving to an all-Italian marriage made in motorcycling heaven with Ducati. His teammate there will be American Nicky Hayden, who raced alongside the multiple World Champion at Honda and has spoken candidly of Rossi’s importance to the MotoGP spectacle.

“There’s a reason why they call him the ‘G.O.A.T’ (Greatest Of All Time),” says Hayden. “He’s the best on the bike and off the bike. Hard work is what makes all champions who they are, but he’s the whole package. Off the track, he’s done a lot for the sport with his charisma and his charm, and I think MotoGP is where it is today because of him. We all owe him a lot.”

Hayden also reflected on a 2010 season run in part without Rossi in the ranks.

“He’s got a presence and people come to watch him, so there’s no two ways about it – it was different,” Hayden said. “On the track there’s one less guy to beat, so that’s good as a competitor. But it felt like something was missing. I got a couple of fourth places when he was away, but in the back of your head you know they don’t mean as much as they would if he was there.”

If you thought Lorenzo might roll out of the throttle with the title won, forget it. As we saw in Japan two weeks ago, he will fight tooth and nail with Rossi and in any case he has unfinished business at the Island.

“Phillip Island isn’t my best track for MotoGP but I want to try to win because I haven’t won there,” Lorenzo said. “I want to win some more races this season and I will try my hardest to do so.”

In his two previous MotoGP appearances at the Island Lorenzo has failed to replicate his form from the junior classes at this track. The man from Mallorca finished second on a 125cc Derbi in 2004, was third in the quarter-litre race the following year and won it on an Aprilia in 2006 and 2007.

There’s a new king, too, in the new Moto2 class which Phillip Island fans will see for the first time. And it’s another Spaniard, Toni Elias, the 27-year-old refugee from MotoGP who has rebuilt his reputation superbly with seven victories of his own in the 600cc class that replaced the 250cc category this year. He too will be seeking a maiden success at the Island this weekend.

Lorenzo, Elias and… who? The crowds who flock to the 2010 IVECO Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix will witness something that’s only happened twice in the 62-year history of the world championship: a clean sweep of the three main classes by riders from one nation.

It first happened in the championship’s second year, 1950, when Bruno Ruffo, Dario Ambrosini and Umberto Masetti brought the glory home to Italy; and again in 1975, once more with Italians sweeping the boards, this time Paolo Pileri, Walter Villa and the incomparable Giacomo Agostini.

With Lorenzo and Elias already crowned, the only question in the 125cc category is which Spaniard will end up world champion, as three of them – Marc Marquez, Nico Terol, and Pol Espargaro – top the standings and England’s Bradley Smith in fourth is 76 points behind Marquez with only 75 points to win in the final three rounds.

With Ant West back in action in Moto2 and one-off rides for Aussie aces like Wayne Maxwell in that class, there will be plenty for fans to get excited about on track – and barely enough time during the weekend to take in all the sights and sounds at another value-packed IVECO Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.

From Aussie legends like Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan to the big names of today in the Superbikes and Supersports support races, from Australian Historics on track to the current crop of stunning motorcycles in the GP Expo, from the Barry Sheene Tribute Ride to scenic helicopter flights, there really is something for everyone.

Most of all, there is the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit itself. Let’s give Nicky Hayden the last word as we wait for another awesome weekend of motorcycle racing.

“It’s got everything you would want as a rider – built on the ocean, it’s fast, it’s got climbs and falls, and you need a whole lot of guts to ride it,” says Hayden, 29 and still seeking his own first Island win.

“The last corner and down to Turn One – you’ve got to be brave. The racing is normally pretty good because the riders stick together and the slipstreaming is real important. I grew up watching races there and now I get to ride there, so that’s a sweet part of my job.”

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