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MotoGP Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) played high speed chess at the Pramac Generac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix,... #AustralianGP Phillip Island, raceday roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3

MotoGP

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) played high speed chess at the Pramac Generac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, with the two locked in a tense duel for supremacy throughout. It wasn’t a duel fought in overtakes and swapped paint, it was a duel in pure speed – with the two perfectly matched the point they made a break for it right down to the final lap. That final lap was a dramatic one as Marquez struck early and Viñales dug deep to fight back – and then suffered a dramatic crash that decided the first time the two men have really gone head to head. With that, Cal Crutchlow’s (LCR Honda Castrol) impressive ride became one to second place and his best finish of the season, with Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) completing the podium to the delight of the home fans – the first Aussie to stand on the rostrum on home soil in the premier class since MotoGP™ Legend Casey Stoner won the 2012 event at Phillip Island.

From the off, the race was a classic – and dramatic. From P4 on the grid, Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) got a great launch to get the holeshot into Doohan Corner, with Viñales slipping to P6 from pole. Then, at Turn 2, two heavyweights were out of the race: Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) was pushed slightly wide by Marquez as the packed shuffled into the left-hander, and the Italian was a little too eager on the gas, highsiding and dramatically launched into Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT). The Frenchman was already wide and almost on the grass, therefore sadly also right in the path of the oncoming Italian. Riders ok, but out of a pivotal race.

Back at the front, ‘The Doctor’ was still leading the way on his 400th Grand Prix start, with Crutchlow and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Andrea Iannone slotting in behind the Italian as a freight train of nine riders formed at the front in the opening handful of laps. Rossi held P1 until Lap 4 when Crutchlow powered past the Yamaha into Turn 1, before Iannone then spectacularly led the race for Aprilia as Crutchlow, Iannone, Rossi, Marquez, Viñales, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Miller and Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) all battled one another in a scintillating start to the 2019 Australian GP.

The man with the pace for most of the weekend was slowly picking his way through the pack though. Viñales was up to third on Lap 8, second on Lap 9 and the lead on Lap 10. Knowing the polesitter had the pace to make a break, third place Marquez was then in a hurry to get past Crutchlow as he shoved the Brit wide at the top of Lukey Heights. That dropped the number 35 down to P4 behind Iannone, and Viñales and Marquez immediately seemed to pull the pin. Crutchlow passed the Aprilia of Iannone into Turn 1 and attempted to go with the leading duo as all three set mid 1:29s and escaped the monster battle for P4.

The LCR Honda Castrol man couldn’t hold the pace of Viñales and Marquez, however, as the two Spaniards were relentless in the lead to pull away. But Crutchlow was far clear of the scrap behind as three Ducatis, two Suzukis, two Aprilias and a Yamaha fought tooth and nail. Rookies Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) were two impressive performers as they got up in the mix.

By a handful of laps to go, Marquez was threatening to lead into Turn 1 – and sitting up. As the race rolled on, Marquez kept shying away from a pass, shadowing Viñales around the rest of the lap and waiting for the last. When that came around, there was nothing between the two over the line and the Honda suddenly struck. Viñales was quick around the outside in the hope of gaining the inside line for the Southern Loop, but Marquez shut the door. Next came Honda Corner and no way through, leaving Turn 10 as the likely major overtaking opportunity. And the race would be settled on the drop into 10, but now how we imagined.

Viñales had already pulled off some sublime moves there, and this time he was equally apid over the crest of Lukey Heights, right on the back of Marquez. But then, drama suddenly struck as it proved too much to ask of the Yamaha and Viñales cascaded out the race and onto the grass, leaving Marquez uncotested to the line.

For the reigning Champion it was victory number 55 of his MotoGP™ career, becoming the most successful Honda rider in the premier class and overtaking Mick Doohan’s record on the MotoGP™ Legend’s home circuit. Viñales’ crash bumped 2016 Australian GP winner Crutchlow into P2, a sensational result for the number 35 after last year’s near-career ending crash at Phillip Island. Meanwhile…

Miller fought himself to the fore of the group battle for P4, which had now become a fight for the podium. On the run to the line, he had to fend off teammate Bagnaia to return an Aussie to the rostrum, apparently with a little inspiration from Ned Kelly. ‘Pecco’ pocketed his best MotoGP™ result in P4, from P15 on the grid no less, topping off a great weekend for the Pramac team at Pramac Generac-sponsored GP. Fellow rookie Mir also claimed his best premier class result in P5, the Suzuki man holding off the super impressive Iannone as ‘The Maniac’ took his best Aprilia finish and equalled the Noale factory’s best.

Dovizioso crossed the line in P7 just a whisker behind Iannone, meaning the Team Championship between the Ducati Team and Repsol Honda Team now sits at just one point. Rossi slipped back to eighth in the closing stages, holding off the challenge from Rins and Aleix Espargaro, who completed the top ten.

Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) took P11 ahead of a tougher weekend for Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), that closing Aprilia’s deficit to KTM a little in the standings. Johann Zarco (LCR Honda Idemitsu) took P13 on his Honda debut, with Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing) and Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) completing the points.

Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) didn’t race after being declared unfit in his morning check up.

Moto2

Three is a magic number for KTM Down Under. Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Brad Binder clinched his third win of 2019 at the Pramac Generac Australian Grand Prix – and the Austrian factory’s third win in a row at the venue – to keep his Moto2™ Championship hopes alive in style; the South African now 33 points off the lead held by Alex Marquez (Marc VDS EG 0,0). Rookie Jorge Martin made it a Red Bull KTM Ajo one-two and took his second intermediate class podium, with Dynavolt Intact GP’s Tom Lüthi taking third. That puts the Swiss rider even closer in the standings, now 28 points adrift of Marquez on the way to Malaysia.

Binder bagged the holeshot from the middle of the front row, with teammate Martin quickly followeing him through as polesitter Jorge Navarro (Beta Tools Speed Up) slipped a little backwards off the line. In a dramatic opening half a lap, monday.com American Racing’s Iker Lecuona then took out both Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46), ending the Thailand and Japan winner’s shot at the crown, and Marco Bezzecchi (Red Bull Tech 3 KTM) after trying to pull off an audacious move into Turn 4. Championship leader Marquez barely escaped upright; incredibly fortunate not to get caught up in the incident that resulted in a Long Lap Penalty for Lecuona.

Back at the front and the KTM duo had started to break clear from Navarro and Lüthi, who were having their own fight over the final podium spot. The Swiss rider got the better of Navarro at half race distance, and from there the Speed Up couldn’t quite stay in touch.

Marquez, meanwhile, began to fade backwards slightly as Lorenzo Baldassarri (FlexBox HP 40), Stefano Manzi (MV Agusta Temporary Forward) and Tetsuta Nagashima (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) all finding a way past in the space of a lap, demoting the number 73 down to eighth. It would get worse for Marquez, the points leader losing another couple of places…

Martin, meanwhile, continued to apply the pressure on Binder but the South African was standing firm. Eventually the number 41 broke free from Martin, however, and pushed on towards victory at the same venue he ruled in 2018. Martin was back on the box and it was back-to-back podiums for Lüthi too, with both Binder and the Swiss rider cutting the deficit to the top considerably.

Fourth went the way of Navarro, who held off a brilliant late charge from Baldassarri as the Italian closed to within half a second on the final lap. ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team’s Remy Gardner took sixth at his home round after a quality ride to hold off Lecuona in the closing stages, with Marquez ultimately crossing the line in eighth after a late surge. He now sits 28 points ahead of Lüthi and 33 points clear of Binder with just two rounds remaining.

Manzi pulled off a stunner Down Under for MV Agusta as he and Nagashima completed the top 10, ahead of an impressive comeback from Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) after a tough Saturday for the German. Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) took P12 ahead of a solid finish for Jesko Raffin (NTS RW Racing GP) in 13th. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Beta Tools Speed Up) was 14th, as Bo Bendsneyder (NTS RW Racing GP) completed the points to put both NTS machines on the scoreboard.

One key name missing? Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40). After a tough qualifying, it was a tough race day that followed for the Spaniard, who now finds himself out the Championship fight. He didn’t score Down Under, and even if he were to win the next two and Marquez took no more points, leaving them equal on victories and points…Fernandez would lose on second places.

And so the battle is four. Marquez is 28 clear of Lüthi, with Binder and Navarro still in with a shout. Next up it’s Malaysia and it’s only just around the corner – so tune in next weekend for what could be the final decider.

Moto3

Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) pulled off an incredible win in the Pramac Generac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix to take the 2019 Moto3™ World Championship in style, less than a tenth ahead of teammate Marcos Ramirez and 2018 Phillip Island winner Albert Arenas (Gaviota Angel Nieto Team) over the line. The hard-fought group battle went down to the wire, although the Italian took a step towards the Championship early in the race as key rival Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) crashed out.

It was Ramirez who took the holeshot from his maiden pole position, with the initial pack led by the Spaniard, compatriot Arenas, Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers), Canet and Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers), with Dalla Porta losing out a little off the line. Darryn Binder (CIP – Green Power) didn’t waste much time in ruffling a few feathers either as he suffered a moment – no harm done and up from way back on the grid – as Ramirez then ceded the lead to Fenati up front.

After that shuffle, there was even bigger drama not far off. From the thick of it in the fight at the front, Canet suddenly slid out at Turn 1 – leaving Dalla Porta with a open goal, but in one of the most brutally hard-fought Moto3™ races of the season; no mean feat.

The lead group was 20 deep, with the likes of John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing), Arbolino, and Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) just a few names who took turns to lead. One name was always there though – that of Dalla Porta. It was a classy ride from the Italian as trouble unfolded behind; Andrea Migno (Mugen Race) and Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) crashing out at Turn 4 with three to go and the lead was changing sector by sector.

Heading onto the last lap, however, Dalla Porta had it from Suzuki and McPhee. The Japanese rider then took the lead at Turn 4, somehow staying on the bike – and in the lead – after getting crossed up on the exit. A top-notch manoeuvre around Lukey Heights then saw Dalla Porta take the lead back as teammate Ramirez dived up the inside of a few riders to get himself up to P4…

Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Jaume Masia (Mugen Race) were the next to crash, heartbreakingly with two only corners to go, but the glory on the Island was about to go to Dalla Porta. Under attack out the final corner with those behind tucked into the slipstream, it was incredibly close but the number 48 claimed the win and the Moto3™ Championship in the best way possible – with victory. Ramirez was able to draft Suzuki and Arenas to make it a Leopard 1-2, with Arenas pushed back to third and Suzuki once again JUST losing out..

McPhee got a little caught up at Turn 10 and eventually crossed the line in P5, with Binder’s early scorchers giving him the chance to take home an impressive P6 from nigh on the back of the grid. Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) was able to grab his best finish since the British GP in seventh, too.

Speaking of best finishes, the man in eighth put together a powerhouse performance on Phillip Island. Tom Booth-Amos (CIP Green Power) produced by far his best ride of his rookie season to pick up his first top ten and fight in the front group, impressing once again after a solid Saturday to boot. Arbolino eventually had to settle for P9 after tasting the race lead in the early laps, while Stefano Nepa (Reale Avinita Arizona 77) was another top performer as he finished in his second top 10 position of the year in tenth.

Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46), Fenati, Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0), Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) and Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PrüstelGP) completed the points, Lopez via a slightly more scenic route. The Spaniard had to do the Long Lap Penalty twice due to cutting across the white line on his first attempt after he was penalised for contact with Filip Salač (Redox PrüstelGP). Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) and Raul Fernandez (Gaviota Angel Nieto Team) were involved in an incident at Lukey Heights with eight laps to go, and Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and wildcard Yanni Shaw (Double Six Motor Sport) also crashed out.

So, after an Island stunner, we have our 2019 Moto3™ World Champion. Congratulations to Dalla Porta on a sensational season, but with two races to go, everyone will be wanting to finish the year on a high – none more so than Canet. Malaysia is next and Sepang International Circuit awaits in less than a weeks’ time.