Drama ensued in the Tissot Australian Grand Prix as tire wear issues with the new tarmac forced Race Direction to mandate a bike swap in the middle of the race, which resulted in Marc Marquez’s Repsol Honda squad committing a major error that then led to the championship leader’s disqualification from the race. This enabled Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo to ride unhindered to his 50th Grand Prix career victory, and closed the once nearly insurmountable 43-point lead of Marquez down to 18 points with two races to go.
Mandatory bike swaps forced...
Mandatory bike swaps forced each MotoGP rider to jump onto his spare bike before the 10th lap.
Originally, MotoGP Race Direction
had mandated the bike swap at no more than the 14th lap. But after morning warm-up, Bridgestone
technicians discovered wear rates were even worse, and informed Race Direction that they could not guarantee that the tires would last past ten laps. This forced a change in the race length from its original 27 laps to just 19 laps, with Race Direction specifying that while a rider was free to make the bike swap any time after the start of the race, that they could not go any more than 10 laps on the first bike.
Jorge Lorenzo closed the gap...
Jorge Lorenzo closed the gap to Marc Marquez in the championship by taking the victory at Phillip Island.
This is where Marquez’s team made their crucial mistake. Lorenzo pulled his customary holeshot to lead the race from pole position, and although he lost the lead momentarily when he went too deep into the Honda Corner—allowing Pedrosa to sneak by before he quickly swooped back underneath entering Siberia—the Yamaha rider was never headed for the rest of the race. Marquez shook off the attentions of his teammate Pedrosa and kept close to Lorenzo, before Pedrosa became the first rider to enter the pits on the ninth lap. Lorenzo then followed on lap 10, but interestingly Marquez continued on. Video showed confusion in the Repsol Honda pit, as some crewmembers were gesturing that Marquez should have come in as well.
Marquez then came in on the 11th lap, and disaster nearly ensued when he came out of the pits and tried to cut into the racing line with Lorenzo bearing down on the Honda rider with a full head of steam. There was contact as Lorenzo just brushed past the inside of Marquez, the collision luckily not resulting in either rider losing control although Lorenzo’s left boot toe slider could be seen bouncing down the track behind them. Marquez then repassed Pedrosa who was struggling with setup issues with his second bike, and was closing on Lorenzo, but then the black flag came out for Marquez and the race for all intents and purposes was over.
“The communication with the pit wall was good,” said Marquez afterward, dispelling the assumption that he didn’t see his pit board. “The miscommunication or complication was we thought it was possible to make that lap, but was a big confusion. The communication with the (pit) board was perfect, when they say go in, I go in (to the pits), but the problem was the plan we thought it was possible to make that lap.”
HRC communications director Livio Suppo explained the situation further. “The team thought the tenth lap was the one (where) you have to come in before you cross the line for the 11th. In reality, Marc crossed the 11th lap but in the pit, so that was the misunderstanding, thinking that was still the tenth lap. This was a mistake, we take our responsibility, but we must be positive.” Actually, Marquez had crossed the finish line to begin the 11th lap on the track and then dove into the pits on that lap, showing the confusion that had reigned in his pits.
Lorenzo was glad to have significantly chopped Marquez’s points lead, but realized he was lucky to do so. “We were very lucky today because without the mistake of Marc, he was finishing in second place or even in first because he was very strong. I wanted to open a gap, I could only make three or four tenths the maximum, but on the next lap he was still on my ass. It was very difficult. Before the race we improve so much, practicing the change of the bike because in the warmup we were so slow. This was one of the keys because we didn’t lose so much time with Marc. We enter in the same time in the first corner when he change his bike. We touch each other; I think was the fault of (both of us). Myself because I enter too fast in the corner, more open than normal, but also he enter too quick into the good line without looking so much, so I think both of us have the fault of this situation and luckily nothing happened.”
Valentino Rossi took advantage of the mandatory pit stop to gain an advantage in his battle with Cal Crutchlow and Alvaro Bautista. Both Crutchlow and Bautista took longer in their bike swaps, while Rossi’s crew (like Lorenzo’s) pulled off his bike swap to perfection, getting him out of the pits in front of Cruthlow and Bautista. The trio finished in that order, with Rossi earning yet another podium finish.
MotoGP Phillip Island race results:
1. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Yamaha
2. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Honda
3. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Yamaha
4. Cal Crutchlow (GBR) Yamaha
5. Alvaro Bautista (SPA) Honda
6. Bradley Smith (GBR) Yamaha
7. Nicky Hayden (USA) Ducati
8. Andrea Iannone (ITA) Ducati
9. Andrea Dovisioso (ITA) Ducati
10. Randy De Puniet (FRA) ART/Aprilia
11. Aleix Espargaro (SPA) ART/Aprilia
12. Colin Edwards (USA) FTR/Kawasaki
13. Yonny Hernandez (COL) Ducati
14. Hector Barbera (SPA) FTR/Kawasaki
15. Danilo Petrucci (ITA) Ioda/BMW
16. Luca Scassa (ITA) ART/Aprilia
17. Claudio Corti (ITA) FTR/Kawasaki
18. Michael Laverty (IRL) ART/Aprilia
19. Lukas Pesek (CZE) Ioda/BMW
20. Hiroshi Aoyama (JPN) FTR/Kawasaki
21. Damian Cudlin (AUS) ART/Aprilia
DQ Bryan Staring (AUS) FTR/Honda
DQ Marc Marquez (SPA) Honda