Two titles up for grabs and a new World Champion desperate to show he’s worthy of the crown in the intermediate class: the 2015 Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix is going to be a ripper of a weekend.
Just 18 points separate two modern giants of the sport, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, as MotoGP enters its final three-race stretch.
Intriguingly, they are also Yamaha team-mates, so it was a happy coincidence to bump into a former Yamaha stalwart at Phillip Island on Thursday morning and hear his take on the epic battle for the 2015 title.
Kevin Magee claimed a Grand Prix victory at Jarama, near Madrid in Spain, in 1988 for Yamaha. He is now a familiar face on Aussie television as expert analyst alongside Chris Vermeulen – and he thinks he sees a different Valentino Rossi coming to the Island.
“I’m full of admiration for the way Valentino has come back after the disappointment at Ducati,” Kevin told us.
“He wanted that whole Italian dream – the rider, the bike – to come true but he never really mastered the thing. And it wasn’t just a matter of going back to familiar surroundings at Yamaha and picking up where he left off: in many ways he has had to re-invent himself, especially with new young blokes like Marquez coming through and raising the bar.
“But last week in qualifying at Motegi I sensed another difference: he was leaning it over further, pushing it harder – and even though he eventually lost out by a few-hundredths to Lorenzo, his performance in the race and his whole attitude suggests to me that he’s taken it to another level again in his quest for that 10th title.”
Rossi beat Lorenzo to victory here last year, of course, and if the Italian comes out in front of his Spanish team-mate you sense that even Jorge will find it too hard to hunt him down in the final two races.
As usual, The Doctor is clinical in his approach: “Phillip Island is a very particular track,” he says. “I like it, as does the majority of the riders, but it‘s always difficult to find the right setting and the conditions are often tricky with lots of wind and cold temperatures. We hope for a good weekend like last year and we will try to ride a good race to arrive on the podium, in front of Jorge. I think it‘s best to take the championship race by race, focus on Phillip Island and try to make the most of it.”
Lorenzo meanwhile has only one thing in mind. “It‘s true 18 points behind Valentino is a difficult margin to cut down but I will try with all my efforts,” says the Spaniard who has just one Island win in the premier class to Rossi’s six.
“If I‘m able to win all the races and Vale makes any mistake we can win the championship. Now we are facing another nice race. Phillip Island is a track I like a lot but also Vale enjoys it here so it will be interesting.”
Interesting, too, to see if Dani Pedrosa can carry his stunning form from Aragon and Motegi through to Australia, where the Repsol Honda man has yet to win in the senior category. And if Jack Miller can rediscover some form on the LCR Honda ahead of an expected announcement that he will switch to Marc VDS for 2016 alongside Tito Rabat.
In Moto2 we already have our 2015 champion in the form of 25-year-old Frenchman Johann Zarco. The Ajo Motorsport Kalex rider has seven wins this season but he has only visited the Phillip Island podium once, back in the 2011 125cc race when he came home third.
That’s something he intends to put right this time. “We have to try to win all three remaining races and prepare for next year,” Zarco insists. “Everything we do well in these three races will certainly serve us well in the future.
“The truth is that at Phillip Island, in the past, I've only been quick over one lap and have lacked pace overall, so we'll work on that. I believe, however, that this year, with the Kalex, things will be different and we can be quick. I can’t wait to test myself there.”
While we wait to see if Rabat’s injured arm will allow him to race, look to Alex Rins to maintain his superb form as a Moto2 rookie and take the fight to Zarco on the HP40 Kalex.
And don’t forget our own Josh Hook: the Taree rider is standing in for Dominique Aegerter on the Technomag/Interwetten Kalex and will be keen to strut his stuff on a bike that took Aegerter to the podium at Mugello earlier this season.
English rider Danny Kent is an odds-on favourite for the Moto3 title on the Leopard Racing Honda which he steered to a canny sixth place in tricky Japanese conditions last weekend. A cool 56 points clear of Gresini Honda’s Enea Bastianini, Kent will also face Island opposition from the in-form Red Bull KTM Ajo of Miguel Oliveira.
Remy Gardner will continue his pursuit of a maiden World Championship point on the CIP Mahindra, and we have two wild cards this year in Adelaide’s Olly Simpson and Victorian Matt Barton.