Moving day, we said earlier – but not too many of the premier-class riders made eye-catching moves in the third free practice session for Sunday’s 2015 Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
As sunshine returned to Phillip Island after a cold Moto3 session, the big boys again saw Marc Marquez lead the way with a time of 1:29.081 on the #93 Repsol Honda, confirming his front-running pace from Friday without getting anywhere near track record levels.
With only five minutes of the 45-minute session remaining Valentino Rossi on the Movistar Yamaha and Aleix Espargaro on the ECSTAR Suzuki were the only two big names to have bettered their Friday times – then the fun started as the softer rear tyres went in and the gloves metaphorically came off.
Marquez was the first to set a genuine Saturday time, inviting the rest to match him if they could – and they couldn’t.
But what mattered most was the combined times from FP1-2-3, with the top 10 riders moving automatically into Q2.
Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo on the other Movistar Yamaha were comfortably first and second, but in a great session for the English riders, Cal Crutchlow lifted his LCR Honda into third place on 1:29.509, Scott Redding pulled out a superb lap to go fourth on the Marc VDS Honda on 1:29.675 and Bradley Smith left it very late to fire the Tech 3 Yamaha into the all-important top 10 in eighth spot on 1:29.877.
Maverick Vinales’s outstanding Friday effort of 1:29.518 was enough to keep the agile ECSTAR Suzuki in fourth place, while the factory Ducatis took two of the 10 automatic Q2 slots with Andrea Iannone fifth and Andrea Dovizioso 10th.
Rossi ended up seventh and Dani Pedrosa was eighth on the second Repsol Honda.
Jack Miller took a tenth off a second off his Friday best but the Open class LCR Honda ended up 13th on combined times, while Ant West did well to carve three-quarters off a second off his Friday times and move up to 23rd on the AB Motoracing Honda.
Damin Cudlin too took a tenth off his previous best on the E-Motion Ioda ART but still finished up 25th and slowest in the field.
Moto2: Rins and repeat
Spanish rookie Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) really ramped it up in the final five minutes of FP3, becoming the first rider to dip below the 33-second mark this weekend. His best lap was 1:32.883, well clear of Sam Lowes (Speed Up, 1:33.172) and Swiss rider Thomas Luthi (Derendinger Racing Interwetten, 1:33.384).
Rins is making his first appearance in the Moto2 class at Phillip Island after finishing third in the Moto3 race last year. A first or second place in tomorrow's race will see him jump ahead of countryman Tito Rabat (EH 0,0 Marc VDS) in the battle for second place in the title behind Frenchman Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport). Rabat crashed in FP2 yesterday and will sit out the remainder of the round.
Zarco wrapped up the Moto2 championship in Japan last Sunday, and he was fifth in FP3 with a time of 1:33.488, one spot behind German Jonas Folger (AGR Team, 1:33.412).
Mika Kallio (QMMF Racing Team, 1:33.542) was next, the Swiss one of the riders who squabbled for the Moto2 win in 2014, which went to Maverick Vinales, now a MotoGP rider.
German Marcel Schrotter (Tech 3) crashed heavily at turn nine in FP3 and was clutching at his wrist — which will need some TLC alongside his stricken bike — while Australia's Josh Hook, riding for the injured Dominique Aegerter on the Technomag Racing Interwetten machine, set his fastest lap (1:35.069) at the death knell to end the session in 24th position.
Qualifying for the 29-rider Moto2 brigade, sans Rabat, will be held at 4:05pm today.
Moto3: Springbok jumps to top
On the weekend where the rugby World Cup reaches its knockout stages, South African Brad Binder landed a decent blow of his own by topping the time sheets for third free practice for the ‘tiddler' brigade, the 250cc Moto3 machines.
Binder, whose compatriots are among the favourites for the rugby crown, moved to the front with seven minutes remaining, and then proceeded to punch out some even faster laps to end the session with a best of 1:36.519.
That put him ahead of Czech Republic rider Jakub Kornfeil (Drive M7 KTM, 1:36.789), runaway world championship leader Dany Kent (Leopard Racing Honda, 1:36.881) and Juanfran Guevara (MAPFRE Mahindra, 1:36.888).
Kent's teammate Efren Vazquez (1:36.931) and Portugal's Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo, 1:37.976) — the fastest rider on day one — were sixth and seventh fastest, followed by Briton John McPhee (Saxoprint RTG Honda, 1:37.085), who was part of the sensational drag to the finish line in the 2014 Moto3 race at Phillip Island, eventually won by Australia's Jack Miller. McPhee was fifth, but only 0.2 seconds behind Miller.
The current Moto2 lap record at Phillip Island is held by Miller with a 1:36.302, while the best lap belongs to Alex Marquez with a 1:36.050 — which should be usurped this afternoon during the 40-minute qualifying session.
Meantime, the rider with the only real chance of denying Kent the status of world champion-designate at Phillip Island, Italian Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Honda), was only 19th in FP3.
Aussies Remy Gardner (CIP Mahindra), Olly Simpson (KTM) and Matt Barton (Suus Honda) were 31st, 35th and 36th respectively. The trio all went faster than day one, but Gardner in particular fell way down the pecking order as his opposition upped the ante.