Moto2™ rivals prepare to graduate

Island Preview Series

Some 45 riders have started races in the Moto2™ category of the World Championship this year, but at the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2018, all eyes will be on just two at the front of the title fight – two rivals who'll be aligned next season as they graduate to the premier class for their rookie MotoGP™ seasons.

Bagnaia, 21, rides a Kalex for the Sky Racing VR46 outfit owned by Valentino Rossi. He has really come into his own this year, winning seven of the year's 14 races, taking five pole positions and finishing on the podium 10 times.

Bagnaia, nicknamed 'Pecco' by his sister Carole when he was very young, inked a MotoGP™ contract with Ducati for 2019 and 2020, and is a name Australian fans will become more accustomed to as he steps up to partner Jack Miller at Alma Pramac Racing.

Oliveira has been around longer – the 23-year-old made his world championship debut in 2011 riding an Aprilia in Moto3™ – the Portuguese finished last year with a rush, winning the final three Moto2™ races for Aki Ajo's KTM outfit.

Oliveira has won two races this year and finished on the podium nine times but has had to constantly launch recovery missions after lowly qualifying performances. Oliveira's average starting spot is tenth on the grid compared to Bagnaia's fourth.tent

"Bagnaia holds the ascendancy in the standings ahead of the final quartet of races."

Oliveira will make his MotoGP™ debut at this year's post-season Valencia test with the Red Bull KTM Tech 3 team. He'll partner 2018 MotoGP™ rookie Hafizh Syahrin next season.

While Bagnaia holds the ascendancy in the standings ahead of the final quartet of races, Oliveira will be confident of narrowing the gap with his record at all four tracks, winning in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia 12 months ago. He's won on his past two visits to Phillip Island in 2015 (Moto3™) and again last year, missing the 2016 event with injury.

Bagnaia's list of Island achievements is more modest; he's never qualified better than 12th in Australia, while 11th in Moto3™ four years ago is his best result. The 2018 version of the Italian is a different proposition, though, and will be expecting much more on his sixth visit to these shores.

Stepping up to MotoGP™ will be a challenge for the front-running pair, if recent history is any guide; the last Moto2™ champion to win even a single race was 2012 intermediate class winner Marc Marquez.

But Bagnaia and Oliveira have proven that they have the speed to succeed; for the time being, it's all eyes on the Moto2™ prize in the third-last round of the championship in Australia next week.

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