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Talking points ahead of the Australian MotoGP™

Thursday, 19 October 2023

We’re back – on the Island, that is. And as the world championship arrives in Australia after a dramatic twist in the title fight, Pecco Bagnaia has Jorge Martin right where he wants him – or does he?

It’s our turn. Three glorious words that are almost as glorious as these three – it’s race week – as Phillip Island gets set to play host to the MotoGP™ Guru by Gryfyn Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2023 (October 20-22).

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There’s a premier-class title twist to follow, mastery and madness on offer in the lower classes, Aussies to cheer for and one of the world’s greatest racetracks to enjoy as the world championship makes it annual visit to our shores – and because it’s the race weekend we look forward to the most, we’re going large with a couple of extra pre-race talking points…

He couldn’t, could he? (part 1)

It was hard not to get flashbacks when Jorge Martin threw his Ducati down the road from a position of dominance at Mandalika last Sunday; after all, the speedy Spaniard didn’t manage to convert on any of his five pole positions last season, only managing one podium finish (third in the Valencia season-finale) when he was the fastest man in qualifying in 2022.

Martin has largely passed by his penchant of throwing away points this season – his Pramac Ducati teammate Johann Zarco describes Martin as having been “in a bubble” with his form of late – but crashing out of a comfortable three-second lead last Sunday, the day after he’d taken the world championship lead for the first time, raised eyebrows. Pecco Bagnaia made that spill sting even more when he came through from 13th to win while Martin watched from the sidelines, the reigning world champion taking over at the top ahead of Australia.

Martin has the pace, the machinery and the belief – “nobody even came close to my pace today” was his defiant post-race comment – and over the past four race weekends, he’s right. But an 18-point deficit to Bagnaia means he can’t afford another slip-up, particularly as the pair seem to be the class of the field as the season winds down. Martin has the pace to be crowned champion, but Bagnaia is tightening the screws.

There’s no place for pace like home

Cause or coincidence? Joel Kelso has raced in 35 Moto3™ races ahead of his home Grand Prix, and he’s never finished higher than the eighth he managed here last year. He reckons the fans have a lot to do with it.

“You can take all that attention as pressure, but for me it was just so nice because it felt like people genuinely wanted me to do well, and maybe it made me ride better,” he told the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix’s official event program, available trackside this weekend.

Jack Miller will undoubtedly concur, and the Island comes at a good time for the senior of the two Aussies on the world championship grid; KTM’s new carbon fibre chassis has propelled Miller to sixth and seventh in the past two MotoGP™ races after a mid-season slump, and he’s confident the bike’s agility will work well on the Island’s sweeping layout. He, too, will relish the chance to host rather than being hosted … and at a track with a corner named after you, it’s little wonder.

A top-10 for Kelso and a top-five for Miller will be the aim, and that extra support will surely push them along.

The best ability is availability

The Bagnaia-Martin main-game title fight is, at least, between two riders who come to the Island feeling good, Bagnaia commenting after the Indonesian GP that his injuries from his frightening first-lap off in Barcelona have finally healed.

‘Feeling good’ is more of a concept for plenty in the chasing pack, though, as several riders behind our top two come to Australia in various states of disrepair, not that their ailments affected their results much at Mandalika.

Marc Marquez branded Mooney VR46 Ducati pair Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi as “superheroes” after they raced with recent collarbone fractures to podiums in the Indonesia Sprint, while fellow Ducati rider Enea Bastianini unleashed some of the pace that earned him a place as Bagnaia’s teammate with a ride to eighth and setting the fastest lap in Indonesia after being elbowed to the back early on, Bastianini returning after left ankle and hand fractures suffered at Catalunya.

One rider who’ll be more rapt than most to be back at the Island? Last year’s winner Alex Rins, the Spaniard finally returning at Mandalika after missing four months with a broken leg. Adding to his victories in all three classes in Australia is the longest of long shots, but just being back on board a bike is enough to widen the Spaniard’s smile.

He couldn’t, could he? (part 2)

Speaking of Marquez … now the ‘will he or won’t he?’ story has a line beneath it after the six-time premier-class champion finally revealed he’d be leaving Honda for Ducati ahead of last weekend’s race at Lombok, the 30-year-old is free to do what he does best for the final five races of the year – and what’s he’s done best in Australia is ride one of the world’s most imposing tracks faster than anyone since Casey Stoner.

Marquez is formidable anywhere, but even more so on tracks that turn left; his anti-clockwise stats at the Circuit of the Americas and the Sachsenring are more impressive than Australia, but he’s won three times here in MotoGP™ (2015, 2017 and 2019) and probably should have won a couple of other years but for crashes when leading.

Last year’s 100th MotoGP™ podium was, in some ways, the beginning of the end of his Honda time, Marquez realising he was physically back to being himself and only needing a bike to put him back at the top. Next year will prove that sentiment one way or the other, but if there’s a GP this year where we could see him in the mix, it’s here.

The lower classes in the spotlight

It’s not all about MotoGP™ this weekend; there’s a lot to look forward to in Moto2™ and Moto3™ as well.

Pedro Acosta can’t win the intermediate-class title this weekend, but he can more or less seal it – the Spanish teenager is 65 points ahead of Italian Tony Arbolino with a maximum of 125 points available in the final five races, with only one other rider (Jake Dixon) in the mathematical mix, the Briton trailing Acosta by 105. Acosta should have a Moto2™ and Moto3™ crown in his pocket before his 20th birthday; most believe he’s “the next Marquez”, and he’ll be as action-packed as ever at the Island, where he was second on his first visit one year ago.

What’s likely to be the best race all weekend? That’ll be Moto3™, with the Island’s fast layout with few big braking zones regularly seeing enormous packs of riders slipstreaming one another for the duration, with near-photo finishes the norm. Picking a winner from a field that still has 11 riders in mathematical contention is close to impossible, but Spain’s Jaume Masia has been the form man of late. We know it’ll be a pack battle, and we know Kelso will be itching to be part of it.

Australian MotoGP™ fast facts
Circuit name/location: Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, Victoria
Length/laps: 4.3km, 27 laps (MotoGP™), 25 laps (Moto2™), 23 laps (Moto3™)
Grands Prix held/debut: 26, 1989
Most successful rider: Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi (six wins apiece)
2022 podium 1st: Alex Rins (Suzuki), 2nd: Marc Marquez (Honda), 3rd: Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati)

The MotoGP™ Guru by Gryfyn Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2023 will be available to watch live on Network 10, Foxtel and Kayo. See our What time does the MotoGP™ Guru by Gryfyn Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2023 start in Australia article for timings.