2015 Phillip Island MotoGP Preview - Tires And The Greatest Track On Earth

Phillip Island, like Mugello, is one of the tracks which any motorcycle racer worth their salt puts at the very top of their list of favorite tracks. And rightly so: swooping over gently undulating ground sitting atop cliffs overlooking a bay on the Bass Strait, it is perhaps the greatest of the natural race tracks. It has everything a race track should have: a collection of fast, sweeping corners which richly reward bravery; a couple of hard braking corners fast and slow at which to overtake; a superb and treacherous combination of turns in Lukey Heights and MG at which to make a last ditch passing attempt, and a long enough run to the finish line to make drafting a possibility. Add in arguably the most breathtaking setting on the calendar, and you have just about everything.

Of course, the glory of Phillip Island also has its downsides. The flowing nature of the track and limited number of turns means that the bikes spend a lot of time on the left-hand side of the tire, often at very high speed. With very high loads on the left-hand side, and very low loads on the right, both producing and managing tires is difficult. Add in the fact that in October, the start of the Australian spring, it can be still be very chilly indeed, especially with the strong winds blowing off the Bass Strait, with next to nothing between them and the Antarctic, and it is a potential recipe for disaster. Tires cool quickly, and each right hander has to be approached with respect. Get it wrong, and your race is over very quickly.

Tires have always been an issue at Phillip Island, providing just the sort of challenge which tire manufacturers relish. That they are not always up to the challenge was demonstrated in 2013, when Bridgestone drastically underestimated the effect of the newly resurfaced circuit. Massive problems with overheating forced Race Direction to shorten the race and introduce compulsory pit stops, a workaround which produced a fascinating race, with the added spice of a disqualification, Marc Márquez being black-flagged for not making his pit stop in time.

Asymmetrical warfare

Last year saw another solution to the perennial tire problems at Phillip Island. Bridgestone brought an asymmetric front tire to the circuit, with much softer rubber on the right-hand side of the tire. The tire worked well enough during practice, but a dramatic drop in temperature during the race – some 10°C in less than half an hour – created severe problems for anyone who used the asymmetric front. Most crashed out, others circulated cautiously, and the rider order across the finish line changed many times before the checkered flag.

Bridgestone are bringing the asymmetric front tire once again this year, and that already has a number of riders spooked. "I'll tell you what, there is no way I am touching the asymmetric front," Cal Crutchlow said, speaking at Motegi. Things should be better this year, though, as the design of the tire has changed. The point at which the two rubbers meet has been modified, and the transition changed to make it easier to manage. Those who choose to avoid it could end up regretting that choice, if the new tire performs as expected.

Because the track places such a heavy load on tires, Bridgestone will not be bringing the edge-treated tires to Phillip Island. Contrary to popular fan mythology, that does not mean you can write Jorge Lorenzo off, however. Phillip Island is like Mugello in another way, not needing the edge treatment to make the tires work. At Mugello, Lorenzo walked away from the field, despite not having the edge-treated tires. At Phillip Island last year, Lorenzo qualified in third, and ran a strong pace early into the race until he ran into tire troubles. Not with the rear, the tire which gets the edge treatment, but with the front. Lorenzo had elected to run the extra soft front, and though the right side had worked perfectly, the left was destroyed. Probably as a result of the extra load Lorenzo places on tires from carrying corner speed.

King of Old

Valentino Rossi, using the same tire, did not suffer the same problems. Rossi took his second win of the year at Phillip Island in 2014, staying upright after Marc Márquez had crashed out in front of him. Rossi rode a strong race in the middle of a strong final stretch, and went a long way to securing second place in the championship here. With his victory, Rossi brought his total tally of wins at the Island to six, after winning five in a row from 2001 to 2005. It is an astonishing record, fifteen podiums from nineteen starts in all classes, and thirteen podiums in MotoGP. The only two times he didn't make a trip to the podium were during his years at Ducati.

The fact that this is Rossi's twentieth visit to Phillip Island is a mark of his longevity. On Sunday, he will draw level with Loris Capirossi for the most Grand Prix starts with 328. The difference between the the two Italians is marked, however. When Capirossi racked up his 328th start, he had become a tail-ender, languishing near the bottom of the championship. Rossi starts his 328th race hoping to extend his lead in the championship, preferably with a win.

To do that, he has a lot of people he needs to beat. First and foremost, there is his teammate, Jorge Lorenzo also no slouch around the circuit. The Spaniard holds the pole record for the circuit, set in 2013. He has finished on the podium at the Island for the past three years, winning once in 2013. He has not finished lower than second since 2010, though he also missed 2011 with injury. The flowing nature of the track suits his riding style down to the ground, all about carrying corner speed.

It is a good job Lorenzo is so fast around Phillip Island. Trailing Valentino Rossi by 18 points with three races to go, he really needs to start getting points back, preferably by winning the race. He has not yet reached the point of desperation, where he must risk crashing in an all-or-nothing dash for points. But he there is little room left for caution.

A helping hand

Even if Lorenzo wins the remaining three races, he will still need help from other riders to get in between himself and Rossi. Fortunately, Phillip Island is everyone's favorite, and the list of riders gunning for a podium is very long indeed. Marc Márquez must surely be the prime candidate to finish ahead of Valentino Rossi, though the danger for Lorenzo is that Márquez is probably capable of taking points from both Movistar Yamaha riders.

The question Márquez must face is whether the Honda is up to it, after the RC213V has been problematic all season. Phillip Island is a track which masks the bike's problems, offering hope to all of the Honda riders. There are only two corners where the rear braking issue is a problem, and success for Márquez will come down to whether his crew manage to solve the Honda's lack of grip. If they can find some drive for him out of the corner, the reigning world champion should be in with a shot at a win at PI. As one of only two tracks were the Spaniard hasn't won on a MotoGP bike – the other being Motegi – he will be keen to rectify that.

With a disqualification in 2013, and a crash on the asymmetric tire in 2014, Márquez will not want Phillip Island to turn into a bogey track for him. The circuit already holds bad memories for the Repsol Honda rider, after his horrendous and extremely dangerous crash during practice with Ratthapark Wilairot in Moto2. Márquez received a remarkably lenient punishment for that incident, caused when Márquez was still pushing at race speed despite the session already being over. He came through the field to finish third, but arguably, he should never have been allowed to start.

Márquez is not the only Honda who could get between the Yamahas, Dani Pedrosa coming off a dominant win at Motegi and bursting with confidence. He is starting to believe that the arm pump surgery he underwent earlier this year has been a complete success, and at a flowing, largely left-handed track like Phillip Island, it should not trouble him at all. Pedrosa has a point to prove, and though is record in Australia is rather poor, this could be the year that things change. Dani Pedrosa could well put the cat among the pigeons at Phillip Island.

In fact, the pigeons at Phillip Island could well end up filing a lawsuit for harassment given the potential number of cats they may to contend with. As Casey Stoner proved during his period of domination at his home circuit, the track is much, much more about the rider than the bike. Fast corners mean that outright horsepower is less of a factor, helping to level the playing field. The bike has to turn, but a half-decent set up will allow a good rider to go fast whatever he is on. The Ducatis were already fast here last year, Cal Crutchlow almost getting on the podium on the GP14.2. The Suzukis, which are probably the best handling bike on the grid, are lacking in acceleration, but that should not be an issue. Bradley Smith got his maiden podium at Phillip Island last year, and is both a better rider and on a better bike in 2015. Cal Crutchlow is now on a Honda, but equally capable of causing the front runners problems. The two factory Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone should also threaten the Yamahas and Honda, and you can't rule out Danilo Petrucci or Yonny Hernandez on the Pramac bikes.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

The good news for local fans is that there will be the grand total of three Australians on the grid at Phillip Island. In addition to LCR Honda rider Jack Miller – improving fast, now that he is under the tutelage and iron fist of Alberto Puig – Ant West will be substituting for Karel Abraham, the Czech rider still recovering from a badly injured foot. They will be joined by Damian Cudlin, the Australian taking the place of the injured Alex De Angelis at Ioda Racing. The news emanating from the De Angelis camp is positive: the Italian is still in hospital after his crash at Motegi, but his condition is stabilizing. His family has arrived and is with him now, a relief for any seriously injured rider.

With the Moto2 championship wrapped up, attention turns to Moto3. Danny Kent has a lead of 56 points over Enea Bastianini, and is close to wrapping up the title. A top two finish would do it, as would a third, as long as Bastianini does not win. But Kent has plenty of opportunities left, even if he does lose more than six points to Bastianini. With 19 more points from the next three races, the title will be Kent's.

The Englishman will go into Phillip Island confident, knowing that he can do well at the track. Kent was in the group battling for the win last year, until he was taken out by Brad Binder. That is something he must avoid this year, but the track is built for epic battles. If this year's race is only half as good as the Moto3 race in 2014, fans are in for a treat.

It's Phillip Island, so they are in for a treat anyway. There are race tracks and there are race tracks, and then there is Phillip Island. The jewel in racing's crown.

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Three Australians in MotoGP is a pleasing surprise.
None of them will be near the front but still good exposure at home.
Australian fans have always had far more interest in the big bikes than the smaller GP classes which have always been of peripheral interest. The focus has been on large bore Production bikes (in the past) and Superbikes.

is the ridiculously late starting time, which has a high likelihood of royally buggering up a potentially good race. Hope they bring it back to a more sensible time soon.
Victoria has seen really high temps this October, but the weekend forecast looks like classic Phillip Island - gateway to hypothermia. :)

I was going to ask about this. The practice sessions are an hour earlier than Motegi but the race is the same time. Just seems like more stupidity based on TV times.

If people are willing to get up at 7 on a Sunday I'm sure they'd get up at 6.

Or they could just record it. Being an Australian, there are only a few races per year which I have a chance of watching live.

Phillip Island ..... rain ..... Ant West ......... he's been quite competitive I do believe.

Just checked the forecast.Saturday rain 10 - 18 degrees Celsius, Sunday overcast 9 - 17 degrees Celsius. But it is Phillip Island and unpredictable what comes in off Bass Strait.

I would be surprised if Ant West plus supposedly difficult to set up production Honda even plus home GP at Phillip Island possibly in the rain equals much. Too big an ask for anyone.

I'd love to see same rain and Ant doing well. When the outsider excel (Troy springs to mind) is always fun.

With Pedrosa at the top of his game, JLo on a good track for him, Rossi the most successful rider in PI (wins at par with Stoner) and Marquez ... well being Marquez... I suppose we are in for a great weekend. Bradley does well there too....

I would not be surprised to see Lorenzo ahead of rossi in the first half of the race, with rossi trying to run him down as Lorenzo's tires wear. Gone are the days when those Bridgestone rocks performed the whole race.

Do you hear that Victorian Government!! and Victorian Police!!, your attitude and harassment towards motorcyclists is going to lose this glorious event for Australia.....instead of promoting this event and welcoming motorcycle race fans from all over Australia, this government is driving the fans away!!!!... I wish Dorna could help with this situation!

Was only a matter of time I suppose before that was resuscitated! I want this to go to the wire because I have tickets for the Valencia race so I hope Lorenzo is only a little bit this weekend!

I'm a VR46 fan, so this is all fine by me, but I do respect JLo's riding ability. He's fast as all hell, but he's measuring speed incorrectly. It seems to me that JLo goes for fast laps. While that's important, in racing, the measure isn't how fast you do one lap, it's how fast you do all of the laps in the race. He wasn't unlucky, as he said he was, in Japan. He was focusing on lap times, not race distance.

The time he needs to concentrate on is the time it takes to do the full race distance.

Rossi sounded like he had a little bit of a head cold. Dovizioso sounded worse. It is very common for riders to catch things like colds and flu during travel, and especially during the flyaway triple header. They travel between very different climates in a short period of time, they exhaust themselves, either with training or racing, and they are trapped in aircraft for long periods at a time. First, they make themselves susceptible to illness by the combination of physical exhaustion, jet lag and changing climate, then they crowd into a confined environment with hundreds of other people, some of whom statistically must be ill, with the germs, bacteria, viruses and other disease vectors filling the cabin. The seats may be comfier in Business or even First Class, but they breathe the same air there as in Economy.

As a rule, everyone, from riders to mechanics to journalists, turns up at the last of the flyaways with some kind of major or minor malady.

haha thanks

glad I wasn't the only one that thought so. Pretty much what I figured. The fact that the guys can stay as healthy as they do always did amaze me. David have you ever had a rider admit that it DOES affect them on the track or with concentration, etc(aside from Casey obviously)? I mean I know they're pros, but I can't imagine it's any easier leaning 60+ degrees with medicine head and a blocked up nose

and not being able to take most of the drugs that give you that feeling of being better because they are all banned for athletes.
Ask West about that.

I'm not so sure the Suzuki's lack of acceleration will not be an issue. I don't see the circuit helping them to any better a result than what they've already had this year. They are what they are........in need of advantages to run in the top 10. Of course, I suppose they could muddle the race by qualifying well.

All I've seen about the weather is that it looks to be pretty cool on Sunday with light (relatively) winds. Cool, but I hope it stays dry as on the forecast I saw.

And on the Ant, Westie may be good (and not always even at the front) in the rain in the intermediate classes, but this is MotoGp we are talking about.

To boot, he hasn't been on a MotoGp bike in a while and he's not on one that you'd expect to be near the front. I think we'd be lucky to see him on camera once the lights go out.

Miller always goes really fast in the wet as well.... until he crashes. He's got the wet weather pace to mix with the satellites, he just needs to temper it a little and stay upright.

Hey David,

I was wondering given your years of covering MotoGP how the 2015 season so far is stacking up regarding excitement and anticipation. My first year watching was back in 2013. That fore sure was exciting especially given what happened in Philip Island. I know 2006 was crazy but I'm not familiar with many others especially not prior to 2000. In any case i've been at the edge of my seat almost this entire season. Between the slow start of Lorenzo, Marquez's extremely hot and cold season and Rossi's consistency I've been foaming at the mouth every race. Just wondering what your thoughts were.

Good question. I started this as a personal blog in 2006. That turned out to be quite a good year to be writing about MotoGP. I still think 2006 is the best season in recent history. The racing was fantastic a lot of the time. There's a bunch of races you could go back and watch, Mugello, Sachsenring, and more.

Prior to that, it's hard to say. Certainly, the previous 'Golden Era' between 1989 and 1993 was outstanding, but there were also some dull races there too. 

As for 2015 vs 2006, I think the races were better in 2006, but this is certainly the most tense championship I can remember, most especially because it is between two teammates on the same bike.