The pre-event Press Conference gets us in gear at this unique track – with a few special guests beforehand!
Ahead of the Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, riders led by newly-crowned Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) sat down to face the media in the Pre-Event Press Conference…at least, after an encounter with some furry – or scaly – friends.
After steadfastly avoiding the snake in the animal meet and greet, Marquez spoke first and was joined by Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), home hero Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) and Ducati Team’s stand-in Alvaro Bautista – with talk ranging from the weather to 2019 and more.
After wrapping up title number seven in style, Marquez was, of course, happy ahead of the weekend. “I’m very happy! Of course you feel different now but I’ve not had a lot of time to celebrate – with the team yeah but then first thing on Monday I was in the HRC factory, to say hi to them. But after Malaysia I hope we have a bit more time to celebrate, and in Valencia.”
Traditionally, however, winning the title in Japan hasn’t been the best luck for the number 93. But will it be luckier with number seven? “I won in 2014 at Motegi, I got here and I thought I could do everything and I crashed. In 2016 I felt different but again I crashed in the race. So I need to control myself a bit, it’s a track that I love but…now we will start looking towards the 2019 season.”
Back to work already? There’s no time to rest on the flyaways. One thing that can get in the way a little in Australia is the weather, however – and Rossi will have an eye on that.
“I think Phillip Island is one of the best circuits of the season, for more or less everyone. But the weather is important because here we can struggle a bit with it. I hope we can have good weather, especially for Sunday. Last year I was quite strong, we had both Yamahas on the podium so it looks like it’s a good track for us but every year is different so from tomorrow morning we have to work because here you need a good balance. It’s very fast, with very long corners. We’ll see if we can fight for the podium.”
Said the ‘Doctor’.
It is a legendary circuit and, for the Italian, it’s unique.
“For me Phillip Island is really different, it’s the only one like this. On other tracks you’re fast as an average speed but here you’re fast in the corners and there are a lot of high speed changes of direction. It’s mostly left but you still have to manage the right, and it’s all up and down…”
It is, with some of the most spectacular elevation changes on the calendar and some of the most incredible curves to boot. The man who tamed them best in 2016 was Crutchlow, and he’s on a roll as he arrives this season too, having taken P2 at Motegi.
“We have to take on board we had a great race last weekend in Japan, the team did a great job for me to finish second. I think the momentum is there and I’m riding quite well but I don’t know if we can repeat 2016. On paper right now there are ten guys who could probably win and there are only three spaces on the podium.”
The secret, says Crutchlow, is tactics – as borne out a few races of late.
“It’s a tactical track here, there are a few tricks of the trade you can do but I think it’s important to lead, then you have the chance to get away – if you look at Marc last year, he did that at the perfect time.
Next to speak was Alex Rins, who was another on the podium in Japan. He’s also got some good momentum behind him recently. Can he repeat it?
“We will try. For a few races we’ve been doing a really good job, the performance of the bike is really good. We need to be at 100% from Friday, this track is difficult, and the weather, we’ll see what happens with it but normally it’s very cold and windy…”
Looking a little further ahead, however, Rins is optimistic.
“On Saturday night at Motegi I talked a bit to Sylvain Guintoli about the new bike, and he said that they’ve improved the engine area a bit, he was trying a new frame that we’ve still not tried and we’ll try after Valencia race, but the new package looks good.”
The package also looked good in Japan for Miller, who qualified on the front row. He’s also now racing at home and has some serious form at the Island; looking to avoid a repeat of his crash at Motegi.
“I love coming to this race, staying in Melbourne for a couple of days and enjoying it, it’s a great event to be a part of!”
In terms of the track action, Miller’s key aim is to avoid his DNF from last time out.
“We had the front row start in Japan, we tried the soft option tyre as a gamble and as we kinda had predicted but hoped not that by the third lap, the edge of the tyre was too hot. I was rolling around, I had a bit of a slide into the corner and crashed…and I’ll try not to do that too much this weekend!”
Next up was another rider on a Ducati, but not the same Ducati this weekend. Alvaro Bautista, after a good top five in Japan, has been called up to the factory team to ride Jorge Lorenzo’s GP18 as his compatriot recovers from injury.
“We worked well the whole weekend in Japan, and I think this opportunity arrives at my best moment because I feel very strong riding the bike. New people, new bike, now I have to adapt to the GP18. This track hasn’t been the best for Ducati and before we’ve struggled a lot but I’ll try to give all the information to the engineers.
Qualifying was our critical point but in the last races we’ve been making progress and always in Q2 which is important because in MotoGP the first few laps, if you can make a good start and get in the front group you can stay with them. But if you start further back and have the rhythm of the front group it’s impossible to get to them…”
That front group is expected to be another stunning showdown on Sunday in the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, tune in from Sunday at the later local time of 16:00 (GMT +11) as the lights go out and the gloves come off.
Riders learn a few new tricks on Churchill Island
Alvaro Bautista (Ducati Team) had a double billing on Thursday as he also headed to Churchill Island Heritage Farm in the morning before the Press Conference. He was joined by Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Fabio Quartararo (MB Conveyors – Speed Up), Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP), Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and home hero Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing) as riders got to grips with cow milking, sheep shearing and whip cracking.
“Try to aim for someone’s face,” was the sage advice to Miguel Oliveira in how to direct the whip – alhtough the Portuguese rider was at a considerable distance.
“Darryn? Come closer!” was the wisecrack before the whip crack.
Words and images courtesy of www.motogp.com