2016 Phillip Island MotoGP Press Conference
The Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island—round 16 and the second in three back-to-back races—officially got underway Thursday with the traditional pre-race conference.
Seven riders were in attendance, including the newly-crowned MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), home hero Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), and Honda WorldSBK’s Nicky Hayden, the man who is substituting for the injured Dani Pedrosa (broke his collarbone during Motegi practice).
First to speak was three-time MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez, who will look to repeat his winning performance at the 2015 Australian GP. He battled intensely with the factory Yamaha duo of Lorenzo and nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, and Ducati Team’s Andrea Iannone, who made headlines for hitting a seagull during the race. Marquez put in an amazing last lap to take the win by a mere 0.249 of a second ahead of Lorenzo.
Of course the pressure is off, but that won’t change much for Marquez: “Now, I feel much more relaxed. Now we’ll enjoy this last part of the championship. This is one of my favorite circuits. Last year on Sunday it was an amazing race, and in the end we won – so we’ll try and repeat that kind of race and result. But the forecast looks unstable…”
Though the 2016 MotoGP title was clinched last weekend in Motegi by Marquez, there’s still a huge battle for second between Rossi and Lorenzo. The three-time MotoGP Champion Lorenzo is third, 14 points behind Rossi. Of course his Motegi crash was addressed first.
“In Motegi, I just pushed a bit too much and the front closed – and we lost the chance to take second. Now it’s a bit more difficult because there are only three races left, but anything can happen,” Lorenzo says. “Phillip Island with perfect conditions is amazing to ride. Wonderful. But, when it’s cold or windy or raining it’s the opposite – quite tricky.”
With unpredictable conditions in the forecast, Ducati’s Dovizioso won’t mind a bit of rain due to past performances under wet conditions: “The feeling with the bike is very different to last year. Phillip Island is a really special track. But like Jorge mentioned, the wind can be difficult. The wind can make it hard to ride the bike, and tomorrow looks like it could be wet. But we’re usually competitive in the wet so we start confident, and we’ll see.”
Next to talk was Vinales, who replaces Lorenzo on the other factory Yamaha YZR-M1 as Lorenzo heads to Ducati. He earned third at Motegi behind Dovizioso and winner Marquez.
“We come here with a lot of expectation because Phillip Island is a track I really like,” said Viñales. “I’ve always been fast here. We’re motivated to win here and after Japan, even more. The track suits my riding style, so we’ll give 100% and we’ll see.”
Like Dovizioso, the idea of bad weather could be positive for LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, who earned the Brno MotoGP win in difficult conditions. Regardless, he favors dry conditions.
“Phillip Island has been a kind circuit to me throughout the years – except 2014!” said Crutchlow, who crashed out on the last lap two years ago. “I don’t want it to rain. People just think if you’ve had a wet win you want it to rain, but I don’t…I prefer the dry for sure.”
Home rider Jack Miller was another surprise winner, the Aussie earning a rain-soaked Assen MotoGP. This will be his first time back home since winning in Assen, and he has many fans to cheer him on as he chases points in the Independent Team sector.
“The home support has been great this year,” said Miller. “Maybe a few people are expecting a bit too much! But here, it looks like it’s going to be tricky conditions…which actually aren’t the best for us. The wet is hard enough, plus the wind and cold…so hopefully the weather gods shine down on us. For the fans, as well!”
Lastly was America’s hero Hayden, who will ride of the injured Pedrosa. Hayden claimed his one and only MotoGP title with the Repsol Honda team in 2006, and this marks the second MotoGP entry along with his appearance at Aragon in late September.
“I like racing motorcycles so when I got the call I said yeah, go for it!” explained Hayden, who also raced for Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS at the Aragon GP. “At Magny Cours we said no more Suzuka, no more GP…but here has always been one of my favorite tracks.
“I love it and I think everyone does – preferably in the sun. When I went in the box this morning and saw my number on the bike it was almost emotional for me – I’m very proud to have won with the Repsol Honda team. But it’s all very well to sit on it and take some pictures, now we need to open the throttle…”
Also, Kork Ballington, the South African 250cc World Championship winner from 1978 and 350cc title winner from 1979, attended the conference after meeting fellow citizen Brad Binder, the newly crowned Moto3 Champion in 2016. They both took the opportunity to pose with the South African flag in the pit lane of the Phillip Island circuit.
The riders return to Phillip Island Friday for the opening two free practices.
Photos by Luciano Bianchetto