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Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - AN­DREW VAN LEEUWEN

MO­TOGP PHILLIP IS­LAND (AUS) OC­TO­BER 28 ROUND 17/19

It was a case of now or never for Yamaha at Phillip Is­land. As crashes ruled out Honda’s main chal­lengers, Suzuki’s chal­lenge proved duller than ex­pected, and Du­cati still wasn’t quite a vic­tory threat at its bo­gey cir­cuit, the race was ul­ti­mately Yamaha’s to lose.

Thanks to a per­fectly ex­e­cuted ride in the Aus­tralian Grand Prix, Mav­er­ick Vi­nales en­sured Yamaha made the most of it. A com­bi­na­tion of im­pec­ca­ble tim­ing and for­mi­da­ble speed paved the way for him to end a win­less streak for the man­u­fac­turer, stretch­ing 25 races back to Assen in 2017.

By Fri­day evening there was a sense that the race had been thrown wide open. One of the pre-event favourites was un­able to start: Cal Crutchlow, a win­ner at Phillip Is­land two years ago, took a nasty tum­ble as he went to sweep into the fast first cor­ner dur­ing FP2.

The LCR Honda rider went fly­ing through the gravel trap, and his dis­com­fort was pal­pa­ble as soon as he came to rest. At the cir­cuit med­i­cal cen­tre Crutchlow was di­ag­nosed with a badly bro­ken an­kle, which meant be­ing air­lifted straight to Mel­bourne to be­gin a series of op­er­a­tions. Both his week­end and his sea­son were ef­fec­tively over on the spot.

An­drea Ian­none, mean­while, came out of prac­tice as the pace­set­ter. A num­ber of riders sug­gested the Suzuki rider was now best-placed to take the fight to the newly crowned 2018 cham­pion Marc Mar­quez.

On Satur­day the pic­ture looked some­what dif­fer­ent. While the Ian­none threat hadn’t been ex­tin­guished en­tirely, the Ital­ian did fail to fire in a qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion made tricky by spot­ting rain on a mostly dry cir­cuit. He ended up fourth. In­stead, qual­i­fy­ing be­longed to Mar­quez, who fin­ished up 0.3s clear of the en­tire field, at the head of which were a pair of Yamaha riders: Vi­nales and Jo­hann Zarco.

The race started with the usual Phillip Is­land shuf­fle. Pra­mac Du­cati riders Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller surged for­wards from eighth and sixth on the grid and en­joyed brief stints at the head of the pack on the first lap, fol­lowed by Mar­quez and An­drea Dovizioso.

Five laps in, Mar­quez and Zarco were in­volved in what proved to be a racedefin­ing shunt. Hav­ing taken a tow from Miller down the long Gard­ner Straight, the pair dis­puted the same patch of as­phalt as they went to brake into Turn 1. Zarco clipped the back of Mar­quez, and his

Tech 3 Yamaha went fly­ing as he slid across the grass on his back. Re­mark­ably, he got up and walked away.

Mar­quez man­aged to stay on his bike, but his day was done. The back end of the

Honda was bro­ken, so Mar­quez cruised back to the pits to re­tire from the race.

Vi­nales saw his op­por­tu­nity. Ini­tially he and team-mate Valentino Rossi broke away from the field, but while Rossi’s charge swiftly faded, Vi­nales just kept go­ing.

Once in front, he stayed there. His lead was as much as four sec­onds with a third of the race to go. While he let Ian­none and Dovizioso – who emerged as best of the rest – get to within 1.5s at the end, Vi­nales was clearly man­ag­ing the pace.

Ian­none never quite lived up to the early-week­end hype, but he did man­age to come home sec­ond. There was a very brief pe­riod with a hand­ful of laps to go where he looked like he might try and run down Vi­nales, but he was ul­ti­mately forced to fight to hang on to sec­ond when Dovizioso came knock­ing on the fi­nal tour.

Com­pared with Du­cati’s dis­as­ter of a week­end at the cir­cuit a year ago – where then ti­tle con­tender Dovizioso ran wide at Turn 1 and never re­cov­ered – there were promis­ing signs of im­prove­ment. Su­per sub Al­varo Bautista fin­ished fourth on his de­but with the fac­tory squad, while Miller was sev­enth on the very bike that strug­gled so much in 2017.

Alex Rins and Rossi slot­ted in be­tween Bautista and Miller, both riders fail­ing to match their re­spec­tive team-mates at the front of the field. Franco Mor­bidelli was the best rookie in eighth, lead­ing home Aleix Es­par­garo and Bradley Smith.

ALL PICS: GOLD AND GOOSE/ LAT IM­AGES

Mar­quez re­alised his race was over af­ter col­li­sion with Zarco

Crutchlow was flown to hos­pi­tal af­ter FP2 crash

Vi­nales helped save Yamaha’s trou­bled sea­son

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