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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