AGAINST ALL ODDS
As you’d expect, Australia provided a parochial crowd with the expectation that Moto3 star and soon-to-be MotoGP rider, Jack Miller, would turn it on for his local supporters. Turn it on he did. The Moto3 race was as hard-fought as any racing you’re likely to see.
Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Miller rode the wheels off his bike to come from eighth on the grid to cross the finish line 0.029 seconds ahead of championship rival, Alex Marquez, with Marquez’s SPA Honda team mate, Alex Rins, just 0.032 seconds behind the leader.
Sepang and Valencia results subsequent to this race saw Miller miss the world champion title by an agonising two points but Marquez set the stage for his victory here in Australia.
Miller, Marquez and Rins ran in a front group of nine and the race lead changed constantly during the 23-lap battle. A pattern emerged, though, which suggested Miller wouldn’t be able to overcome the speed disadvantage he had on Phillip Island’s long main straight. On the laps where he led out of turn 12, he’d be swamped as he passed the grandstand, losing up to five places.
He stayed in the game with superior corner speed and clever slip-streaming but, on tracks like Phillip Island, a rider coming third or fourth on the final entry to the main straight often gets sucked past to win. Every single person in the media centre, the pits and the crowd had their own view on how Miller should approach the final lap.
When it arrived, Miller was in front. The dive from turn 12 to the start/finish line was unlike any other lap of the race with Miller dodging and weaving to not allow those behind him, Marquez in particular, to benefit from his slipstream. He crossed the finish line a fraction of a second ahead of Marquez and, had the finish line been positioned a farther ten metres down the straight, Miller would have come fourth. Four riders crossed the line in the same second after 23 laps. Racing doesn’t get much closer than that.
Miller’s victory in Moto3 was the first by an Australian since Casey Stoner’s MotoGP flag in 2012 and it placed already limited interest in the Moto2 race further onto the back burner. The main issue was whether Tito Rabat could wrap up the championship in this race or if the decider would move to Sepang the following week. Mika Kallio came fourth which meant the jury was still out on the result. (Rabat clinched it at Sepang.)
Practice for the race was dominated by crashes, which raised issues once again relating to the abrasive surface of the Phillip Island track and the importance of tyre construction.
The race itself saw an impressive performance from rookie Maverick Vinales. Rabat led the field away but an early error saw him drop to seventh. He recovered to eventually finish third but, with his points lead of 41, the last two races could change the overall results.
Thomas Luthi placed second.
Anyone who thought the riders and teams would back off now that the championship had been decided was in for a shock. Marc Marquez, with nothing in particular to gain apart from confirming his advantage, rode to his bike’s limits and, unfortunately, beyond the limits of his Bridgestone tyres. He was leading by four seconds when he crashed late in the race.
This handed the lead to the still incredibly popular Valentino Rossi who had spent most of the early part of the race dicing with his team-mate, Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo eventually dropped off the pace again due to issues with the front tyre and was passed by a hard-charging Cal Crutchlow who looked likely to take second until (tyres again) he crashed with just half a lap to go.
Bradley Smith then picked up third to make it a trifecta for Yamaha. Smith was so emotional after achieving his first MotoGP podium that he couldn’t be interviewed.
A technical report from Bridgestone after the race laid the blame for the irregular performance of its asymmetric front tyre on the changing weather conditions. A change late in the afternoon caused a dramatic drop in temperature and this combined with stronger, cool wind to create challenging conditions.
Riders who selected the extra-soft compound front fared better than those who rode on the asymmetric.
Crowds were relatively good thanks to the weather, with around 80,000 over the three days. This compares with 122,000 at Casey Stoner’s last race and promoters are hopeful the ‘Miller effect’ will lift numbers in 2015.