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Oct 23, 2012 - 05:39 PM
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2012 Australia GP: Honda MotoGP Race Preview
Posted by: newsla on Oct 23, 2012 - 05:34 PM
MotoGP
2012 Australia GP: Honda MotoGP Race Preview


HONDA RIDERS LINE UP FOR IMPORTANT PHILLIP ISLAND CLASH

The penultimate round of the MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend at the majestic Phillip Island Circuit, with Repsol Honda team-mates Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner hoping to win for different reasons. Pedrosa would like to win his personal best seventh MotoGP race of the season in pursuit of the MotoGP World Championship, while native son Stoner hopes to win his sixth consecutive Australian Grand Prix before retiring at the end of his final campaign.

 

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Pedrosa has been on an unparalleled roll since the end of the summer break. The 27-year-old from the outskirts of Barcelona has won five of six races, starting with the Indianapolis Grand Prix and continuing through last weekend’s rain-lashed Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang. Not only did Pedrosa earn his first ever race win in the rain in Sepang, but he scored a personal best 14th podium in a single season. That allowed him to pull back five more championship points on title leader Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha).

With Stoner having won the past five MotoGP races on Phillip Island, it does not leave much chance for others to excel. Pedrosa’s success began with a win in the 2005 250cc race. He was third in the 2009 MotoGP race and fourth last year. Pedrosa knows that he needs to finish in front of Lorenzo to carry the title fight back to his fellow countrymen in the season finale in Valencia, Spain.

Stoner’s fifth victory on the Island last year was magical. Not only did he win the race for the fifth time, but the win secured his second MotoGP World Championship on his 26th birthday.

The two-time world champion has had two races to round into form following the right ankle injuries he suffered in qualifying for the Indy GP. He began his comeback by fighting physical fatigue to fifth place in the Japanese Grand Prix. Last weekend he rode a measured race to finish third, his eighth podium in a season in which he missed three races. Phillip Island is left-biased track, which will be less taxing on his still recovering right ankle. Despite his injury lay-off, Stoner should finish third in the championship.

If he never turned another wheel on the racetrack, Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V) would end the season with his best championship placing. Already this year he’s scored more points than his first two seasons in MotoGP combined. And he is in a strong position to finish fifth overall.

The reason is his second half resurgence. The 27-year-old Spaniard earned his first MotoGP podium in the team’s home race in Misano and followed it up with a third in the Japanese Grand Prix in Motegi. To continue at that level in Bautista can call on his memories from 2006, when he won the Australian 125cc GP to secure the 125cc World Championship, or the next two years when he was runner-up in the 250cc class.

Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP RC213V) is looking to return to the consistency he enjoyed early in the year when he finished in the top nine in 12 of the first 13 races. He has failed to finish two of the past three races, including in Malaysia, where he fell victim to the horrific conditions.

Nonetheless, Bradl won the 2012 Rookie of the Year title, which has been assured for some time. But that is not enough for the ambitious German in search of his first MotoGP podium. Now Bradl returns to Phillip Island where he finished third last year, his second podium at the seaside circuit.

Michele Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini FTR) visits Phillip Island for the fourth time, but the first on a MotoGP machine. Like team-mate Bautista, the Italian, who races a Honda CBR1000RR-powered FTR motorcycle, has been on a run in the second half scoring points in the past four races. One more and he will match his longest streak from earlier in the season. The constantly developing machine gets better every weekend and Pirro has set the ambitious goal of being top CRT bike before the end of the season.

Team CaixaCatalunya Repsol - Suter rider Marc Marquez needs only two points in the final two races to win the 2012 Moto2 World Championship regardless of what title rival Pol Espargaro (Tuenti Movil HP 40 – Kalex) does. Marquez’s first chance ended in tears when he crashed in the rain during last week’s Malaysia Grand Prix. His next chance comes this weekend at Phillip Island, where he finished third in the Moto2 race last year after having won the 125cc race in 2010.

Espargaro was not able to capitalise on the Marquez crash in Malaysia. The conditions were atrocious and the Spaniard did not feel confident pushing beyond his limit. Instead, he finished 11th and only gained four points on Marquez. The gap is now Marquez 283, Espargaro 235.

Andrea Iannone (Speed Master-Speed Up) is a distant third, and unlikely to advance, with Interwetten-Paddock Suter’s Thomas Luthi ready to take advantage in fourth place.

Iannone is no stranger to the Phillip Island podium, having finished third in 2010. Last year he was eighth in the Moto2 race. Luthi was last on the podium in 2005 when he won the 125cc race. In each of the past three years he finished 11th.

The top three Honda riders in the Moto3 class are all newcomers to Phillip Island, their third new track in three weeks. Estrella Galicia 0,0 – Suter Honda rider Alex Rins and Team Italia FMI – FTR Honda rider Romano Fenati are both in their first world championship campaign, while Estrella Galicia 0,0 – Suter Honda rider Miguel Oliveira is in his second year, though he only rode a partial season in 2011.

Rins and Fenati, both 16-year-olds, are locked in the battle for Rookie of the Year honours; they are separated by two points. Fenati was stronger early in the season, but Rins has been more consistent in the second half, finishing no worse than seventh in the past seven races.

Oliveira has also been stronger since the summer break, with improving placements in the past three races and top nine finishes in the last five.

Phillip Island is one of the few tracks on the calendar that is universally admired. The 4448m circuit southeast of Melbourne typically produces the fastest racing of the year. The 2011 Australian Grand Prix was the second fastest race of the year-Mugello was narrowly faster-with Stoner averaging 177.401Km/h in the race. That was an aberration. Stoner averaged the exact same speed, 175.990Km/h, in winning both the 2008 and 2009 Australian races. No races in MotoGP history have been faster. (By comparison, the fastest ever grand prix was held at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium in 1977, with the great Barry Sheene prevailing at an average speed of 217.370Km/h.)

The 4.448Km track has a number of iconic corners mixed among its seven lefts and five rights, some named after Honda legends. The first turn right is the Doohan Corner, after Honda’s five-time 500cc World Champion. Leading to Doohan Corner is the Gardner Straight in honor of Honda’s 1987 500cc World Champion. The looping left Southern Loop follows Doohan Corner, which, from this year on will lead into one of the more harrowing corners on the track, the third turn kink left. On Thursday morning, that stretch of tarmac will be renamed in honor of home country hero Casey Stoner.

The one criticism of the track is the surface. Last paved in 1998, the occasionally irregular tarmac will be repaved this December. Despite that, Phillip Island produces the highest track temperatures of the season. That despite an ambient temperature, which is often cooled by near constant winds off the Bass Strait. The right shoulders of the asymmetric tyres are not heavily taxed, but the final two corners are taken at such speed and lean angles that the temperatures on the left shoulders soar to over 120 degrees C.

Honda riders have won ten of the 17 races at Phillip Island, including the first eight of nine. The first Phillip Island grand prix was won by Wayne Gardner in 1989, with the 1987 500cc World Champion repeating his PI victory in 1990. The grand prix was moved for six years before returning in 1997 in a race won by Honda’s 1999 500cc World Champion Alex Criville. Five-time 500cc World Champion Mick Doohan won his home grand prix in 1998. Japanese ace Tady Okada, now a Honda test rider, won the race in 1999. Valentino Rossi gave Honda their next three wins, from 2001 through 2003, all in world championship-winning seasons. Marco Melandri won his lone Australian Grand Prix in 2006 aboard a Honda and Stoner won last year’s race, the final race of the 800cc era.

The spectacular setting produces not only great racing, but unique hazards. Sea gulls who venture in from the Bass Strait have been known to fly into the path of oncoming motorcycles, often with unpleasant results for both parties.

HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES

Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa says:
“Phillip island is a great track, especially on these machines, where you can usually see rear slides. The layout of the track makes racing very nice, so I hope we have good luck and that the bike is working well there also. I have very good memories from my championships back in 2004-2005 and I hope I can have a good race.”

Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner says:
“We've really struggled with the bike setup in the past two races and I'm pretty disappointed with this. We always seem to find our rhythm in Phillip Island, but I don't expect it to come easily this year. Thankfully the track goes to the left and we're having a lot less issues with chatter when it goes this way. Also, there aren't so many sharp turns, so my right leg might be able to deal with it a little better. I'm still nowhere near 100% physically and I still need time to be back to full strength, so I'm not really sure what to expect this weekend. We'll do our best and see what happens.”

San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista says:
“The result in Malaysia was positive and it gives us confidence for the future even though we know that we need to keep working with the same level of enthusiasm so that we can improve further. Phillip Island is a circuit I love because I have great memories of winning the 125cc world title there. Of course we have to work hard to find a good setting because it is a high-speed track and you need a stable bike. We will keep working along the same lines as recently and hopefully we can be as competitive as we were at Motegi.”

LCR Honda MotoGP rider Stefan Bradl says:
“Hopefully we’ll have a better racing weekend in Phillip Island than I did last weekend. We had an issue with the engine mapping that we’ve never had before. The first priority will be to resolve that issue, which I’m confident the team will do. Phillip Island is fast and flowing and I’m looking forward to racing there in the MotoGP class. I’ve had good results in the past and I expect to finish these flyaways strongly.”

San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Michele Pirro says:
“I was very happy with the result Sepang, especially because I was hoping for a dry race after the pace we showed in warm-up. That was a shame, but hopefully we get good conditions at Phillip Island this weekend, even though the temperatures will be chilly. I really like this track and if we get the same feel from the bike that we had on Sunday morning in Malaysia then I could have a good race. There are two races left and I would really like to take a CRT win, that would make me really proud.”

Moto2 RIDER QUOTES

Team CaixaCatalunya – Suter rider Marc Marquez says:
“We are facing a new challenge at Phillip Island, where we will use the same dynamic as always: Working hard from the opening day to be able to triumph on Sunday. We are much closer to the title ­only two points away­ but we can’t lose focus, because anything can happen in the world championship. We have to see what awaits us there, assess how Pol Espargaró goes and give 100% for the entire weekend.”

Tuenti Movil HP 40 – Kalex rider Pol Espargaro says:
“We are disappointed that we couldn’t take more advantage of Marc’s (Marquez) crash last weekend in Malaysia, but we start fresh in Phillip Island. I cannot think of anything but winning races; everything else is out of my control. I have good memories of Philip Island where I’ve finished on the podium the past two years. I will do my best when practice starts on Friday and hope to give the team the result they deserve.”

Speed Master-Speed Up rider Andrea Iannone says:
“When we left Malaysia I wasn’t satisfied with the result; I know we’re capable of better. Phillip Island is a track that I enjoy. It’s fast, it’s technical and it produces great racing. We finished third two years ago and if we continue to work hard can achieve that again this year.”

Moto3 RIDER QUOTES

Estrella Galicia 0,0 – Suter Honda rider Alex Rins says:
“We once again face an unknown track. We will have to adapt quickly, although I am sure that it will be a little tougher than at other circuits because in Australia there is a lot of wind. We will try to have another good race in order to maintain the lead of the Rookie Of The Year standings, which is our main objective.”

Estrella Galicia 0,0 – Suter Honda rider Miguel Oliveira says:
“Phillip Island is another track at which I have never ridden before. It is technical, narrow and has many changes in altitude. You have to have a lot of precision and find a good setup. When we arrive in Australia we will try to adapt as quickly as possible, so that in the race we can give our best. After a good weekend in Malaysia, which is also a new track for me, the entire team is very motivated.”

Team Italia FMI – FTR Honda rider Romano Fenati says:
“I don't know Phillip Island, but it seems a fascinating track and I hope to be able to adapt myself quickly. It is the third new track in three weeks and I look forward to the challenge. Everyone I speak to likes the track, but I know the weather can present a challenge. As always, we’ll do our best and hope to regain the lead for Rookie of the Year.”

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