Phillip Island Grand Prix set for Turbulent Weather with Jack Miller Aiming High!
The 2019 Australian Grand Prix is ready to rock and roll with turbulent weather predicted, something we consider absolutely normal in this part of the world. One day it is hot, the next freezing cold and after that torrential rain. This is the beauty of being next to the Bass Strait and having motorcycle riders pushed to the limit. Phillip Island is a circuit where you can excel and also crumble at the same time if you make an error or lack confidence in and out of the corners.
Key news this weekend was the announcement of Brad Binder stepping up to take Johann Zarco’s seat with the KTM Factory Team and retaining Miguel Oliveira to the seat he is currently with at Tech3 KTM. No doubt, the Portuguese rider will be feeling upset, disappointed and confused. There are numerous reasons for the KTM Factory to have taken this pathway and promoting the South African rider who is hungry, working through challenges in 2019 in the Moto2 class and wanting to be a World Champion within the KTM program. KTM Motorsport Director Pit Beirer is satisfied with his decision. PB: “It was clear that our plans for 2020 needed to change following our mid-season announcement. After some thought and talks we decided to move in this direction and let the young, hungry guys with good experience in the other categories of MotoGP show us what they can do. Brad is a rider that has made his way through the KTM structure and we have no doubt whatsoever that he can walk into the Red Bull KTM team and keep showing that same style and never-give-up attitude we have seen for a long time. Iker comes into the Red Bull KTM Tech3 team and we’re super-confident that Hervé and his guys will be able to help and develop another rookie like they have done so well with Miguel this year. We know we are making good and exciting steps with our MotoGP project and with next season now fixed we can really start building up to this new chapter.” What are your thoughts on this decision?
At the 2019 event, we are blessed by the presence once again of Johann Zarco who is filling in for Takaaki Nakagami who has opted for shoulder surgery and finishing the season in order to come back for 2020 with less pain and to remove the lingering shoulder injury from his mind. At present, Nakagami has experienced a very up and down season. It will be very interesting to witness Zarco ride the LCR Honda machine considering he is contracted to KTM and now filling in for the Honda powered team. Could he be turning down the Yamaha test riding gig for a potential Honda test riding adventure. It has been a whirlwind of contractual negotiations that would certainly cause headaches. Phillip Island is going to be a true test for the French rider and his future. Be sure to watch closely as to how he adapts to a completely foreign machine. On the other hand, Jeremy Burgess has felt that Valentino Rossi has stuck around for too long and maybe that it is time to hang up the racing boots.
The silly season of rumours and gossip is in full swing. There is one rider though who is staying out of the firing line and focusing on his job and that is Australian rider Jack Miller. Finishing 2019 in a strong way will be a very crucial boost to the morale and mindset of the Pramac Ducati rider. He has a new electronics engineer for 2020 with Lorenzo Goglia joining the team as his current engineer Marco Frigerio departs to Yamaha. The Ducati team are passionate and want to win so the directions and research they undertake are vital to a successful finish in 2019 and upcoming year where beating Marc Marquez will once again be part of the headlines.
In turning towards the circuit, the island, the gem of the calendar, all of the riders are hanging out to get on track. MM93: “In Japan, just one week ago, the target is to fight for the victory but it is a circuit you need to feel because it has high speed corners and this means a lot of risk. You have to stay calm. We will try to work in a good way and try to win on Sunday and fight against Yamaha because their bike here is working very good in the high speed corners. It will be tough to beat them but we will try”.
AD04: “Optimistic is a bit too much. Last year we did a really fast and good race. I hope to stay on the podium again. It will be difficult. Marc, the Yamahas and Rins will be strong. Last race at the end of the race was quite fast. We have to understand something about that and it happens all the time. There is a reason. Like Marc says, the conditions are very strange and the tyres, wind and which way it goes. We will see about the conditions.
FB20: “I think the Yamaha fits really well to this track but we will see about the conditions. Thursday was nice weather. The weather for the weekend looks tricky. We need to focus. Do the same work as we have done from the beginning of the year. Adjust to the tyres. I really like fast corners. We will make our best and our best will be enough. The goal is to try and adapt really quick even when it is raining or a little bit of wind. We will make our best, we are going in a really good way in the wet”.
Rossi will be celebrating his 400th Grand Prix which is an amazing achievement. The Doctor has experienced a very tormenting season with less than ideal results and a lot of issues to overcome with the Yamaha MotoGP machine. He still has that flame within his eyes as to what is possible and will definitely enjoy the Phillip Island circuit because Rossi is strong at the Australian event when it matters the most. VR46: “It is a long time and road. It is good to make the 400th in Phillip Island because it is an iconic place for MotoGP and the all of the riders love the circuit because it has something special. It is one of the best places. When I was young, in general, in my career, I never had an idea on how long I had to race. When I was 17, already you see a guy that have 25 years old and is like your grandfather, so now I am 40, imagine… but yes it is a good achievement. In MotoGP, the situation is strange because you have to decide your future before the first race or two years before. In the last years, everybody try to sign as soon as possible. The motivation – when you have a good result everything is more easy. If you are in a difficult moment, the motivation is to try and come back and be strong”.
In looking at change, Rossi has started braking with two fingers to try and adapt which is interesting. Rossi is changing his way of riding to try and improve. VR46: “With these bikes, the way to brake is a bit different, we try some different things, two fingers, I think I will continue with this. For here, the front braking is less demanding than Motegi which is most difficult”.
Learning to try new things is not easy for a master especially when younger talent is pushing the limits and making their mark, in particular fellow Yamaha rider Quartararo. With rain predicted, it will be an all out battle between those under this manufacturer brand because in the past, the Yamaha’s have been incredibly competitive. There is one rider though who will want to shake things up and that is the ‘Miller Thriller’. JM43: “We will give it a go. It is a place I love to come and ride at. It is one of the best tracks on the calendar and a home race for me. The conditions are not ideal. For me, Phillip Island, there is no point in looking at the weather forecast, we wait until we wake up in the morning and make a plan from there. We had good pace in Japan and I am looking forward to a weekend at home where I am normally really strong and looking to take it to these guys”.
Finally, we meet Zarco again and this time on board a Honda. JZ05: “The smile is there and I want to clear all the feelings I got this year because in MotoGP, my first two years, I started good and this year was complicated. I took the three races opportunity and catching it. It may be my last few races, I took a big risk this summer quitting my contract for 2020 so now I have a short future, though I can leave it with a lot of intensity”. In the very first session with wet conditions, Zarco was ahead of Cal Crutchlow and Jorge Lorenzo. Is there potential for him to become a Honda rider after taking a leap of faith…. That is a question many will want to know answers to or will he have to wait and keep on the hunt. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, the French rider will want to prove his worth because it is a fine line between having a career in MotoGP and ending up elsewhere in another lower class or series altogether. We look forward to seeing how practice, qualifying and the race unfolds with mixed conditions guaranteed. The win is up for grabs and may the best rider win!