Phillip Island: Australian Grand Prix
It was an expensive day in the title fight for Dovizioso at Phillip Island. Luckily for viewers, it was an all-time great of a race. And maybe more expensive for the people now repairing the leathers, boots and fairings that bear the scars of another incredible Island battle.
"It was like 2015" was Marquez' brave statement in the Press Conference - when sat next to Valentino Rossi - but that's true in many ways. It was an almighty war at the front before Marquez bolted and Rossi was scuppered by Iannone who, the Doctor said with a smile, "arrived like crazy at the hairpin". With that move, Marquez gained room to breathe out front. And in terms of his title aspirations, he needed it.
- Marc Marquez #93 and Johan Zarco #5 Battle at the Australian Grand Prix - Phillip Island - 2017 -
By that point, Marquez had already been clattered out of a corner by Zarco, wiped a nice line of rubber on Rossi's shoulder, had the rear of his bike scarred and also been beaten up from first to fourth to second and then got back in the lead. This was a true war, and the riders all got truly stuck in. As Jack Miller - the initial leader with a stunning start - said: "In every braking zone, no one was safe!"
There were some moves on the verge of going over the limit, and some moves that walked the line perfectly. Some moves could have ruined championships and others could have - and maybe should have - ended up in the gravel (such as Zarco round the outside at Turn 1 – how!). But they didn't, and when asked about the limit, all three of the podium finishers said the same: it was an incredible battle. The limit was the necessary limit to fight it out.
- Jack Miller #43 - Leads the opening stages of the Australian Grand Prix - Phillip Island - 2017 -
Rossi was the most quotable, looking fired up as ever after winning the battle for second at the line. In parc ferme the Doctor simply explained that, to come out on top, you had to be "more stupid than them." In some ways that was true - but it wasn't, of course, said seriously. It wasn't a game of chess, but neither was it luck. The nine-time World Champion explained his thoughts on the battle at more length in the Press Conference:
"In the last few years, the level of aggression during races has raised a lot, especially with the young riders coming from Moto2. You either get angry or not, but that doesn’t change anything. This is the game. If you don't want to play it, you should stay at home."
Knowing the competition were some of the hardest riders - Zarco, Marquez and Iannone, chiefly - had the Italian pushing to the limit. And also, interestingly, mentioning 2015 - not wanting to be caught out on the last lap as he was then by Iannone. And he wasn’t, pipping both Zarco and teammate Viñales to the line.
- Marc Marquez #93 - Repsol Honda Team - Australian Grand Prix - Phillip Island - 2017 -
Other than the incredible track action, the race was also fantastic for the reactions afterwards, and the unified front of everyone having enjoyed the racing itself. There were results to enjoy, too – especially for Marquez with his points gain and Rossi back on the podium after breaking his leg – but the thrill of the fight is what left all the protagonists crackling with energy in the aftermath. That’s what needs to keep happening more, to stop the booing of the reigning world champion on the podium when the man on the other side of that battle now shakes his hand. This is how it is, now. And it’s stunning.
It was, quite simply, the best of what has already showcased one of the best eras of all time, if not the best. Long live the Island battle, and don’t worry, it will – with one of the longest contract extensions to host MotoGP already having been signed, with the future confirmed until 2026.
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