This weekend the MotoGP World Championship returns to one of the jewels in its crown for the first time in three years: the Phillip Island circuit, situated on a small island off Australia’s southern coast.
The Phillip Island racetrack is one of the fastest in MotoGP, dominated by high-speed corners, which allow riders to use their talents to the full extent, which is why so many riders name it as one of their favourites.
No surprise then that Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) has always excelled at the track. He won the MotoGP three times from his last five visits – in 2015, 2017 and 2019 – stood on the Moto2 podium in 2011 and 2012 and won the 125cc race in 2010, on the way to his first world title.
This visit is different from all his previous visits, not just due to the three-year delay, caused by the global pandemic, but because Marquez is in recovery mode, following a four-month layoff after a fourth surgery to his right upper arm, which he broke at the start of the 2020 season and which has kept him mostly out of the spotlight since.
Honda’s six-times MotoGP World Champion returned to action three races ago and has scored strong results since, with a fourth place at last month’s Japanese Grand Prix at Honda’s Mobility Resort Motegi and a fifth in Thailand two weeks ago, less than three seconds behind the winner.
These results suggest that Marquez’s right arm is finally fixed, because he can once again ride how he likes to ride: on the limit, feeling the limit, so he can find his magical speed. And yet he is still building strength in his arm muscles, so he is only going to get faster.
On Sunday the 29-year-old Spaniard will do everything in his power to score his first podium since his comeback. And he should have a good chance because he adores anti-clockwise circuits like Phillip Island. His results over the years proves that his skills are even more special when he’s attacking left-hand corners, thanks to the amount of effort he’s put into dirt-track training, which usually takes place around anti-clockwise dirt ovals.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) has also stood on the top step of the podium at Phillip Island. The 31-year-old Spaniard won the Honda-powered Moto2 race in 2012, beating runner-up Marquez by 16 seconds, one of the biggest winning margins in the Moto2 class. He won it again in 2013, on his way to securing the Moto2 world title, before graduating to MotoGP the following year.
This will be Espargaro’s first visit to the track aboard an RC213V and he will be aiming to score points for the fourth consecutive race. Last time out in Thailand he finished 14th in a complicated race, which started after a tropical downpour and ended on a drying track. Espargaro’s best MotoGP finish so far at Phillip Island is a fifth place, achieved in 2016.
The last time Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) contested the Australian GP he was on his way to winning the 2019 Moto2 World Championship, so this will be his first time riding a MotoGP at Phillip Island, which will be a real thrill. The 26-year-old Spaniard had a superb race in Thailand, revelling in the tricky conditions and charging through from 20th on the grid to finish eighth, his second-best result so far this season.
The younger Marquez brother’s best result at Phillip Island is his second place in the 2014 Moto3 race, when he was beaten by just 0.029 seconds by current MotoGP rival Jack Miller. Marquez, however, went on to win the world title aboard his Honda NSF250RW, beating Miller by two points.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) will miss his second consecutive Grand Prix due to hand injuries sustained at last month’s Aragon GP. The 30-year-old from Chiba heroically rode in the subsequent Japanese round, because he didn’t want to disappoint his fans, then underwent surgery to fix tendon damage to his right little finger, which forced him to miss the Thai GP. He then had another procedure – applying skin grafts to the little and fourth fingers. On Monday his medical team decided he must rest for a week, before undergoing another check next week.
Once again his place will be taken by Honda MotoGP test rider Tetsuta Nagashima (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V), who made his premier-class debut at the Japanese GP, riding as a Wild Card entry, then replaced his countryman in Thailand.
Nagashima already knows Phillip Island from his six seasons in the Moto2 World Championship. Last time at the track, in 2019, he scored a top-ten result.
The Phillip Island racetrack was first used in the 1920s, when motorcycles were transported from the mainland in boats! A bridge now joins the two. The venue was substantially upgraded during the 1980s and in 1989 hosted Australian’s first-ever motorcycle Grand Prix, which was won by 1987 500cc World Champion and local hero Wayne Gardner aboard a Honda NSR500. The Australian GP moved to Eastern Creek, outside Sydney, from 1991 to 1996. Since 1997 the event has always been hosted by Phillip Island.
The circuit, which stands just a hundred metres from the southern coast of the island, is fast and flowing, which usually allows very close racing. Neutral handling and stability are important aspects of machine performance here, so that riders can aggressively attack the high-speed curves.
Honda riders have enjoyed many successes at the venue. Gardner repeated his 1989 victory the following year, beating factory Honda team-mate Mick Doohan by less than a second. The NSR500 scored four more wins on the island – in 1997 with Alex Criville, in 1998 with Doohan, in 1999 with Tadayuki Okada and in 2001 with Valentino Rossi.
Rossi also won the first two Australian GPs of the new four-stroke era, riding a Honda RC213V to victory in 2002 and 2003. In 2006 Marco Melandri won the event, also aboard an RC211V. In 2010 Casey Stoner took victory on a Honda RC212V and again in 2011 on an RC213V. Marquez won in 2015, then Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda RC213V) in 2016 and Marquez again in 2017 and 2019.
The paddock will pack up on Sunday evening and head northwest for next weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang, the penultimate race of 2022. The season concludes at Valencia, Spain, on 6th November.