As MotoGP returns to Australia
The 2007 MotoGP World Championship already decided, the GMC Australian Grand Prix is set to be a raucous occasion for local fans as they hail the homecoming hero at Phillip Island.
For the first time since the end of 1998, when Mick
Doohan arrived at Phillip Island with the 500cc title already wrapped up, Australia has the chance to use the annual MotoGP visit to pay tribute to the current champion from their homeland. Fresh from clinching his maiden crown at Motegi, Casey Stoner makes his first appearance on track since becoming the second youngest winner of a premier class title.
The Ducati factory rider has only been on the podium once at Phillip Island, with a third place in the 125cc category in 2004. However, after having played the points game in Japan motivation will be at an all-time high for Stoner, who has not finished outside of the top six all season and currently holds eight MotoGP victories this year.
Although hailing from somewhat further afield, Italian rider Valentino Rossi is likely to have just as many fans in the grandstands as local boy Stoner. The Fiat Yamaha rider has won seven times at Phillip Island, including a five year run of victories from 2001 to 2005, and is always popular with Australian fans. The five-time MotoGP World Champion is still to confirm second place in the standings, holding a 26 point advantage over third placed Dani Pedrosa.
Like Rossi, who experienced tyre problems in Japan, Pedrosa also had a race to forget at Motegi. The Spaniard paid the price for staying out too long on wet tyres, suffering a highside which left him out of the race and heading to the medical centre to assess a foot injury brought about by the crash. Further examination ruled out the possibility of a fracture, and the Repsol Honda rider has returned to training and is expected to be in good shape for his visit to Australia.
Still in contention for third place this season, the Suzuki duo of John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen have been virtually inseparable in their respective most successful seasons to date. Hopkins currently holds the advantage over his team-mate, having earned four points more over the course of the year. Home rider Chris Vermeulen experienced one of his most memorable Grand Prix results at Phillip Island last year, taking his first MotoGP podium in his rookie season.
br> Last year's race winner Marco Melandri rounds off the top six in the standings, and the Italian created one of the most memorable moments of 2006 when he took victory in the first ever flag-to-flag race, executing a huge powerslide on the final corner whilst giving the victory sign with his fingers. Picking up momentum at recent races, Melandri is hoping for a strong finish to his final season with Gresini Honda.
Loris Capirossi was triumphant at the most recent flag-to-flag race at Motegi, the first to have been started in the wet. The veteran is also expecting a positive push in the last three races of the year, before he too moves on to pastures new. The top ten is completed by 2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, fellow American Colin Edwards and Brazilian veteran Alex Barros. The third Australian participant at Phillip Island will be Anthony West, who makes his first appearance at his home race since signing for Kawasaki.
34 points clear in the 250cc category, Jorge Lorenzo is effectively running down the clock in the quarter litre class. The reigning World Champion had a bad race in Japan, finishing eleventh at a Grand Prix that he would want to forget, but returns to the scene of one of the eight triumphs in his title winning season at the latest round.
The only man who can realistically challenge Lorenzo is his arch-rival Andrea Dovizioso, who like the Spaniard is competing in his last trio of races in 250cc. The Italian has two consecutive second place finishes at Estoril and Motegi respectively, but needs to put more ticks in the win column if he is to surpass Lorenzo and end his 250cc stay on a high.
The current top three are all set to move up to MotoGP next year, with current third placed rider Alex de Angelis also set for an 800cc switch in 2008. The San Marino rider has experienced a dip in form over the past few races, and since ending a run of fifteen races in the top four he has failed to return to the heights of his pre-Brno run.
Fourth placed Alvaro Bautista returns to the scene of his 125cc title triumph last season, whilst the top six is completed by a resurgent Hector Barbera and Motegi race winner Mika Kallio.
The 125cc title battle is set to go down to the wire, with the Aspar team duo of Gabor Talmacsi and Hector Faubel separated by just nine points at the top of the table. The Hungarian currently holds the advantage, and recently signed a new deal to stay in the 125cc class for a further season, with the option to move up to 250cc in 2009.
Faubel currently holds the most victories in the category this season, alongside fourth placed Mattia Pasini. The two are separated by Japanese rider Tomoyoshi Koyama, who experienced a disastrous home race at the last round.
The top six is rounded off by Simone Corsi and Lukas Pesek, both effectively out of the running for the title but still capable of pushing the leaders in one of the most exciting title chases of recent years.
Phillip Island, the self-styled home of Australian motorsport, is steeped in motor racing tradition, with the first car races having been held there on public roads in the 1920s. The first motorcycle races took place in 1931 and a permanent track was built in 1956. The circuit fell into disrepair during the late 70s and early 80s until it was bought in 1985 and given a AUS $5m facelift. MotoGP returned in 1989 and 1990 before becoming a regular fixture once more from 1997 onwards. The Phillip Island circuit is blessed with breathtaking scenery and beautiful ocean views and, as one of the fastest, most fluid, tracks on the calendar, it continues to provide some of the most spectacular racing in the MotoGP season.
DORNA / CAPSIS International