The wind swirled and dumped rain and wintery temperatures on the MotoGP collective across the weekend at Phillip Island for the sixteenth round of the FIM World Championship but LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow was the monolith that couldn't be weathered at the front of the field. The Briton – mercifully in a dry race - rode sensationally to capture his second victory of the season and after having ended the UK’s three decade wait for success in the premier class of MotoGP only five events previously.
The paddock shivered through torrential rain and then changeable conditions for qualification on Saturday with Movistar Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi enduring a difficult set of sessions to eventually sit 15th on the starting grid. Crutchlow – who had triumphed in the wet at Brno in the Czech Republic - looked in formidable shape around the quick and spectacular flowing layout (the second fastest on the calendar).
‘35’ fluffed his start slightly and slipped from second spot on the front row to seventh place before recovering to chase leader and newly crowned World Champion Marc Marquez. As Crutchlow found some fresh air and tried to reel in his fellow Honda rider Rossi was in feisty form to cut through the pack and was soon ahead of a tasty battle for fourth between the two factory Suzukis and Andrea Dovizioso.
Suddenly on lap nine Marquez crashed. “I knew I could go with Marc,” said Crutchlow who was left with empty asphalt ahead. “I made a little mistake the lap before he did and lost a tenth, but then he crashed and I didn’t know what to do. I had a target and then I had nothing.”
“It was a long, long race,” he said after defending a margin over the solitary Rossi. “It’s difficult to keep concentration that long when your pit board is going up and up. I felt good, but I should have carried on pushing. I didn’t start to lose concentration…but my mind was starting to wander when I should have been thinking about what I was doing. But we got the job done!”
Crutchlow scored only 20 points in the first seven Grands Prix of the year but has now posted four podium finishes and two wins in the last eight fixtures with events in Sepang, Malaysia and Valencia, Spain to go. He sits just 14 points behind the absent Dani Pedrosa and the chance to seize fifth place in the championship table.
Rossi walked the rostrum for the fifth time from the last six and uncorked champagne again after his surprise crash out of the Japanese Grand Prix last Sunday. With teammate Jorge Lorenzo only managing sixth spot in Australia Rossi holds a 24 point cushion in the tussle for runner-up status in 2016. “The first ten laps I enjoyed a lot,” the Italian said. “Cal was my target and I thought that I could beat him because this morning I was a bit stronger. When I saw Marquez crash I thought I might be able to win and tried but unfortunately Cal was too fast. He is always very fast in Phillip Island and interprets this track in the maximum way. For me the second half of the race was more difficult and I couldn‘t make a move, but this race is what we needed after the mistake in Motegi and the bad day we had yesterday, which I think was the most frustrating day of the season. It was a very positive day for the team and Yamaha and it‘s been a positive race.”
Monster Yamaha Tech’3 Pol Espargaro rode excellently on the satellite M1 machine to pull through to fifth position and equal his second-best classification of the season; also recorded in France and Catalunya. “Today I played all my cards and we have to leave Phillip Island feeling pleased about our performance over the weekend,” said the young Catalan who is nearing the end of a two-year association with the French crew. “I know that we gave our all and I have to say that the team is continuing to work in the same way that they did on our first day together, even if there are only a couple more races left together, and I appreciate that a lot.”
Completing the third of the MotoGP overseas triple the heat of Sepang next week will take the 2016 campaign up to the penultimate stop and a fortnight before Valencia again drops the curtain on another riveting championship.