Ahead of track action for the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, the Pre-Event Press Conference kicked the weekend off – with talk centered largely on the title fight as points leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), closest challenger Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) held court ahead of the final three rounds. After an incredible battle in Japan, the gap closed once again at the top – and the pressure is on for the two at the top.
“We’re at a very important moment,” affirms Marquez, who is now 11 points clear. “Motegi was a great weekend and some great last laps. We lost only five points so this was important too. Anyway, here in Phillip Island is normally a track I enjoy more than Motegi. In Australia, I’ve had some ups and downs, especially in 2014 and 2016 when I crashed when leading with some seconds of advantage. But when I win at Motegi I crash here but this time I was second at Motegi! However this year we are fighting for the Championship so the approach to the race is much different to last year.”
It is, with Dovizioso having cut the gap in stunning style on the last lap in Japan and no mistakes allowed for either. Marquez says he knows the Italian is the most “dangerous” rival now, but has “half an eye looking at Viñales”, who is 41 points back. However, regardless of the opponent, Marquez says the mentality is the same: “push, and if we can take one more point we’ll try to the last corner – like at Motegi.”
Dovizioso is similarly looking to keep his system the same – with five wins to equal Marquez’ count it’s easy to see why – but isn’t focused on the points. Although he gained on his Spanish rival at Motegi, the Italian is more encouraged by his speed – believing that’s the key to it being a battle to the end of the season.
“It was really nice last weekend, the way we worked and how we arrived in the race – we arrived ready and we managed it in the best way,” explains the Italian. “The fight was really nice. We know here a lot of riders are very fast and Marc especially on paper, so it will be difficult but we’re enjoying the moment. We have to work in the same relaxed way and improve in the weekend, like we have done in many weekends this year. We’ve created a really good situation in the box, small things have a big effect by the end of the season and we’re fighting for the Championship. In the last race, more than the battle we won on the last lap, I was happy about the speed I had during the race, and me and Marc did different during the race. That was important for me and my team in terms of being competitive in the Championship – more than the fact that we recovered 10 points.”
Viñales, meanwhile, knows the title pressure is now gone – because it will largely depend on what happens around him. But Australia is a good venue for the rider from Roses, and he says he’s riding to enjoy it – as well as looking for another win before the end of the year.
“In preseason, Phillip Island was the track where I was fastest and most consistent,” said the Spaniard, who topped testing throughout the winter, “but we arrive here in a different way with a completely different bike. I can’t wait to start and it’s a track I enjoy. I’m thinking only about riding and there’s no pressure now. Now it’s not in our hands, our opponents would have to make a mistake so it would be difficult. Now we’ll just try to enjoy it, get the Yamaha at the maximum level and try and get another win.”
The Yamaha rider already has one of those at the venue – the Moto2™ race in 2014 – and could be an interesting addition to the duel at the top come race day.
So it’s three races and three rivals. Will the Australian GP be another stunning duel a la Motegi, or something more akin to the classic 2015 Island battle? Find out Sunday at 16:00 local time (GMT +11).