Island of dreams the Glastonbury of MotoGP™

Nick Harris recalls the magic of MotoGP™ returning to Phillip Island

It is only when you return you realise just how much you have missed somewhere special so much. The global spread of the Covid pandemic wrecked our enjoyment, excitement and in many cases absolute amazement of witnessing world class performers at legendary venues. The music at Glastonbury, tennis at Wimbledon, football at the Nou Camp, Wembley or the San Siro, Formula One at Monaco, Indy Cars at Indianapolis and road racing on the Isle of Man disappeared overnight. Their return has done so much to lift everybody’s spirits and make us all realise just how much we have missed them. Phillip Island is right up there with them all. On Sunday the Australian circuit perched high above that crashing surf put on a show that we had waited three long painful years to explode before our eyes. We knew the Island would not let us down and it did not.

Just where do you start. The highlight for me is the MotoGP™ win by Alex Rins for the Ecstar Suzuki team. We have all been there. Working through the last few months of a job. The nightmare of knowing you will not return the next year. Nobody would blame the Suzuki team, worried about their futures, their families and finances, if they lost both concentration and heart. Instead pride and dignity shone through that dark cloud of uncertainty to produce a Grand Prix winning machine superbly ridden by Alex Rins, who has also had such a tough year. Surely a company with such principles will return to the fray one day. They have done it before.

Just over eight tenths of one second separating the first seven finishers. Marc Marquez’s 100th podium finish. Pecco Bagnaia grabbing the lead in the World Championship. Jack Miller being brought down at the corner that had just been named after him. The crowning of Izan Guevara as the new Moto3™ World Champion in the earlier race. The 40,000 patriotic crowd giving six times Island winner Casey Stoner such a rousing reception. It was a typical day at the office for Phillip Island.

I was actually in Australia filming a documentary about World Champion Wayne Gardner when it was announced that a certain Island off the coast in Victoria was going to stage the very first Australian Grand Prix. I do not think many people had the faintest idea where it was and further investigation revealed it was famous for its penguins, big sharks and surfing. That all changed dramatically a year later with the 1989 Australian Grand Prix. Gardner’s win at that first Grand Prix brought Australia to a halt. We realised that weekend this was somewhere so special. Designed for motorcycle racing by Bob Barnard, a ribbon of tarmac that had no equal.

It was just the start of an incredible journey for the iconic venue. The Mick Doohan Gardner duel in 1990. Loris Capirossi becoming the youngest ever World Champion the same year. Doohan clinching the 1998 world title. The last lap decider for the 2000 250cc World title between Olivier Jacque and Shinya Nakano. Valentino Rossi winning his first premier class world title in 2001. The MotoGP™ battle in 2015 that led to the Marquez/Rossi war and Cal Crutchlow’s 2016 victory. Throw in Stoner’s six successive MotoGP™ wins and Rossi’s victory celebrations with the number 7 emblazoned on a special flag following the death of the double World Champion Barry Sheene.

Phillip Island is a little more Glastonbury than any of those other legendary venues. Worries about the weather, traffic and camping totally obliterated when the action begins. Welcome back, we have missed you so much and the penguins, big sharks and surf are all still thriving.

So many memories, hopefully many more to come.

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