It is a great track, Philip Island indeed is. It challenges not just the riders, but motorcycle designers and racing teams as well. Above all, it challenges tire manufacturers: with wildly varying temperatures, strong winds blowing in cool and damp air off the ocean, an abrasive surface, high-speed corners, more left-handers than right-handers, and the most of the lefts faster than the rights. It can rain, be bitterly cold, be bathed in glorious sunshine, or in sweltering heat. Try building a tire to cope with all that.
Temperature played a role in both Moto2 and Moto GP. With track temperatures around 35°, it was a little too warm for the extra soft front tire, and not quite warm enough for the soft tire. Making it much more difficult was the wind, sucking away any heat the riders managed to get into the right side of the tire. The asymmetric front, which has a softer compound on the right side, was a little better than the symmetric version of the same tire, but even then, the right side rubber was a little too hard, some riders felt. Aleix Espargaro said he would have liked the asymmetric tire to have the extra soft compound on right, and something halfway between the extra soft and the soft on the left.
The compounds which Bridgestone have brought would definitely last race distance, the riders agreed. That left the teams with a lot of work to do, however. "We have to work on set up to stop the tire from spinning too much," Rossi told reporters. The rear spinning was a problem for everyone, however, the result of the choice of a harder option.
Is Bridgestone's choice of a harder tire the right one? The rider consensus says that it is. Phillip Island is indeed very special, and it was always thus. "This track is very, very difficult for the tires," Valentino Rossi told reporters. "Also in the past this track was very critical in terms of blisters, even on the 500s." A repeat of the 2013 fiasco has been averted, with Bridgestone telling teams to run 0.35 to 0.4 bar extra in the rear to help prevent blistering. But creating a perfect tire for Phillip Island may only be possible by violating the laws of physics.
Lorenzo made his intentions perfectly clear, lapping quickly both morning and afternoon, and maintaining a very consistent pace. Marc Marquez was second fastest, but not far off Lorenzo's time, and if anything, even more consistent than the Movistar Yamaha rider. Marquez had struggled with rear grip in the morning, but his crew had worked hard to find solutions. That progress should worry his rivals.
The Ducatis were fast, but not happy. Both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone complained of a lack of feeling from the rear tire, making it easy to push over the limit. At a track where the Ducatis should be at a disadvantage, they are surprisingly fast. If they can create a bit more feel at the rear, they might even be competitive.
The improvement is not just down to the Desmosedici GP14.2, either. Cal Crutchlow is much more competitive here than he was a few races, the upward trend from Aragon continuing. The gap to the front is much reduced, and the Englishman is 7th, sandwiched very tightly between the two Espargaro brothers. Crutchlow's improvement confirms the theory that it takes about a year to get used to the Ducati. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Crutchlow, that knowledge won't be much use to him next year. But as he'll be on a Honda RC213V, I doubt he'll be too worried.
The man who may be worried is Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard struggled all day on Friday in the low grip conditions. There have also been discussions among the existing manufacturers on the future of MotoGP.
The new set of regulations for 2016 only specify the use of the spec ECU and spec software, 17-inch wheels and the return of Michelin as the single tire supplier. The remainder of the rules are still open, though there are only three real questions on the table: fuel, weight, and engine allocations.
Honda want to keep the fuel allowance as stingy as possible, proposing to raise it only be a single liter to 21 liters. Yamaha would be happy with either 21 or 22 liters, while Ducati want 22 liters. Dorna are keen to have the fuel allowance as generous as possible, making 22 liters the more likely limit. At most circuits, that would be more than enough, with only Motegi and possibly Misano being a real problem.
Where Ducati and Honda do agree is on the minimum weight. They would like to see the minimum dropped to 156kg from its current 160kg. Yamaha, however, are keener on 158kg, as their bike is both physically larger, and they have taller and heavier riders, as a rule.
Jorge Lorenzo has topped the final session of free practice for the MotoGP class at Phillip Island. The Movistar Yamaha was fast for much of the session, but seized control at the end, snatching the lead by nearly three tenths of a second. Newly-crowned champion Marc Marquez took second, just edging out Andrea Iannone, who had been in 2nd until displaced by the Repsol Honda rider. Iannone missed out on an opportunity to improve his time after he crashed at the fast Doohan Corner immediately after beating his best time.
Valentino Rossi is 4th fastest, the Yamaha veteran showing a strong race pace in his 250th career premier class event, while the Monster Tech 3 Yamahas of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith made a late charge to get into the top 10. Aleix Espargaro put the Forward Yamaha into 7th, just bumping Cal Crutchlow into 8th. The Ducati rider had been running in 6th for a while, but lost places when the race for Q2 broke out at the end of the session. Stefan Bradl just sneaked into 9th to go through to Q2, while Dani Pedrosa managed the 10th fastest time in FP3, but was not fast enough to beat the time set by Andrea Dovizioso in FP2, meaning that Dovizioso goes through to Q2, while Pedrosa will have to work his way through Q1 to battle for pole position.
Pedrosa's poor time in FP3 made it a relatively bad day for Honda. Only 2 Hondas made it straight through to Q2, compared to 3 Ducatis and 5 Yamahas (2 factory, 2 satellite and Aleix Espargaro on the Open Forward Yamaha). Both Pedrosa and Alvaro Bautista will have to try to advance through Q1.