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18 points. 22 riders. One island. The title fight is ready to boil over Down Under

18 Points. 22 Riders. One Island. The Title Fight Is Ready To Boil Over Down UnderStrap in! One of the greatest sporting spectacles on Earth is about to get underway as MotoGP™ returns to Phillip Island.

When the Tissot Sprint was announced for 2023, where did your mind go? For many, it was the fierce, fabulous and fast Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, and for very good reason. Now, the time has come to take on one of the true greats once more and we get to see the lights go out not just once, but twice. If you’ve watched before, you know what we mean. If you haven’t, just get ready.

Even better, as MotoGP™ arrives back in Australia there’s truly everything on the line after an unbelievable whiplash twist in the title fight. On Saturday in Indonesia, Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) continued his stunning run, taking the Championship lead for the first time as he won his fourth Sprint on the bounce and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) struggled to eighth after failing to make it out of Q1. But on Sunday, Martin made a sudden, shocking error to crash out the lead – and Bagnaia had already been on quite some mission to slice through the pack. With Martin’s crash, third became second and then the Italian attacked Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) to take the lead and win. What. A. Twist. And what a performance from a Pecco some had already started to write off.

Now it’s time to take on the Island and the title fighting duo will be stealing plenty of spotlight as the battle just gets hotter and hotter. We’re also in need of a real duel on track to see the gloves come off. Could the Island be the place? Last year, Bagnaia was on the podium and took the Championship lead that would lead to his first premier class crown on this very turf. Martin, after some hot pace early on, was only seventh… but the top seven were covered by eight tenths. For racing series with more wheels, that’s an almost offensively small gap.

Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), meanwhile, ain’t out of it yet either. It’s a long shot, but the Italian soldiered on at Mandalika despite that recent collarbone surgery, and in Australia last year was very, very fast – as was teammate Luca Marini. What can they do Down Under this time around? Can Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) join that fight at the front? Has Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) got more impressive form after his best finish yet? What about his teammate Alex Marquez on the road to recovery? And what can we expect from Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team) as he gets back in the groove? Eight Ducatis will be roaring down that Gardner Straight.

Let’s go back to Viñales, however. If you listed the venues you’d expect BatMav – we’ll let the fans decide whether that should stick – to threaten at the front, there’d be a few on there. Phillip Island? This place would definitely feature. Coming off the back of that performance in Indonesia too, the number 12 really could be one to watch, having been almost teasingly close to making that history as the first rider to win with three machines in the MotoGP™ era.

Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing), meanwhile, arrives from bad luck and hot speed wanting a lot more reward, and Miguel Oliveira (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) would also like a little luck back after a bit of a shunting from former teammate Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) at Mandalika. Raul Fernandez’ (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team), meanwhile, needs to rediscover that upward trajectory after a much tougher time of it in Indonesia. He’d been on a run of top ten finishes before yes, taking points last time out, but down in a P13 that was the last of the riders on the same lap.

Also having a much tougher time of it in Indonesia after some real steps forward of late was Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). Two DNFs and nothing much to show from the weekend – except a whole lotta love from one of the sport’s biggest markets – leave the number 93 looking for another uptick Down Under. But he is and has been, since a certain number 27 retired, the king of the Island. He was on the podium, and nearly the top step, in 2022, and he can’t be counted out. Even in the situation in which he finds himself in 2023. Can he?

That “nearly” to quantify Marquez’ 2022, however, came courtesy of now LCR Honda Castrol rider Alex Rins, who was back in the top ten at Mandalika for the first time since his broken leg. That’s impressive enough, and he played a masterpiece last season. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) will want to learn a few of those secrets on the other side of the garage, and Joan Mir (Repsol Honda Team) also wants a lot more as the Hondas all had a tougher weekend last time out, especially after the return to the front the number 36 had in India.

Speaking of a return to the front, and in this case just tenths off the win, Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) completed the closest podium of the year so far in Indonesia. He qualified well, had a good Sprint and then seriously impressed in the Grand Prix race, scything through the gap to home in on the win and very nearly take it. Can Phillip Island be kinder too, despite it seeing him lose that Championship lead last season? For teammate Franco Morbidelli it’s a slightly opposite arrival as he suffered some issues at Mandalika and was ultimately a few laps down. Still, on Sunday his fastest lap was only a tenth off Quartararo.

Finally, KTM and GASGAS. At GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3 it’s all about finding much better fortunes Down Under for both Augusto Fernandez and Pol Espargaro, with both enduring a tougher run of late. Better fortune is something also sought by Binder after a slightly adventurous Mandalika. On Saturday, he got taken out by Aleix Espargaro and on Sunday, he clashed with Marini AND Oliveira in two uncharacteristic incidents, both of which earned him a Long Lap. Uncharacteristic in that the South African usually poises his aggression perfectly. After a crash in Japan too, Binder will want a tidier weekend overall Down Under, but he can take heart from some speed in Indonesia as he came back through to sixth despite those excursions required in penance.

Last and by no means least, home hero Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) will be ready to get his elbows out at Phillip Island. The Australian is having a year of ups and downs in his new adventure with KTM, but there have been plenty of the former and he’ll want to make home turf count for another. The awesome Turn 4 now officially bears his name as we arrive for another showdown too, and fans are guaranteed a Thriller from Miller as he rides for them and some home glory…

We’re underway at 15:00 local time on Saturday for the Sprint, before the GP race on Sunday fires up at 14:00.

Tissot Sprint: Saturday 15:00 (GMT +11)
Grand Prix Race: Sunday 14:00 (GMT +11)

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