With only five days remaining until the Australian round of the MotoGP, we look back at five of our favourite Phillip Island GP battles.
1. Wayne Gardner and Wayne Rainey, 1989
The man who was instrumental in bringing the Grand Prix circus down under claimed Australia’s maiden 500cc Grand Prix in spectacular fashion. A battle to the very end between Wayne Gardner and Wayne Rainey (with Christian Sarron and Kevin Magee hot in the mix, too) saw Gardner victorious and it’s a race the Wollongong Whiz Kid still hails as the most memorable of his career. And who can forget Wayne’s then-wife Donna running down the main straight in her heels to meet and congratulate the 1987 world champ on his win.
2. Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista, 2008
“We had a fantastic battle from the first corner to the last,” is how Marco Simoncelli described race between himself and the Spaniard during the 250cc Grand Prix at Phillip Island. The pair were battling for the world title as well as the race win under the Australian sunshine that day and while Marco Simoncelli reigned supreme by 0.223sec on the day, Bautista’s second-place finish meant Simoncelli was forced to wait until the following round in Sepang to pick up his first and only world championship. RIP Marco.
3. Sete Gibernau and Valentino Rossi, 2004
With one hand on the title trophy and the rivalry between the spaniard and the Italian as fierce as ever, the 2004 Australian round of the MotoGP was set to be a cracker. Gibernau took a commanding lead early on in the race with Rossi in fourth, but it wasn’t even the end of the opening lap that Rossi had got himself into second place and the race was on. He stalked the Spaniard until the 19th of the 27-lap race. Gibernau remained strong in the chase, Rossi unable to break him, and he re-took the lead on lap 22. Gibernau kept his head down and lead Rossi all the way to the second-last corner of the last lap where Rossi made his move, got good drive out of the last turn and lead Gibernau over the line by just 0.097sec. It was Rossi’s eighth win of the season and enough to claim him his sixth world title.
4. The field versus the weather, 2006
The 2006 GMC Australian Grand prix was extraordinarily memorable. It was the very-first time the flag-to-flag rule was implemented which allowed riders to pit and change to wet-wether bikes in response to the weather. Chris Vermeulen rode a hard race to finish second and treated the 45,000-strong crowd to its first Aussie on the premier-class podium since Mick Doohan some eight years earlier. Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden were battling for the world title (they finished third and fifth respectively), but the one thing that will stick in every Grand Prix fan’s mind is Marco Melandri’s sensational one-handed smoked-up slide out of the fast turn 12 onto the straight for the last time.
5. Jack Miller versus Alex Marquez, 2014
It was Miller’s moment. He was trailing Alex Marquez by 25 points in the 2014 Moto3 world standings and he knew if he wanted to keep his title hopes alive, he had to win the Australian Grand Prix. And like last season’s Moto3 races so often were, it was a nailbiter. What started out as a battling pack of 11 until lap nine, reduced to just six by the last few laps following collisions of ambition and ensuing motorcycles. It came down to a battle of last-lap tactics where Miller grab the lead in the early stages of the and through gritty determination and heart-in-mouth late braking, managed to hold off the pack to cross the line by the narrowest of margins. Marquez crossed the line in second, just 0.029sec behind Miller. The top six riders were covered by just 0.242secs at the flag.