We track the standouts in all three world championship classes, and those capable of upsetting the applecart.
Australian MotoGP Form Guide.
After three long years, the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix returns to Phillip Island in 2022, with all three world championship classes delicately balanced as the jockeying for title honours heats up.
Unlike the early-season flyaways which often throw up some podium surprises, Phillip Island has traditionally been the domain of the top brass. In MotoGP, names like Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner instantly spring to mind – out and out champions who have left indelible marks around the classic 4.448km piece of tarmac.
In 2022, it’s hard to see the current top brass such as Francesco Bagnaia, Fabio Quartararo, Jack Miller and Enea Bastianini being pushed aside at Phillip Island, but high-level motorsport always has the capacity to throw curve balls at the most unexpected times.
To that end, let’s look at the big names in all three classes, as well as some MotoGP dark horses who could make their presence felt.
Jack Miller has certainly competed in Australia during the pandemic – dirt, motocross and road racing circuits have all been graced with his universal two-wheel gifts – but now we have him back where we really want him: Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. With the Aussie finding a sweet spot with setup on his factory Ducati over the second half of the season, we know he’ll be fast, fearless, tenacious and emboldened by manic home-town support as he looks to improve on his third place in the 2019 Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
Yes, he’s been convalescing for a large chunk of 2022 after another bout of arm surgery, and the Honda clearly isn’t the pick of the machines on the grid, but this is Marc Marquez: the pre-eminent rider of his generation and quite simply one of the all-time greats. In 2021, clearly labouring with injury, Marquez produced a blinder at Sachsenring to remind everyone of his special talent. That circuit has an abundance of left-hand turns – and so does Phillip Island… Marquez is a three-time MotoGP winner at Phillip Island, too, so he obviously knows the fast way around.
In 2019, Bagnaia produced one of his breakout rides as a MotoGP rookie at Phillip Island when a late burst of withering speed saw him finish just inches behind Jack Miller (then his teammate at Pramac Ducati) in the battle for third position. Three years later Bagnaia is now of a mainstay of the championship and one of its heaviest hitters – and on a factory Ducati that’s simply irresistible across all key performance markers. Will that heady mix be too much for his contemporaries on the classic, sweeping curves of the iconic grand prix circuit?
Destined for greatness from an early age, Fabio Quartararo is a sublime one-out-of-the-bag talent and clinching the 2021 MotoGP world title was the ultimate reward for a withering campaign that combined brilliant speed with nerveless Lorenzo-like front-running consistency and a wise head beyond his years. After getting the jump on his rivals in 2022, the Bagnaia-led pack is now piling on the pressure but the Frenchman has the capacity to stop the rot at Phillip Island – where he qualified second in 2019 before becoming collateral damage in a Danilo Petrucci lap-one crash.
It’s hard to believe that Enea Bastianini was a Moto2 rider when the championship last visited Phillip Island, and he finished outside the points against riders who have since become cannon fodder for the gifted Italian. With a factory Ducati contract already locked in for 2023, the 24-year-old’s riding the crest of a wave and even last-lap battles with next year’s teammate Francesco Bagnaia don’t intimidate ‘The Beast’. His race management is exquisite, which could be crucial around Phillip Island where tyres are put through the wringer around the blindingly fast constant-radius turns.
Aleix Espargaro is the ultimate definition of evergreen, and he’s even acknowledged that his 18-year career across all grand prix classes has required huge reserves of resilience. It hasn’t been easy at Aprilia, either, and after glimpses of potential in 2021 the tide has turned in a massive way this year with a brace of podiums, a maiden MotoGP victory and far less time spent in the gravel. The amiable Spaniard was less than two seconds off a MotoGP podium at Phillip Island in 2019, and that was on the Aprilia which was still recalcitrant– it’s now light years ahead in form and function, which means Espargaro has all he needs to fight for the podium.
Jorge Martin finished second to Brad Binder in a classic Moto2 duel at Phillip Island in 2019, and his affinity with the grand prix layout was obvious to all and sundry. He now gets a chance to consummate that relationship in a MotoGP setting, and if he can produce the form that has seen him with multiple podiums so far in 2022, anything’s possible. Martin was overlooked in favour of Enea Bastianini for the second factory Ducati seat in 2022, which should be more than enough motivation to finish the year full of venom.
The Sunday ‘specialist’ is a master Phillip Island performer, with three victories in the Moto3 and intermediate classes to his name. And those victories have all been built on resolute defence, raw speed and inch-perfect timing – knowing when to attack and when to keep his powder dry. Of course, the cauldron of MotoGP is a different kettle of fish, but he’s a multiple race winner and has proven – when the planets are aligned – that he can bring the same level of uncompromising, relentless intensity to the table. What will Phillip Island bring?
’Darkhorse’ is undoubtedly selling the Spaniard short, as he’s been the fastest MotoGP rider around Phillip Island in recent times – Marc Marquez included. In 2019 he was a runaway leader on the factory Yamaha before binning it, following on from a decisive victory in 2018. Of course, he’s no longer in the Yamaha camp, but the Aprilia is no slouch either and the 4.448km grand prix circuit may just be a match made in heaven for the Italian machine and its innovative aero package. If that’s the case, Vinales could be in for the ride of his life.
Suzuki may be going through the motions before it puts the MotoGP cue in the rack at the end of 2022, but Alex Rins still has a lot to ride for before he moves over to the LCR Honda team next year. The Spaniard has won at the circuit before, which counts for heaps in terms of race strategy, and the Suzuki now enjoys the sweeps and curves of Phillip Island a lot more than it once did. If Rins can qualify well, nullifying one of his potential bogey points, he can be a big player in what’s shaping to be a frenetic race from go-to-whoa.
It’s all coming together for the just-turned 25-year-old in 2022, with four victories and three additional podiums seeing him gradually wear down most of his opponents with the exception of Japan’s Ai Ogura. Mind you, it’s taken six years to really lock in that maturity, but now that he’s in the zone he won’t be turning back – and in fact he’s heading to MotoGP in 2023 with the rebranded Tech 3 GasGasS team. A victory at Phillip Island would go a long way towards a first world title.
At the vanguard of an exciting batch of Japanese riders coming through the Moto3 and Moto2 ranks, 21-year-old Ogura has made giant strides in 2022 with a maiden GP victory and a level of consistency that’s kept him in the championship hunt. He’s only been to Phillip Island once – a hard-fought 14th in the 2019 Moto3 race – but he’ll get straight to work in FP1 on the Honda Team Asia machine as he aims to become the third Japanese rider to win the Moto3 class at the Oz GP.
Aron Canet is now a wily veteran of the grand prix scene – at the ripe old age of 22! He’s an exceptionally gifted rider but there’s probably still too many lows to go with the highs. However, he’s started to shake off those gremlins and is making a late charge at the Moto2 title chase, which will be making Augusto Fernandez and Ai Ogura a little uneasy. Canet has only competed at Phillip Island once – in 2018 when he was sixth in a race where the top 14 riders were separated by less than one second!
One of the big-name members of Valentino Rossi’s VR46 Riding Academy, 20-year-old Vietti came out swinging in his second Moto2 campaign – two wins and two seconds in the first five rounds – but once the championship moved to Europe things began to unravel with lowly results and DNFs bringing him back to the pack. Some bright spots have ensued, but his major focus will now be on battling Aron Canet for third in the championship. Vietti was third in the Moto3 race at Phillip Island in 2018.
There are gifted riders, and then there’s Pedro Acosta. The Spaniard won the Moto3 title at his first attempt in 2021 – after three years on similar KTM machinery in the junior ranks – and then made the immediate transition to Moto2. A broken femur hasn’t made it easy, but he’s still won twice and can still finish fifth in the championship if the final block of races treats him well. Acosta hasn’t ridden at Phillip Island yet, but that won’t concern the 18-year-old one iota – he’s not only a once-in-a-generation rider but a fast learner as well.
Yet another product of the inexorable Spanish production line of GP-ready riders, Izan Guevara may have started the year slowly but he’s come on strong in the second half of the season to put himself in the box seat for championship success. However, nothing’s a given in Moto3 where mistakes often carry heavy fall-down-the-pack punishment, but the 18-year-old has been a master at circulating near the front to minimise the chance of being caught up as collateral damage. That’ll be his blueprint at Philip Island as well.
The second half of the major Spanish double act inn 2022, Garcia enjoyed a charmed run in the championship until his troubles began at Silverstone – and he’s yet been unable to mount a rear-guard action which has allowed Izan Guevera to streak ahead. The 19-year-old’s too talented to be in the shadows for much longer, and if he can return to his sizzling best at Phillip Island it could lay the foundations for world-title success before he make the switch to Moto2 next year.
At 21 he’s now one of the elder statesmen in Moto3, and in 2021 he finished second in the championship behind Pedro Acosta after a nail-biting finale at Valencia. He’s won three races in 2022, but the same number of DNFs haven’t helped his cause on the Leopard Honda. This will be his fifth and final season in Moto3, and he’d love to make Phillip Island a highlight where his best result has been an 11th place in 2019.
A change of scenery for Ayumu Sasaki in 2022 has done wonders for the 21-year-old Japanese rider, cranking out two victories on the Sterilgarda Husqvarna Max machine. However, too many DNFs – including successive ones to start the season – have nobbled his championship aspirations, but there’s still been plenty to like about the way Sasaki has gone about his business. It’ll be a battle of Moto3 wits at Phillip Island, and the six-year veteran of the class will be in the thick of it.
What’s in the Turkish water? The country is a breeding ground for stars galore, with WorldSBK champion Toprak Razgatlioglu the pick of the bunch – but on the grand prix scene, 19-year-old Deniz Oncu is also flying high. His third year of Moto3 competition has been a profitable one with seven top-five results and points scored in every race – the only rider to do that which is extra meritorious in such an intense class. With a bit of good fortune he could have been a multiple winner, but Philip Island might be where it all happens.
A bittersweet homecoming for Remy Gardner, who’ll be riding in his first Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in the premier class – which will likely also be his last. Gardner has been axed by KTM after just one year in MotoGP and is heading to the World Superbike paddock in 2023. Like always, Gardner will give it his all on a machine which hasn’t been the rookie’s best friend – and the same goes for his teammate Raul Fernandez. Gardner was superb in the Moto2 race in 2019, just missing out on the podium. His goals won’t be as lofty in 2022, but with some raucous home-town support he’ll have his sights firmly set on another point-scoring result.
The addition of Darwin native Joel Kelso to the Moto3 ranks in 2022 has been refreshing, reigniting memories of Remy Gardner and Jack Miller – and even Casey Stoner in earlier days – of starting their grand prix journeys in the ‘tiddler’ class. The rankings don’t say as much, but Kelso has made a huge impression in 2022, with a clutch of superb qualifying performances the highlight. Race craft will come, but youthful exuberance and a never-say-die attitude might be all the ingredients he needs at Phillip Island this year to pull out a stunning result. Kelso will continue his Moto3 career with CFMoto in 2023.