From the qualifying session from the Moto2 Australian Grand Prix, we learned that Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) would not be fighting for the victory on Sunday. In fact, Brad Binder, Oliveira’s teammate was the pre-race favourite, after qualifying on the second row in fifth place.
Contrasting starts for the two championship combatants saw the Bagnaia climb up into the top five in the early laps, whilst Oliveira languished just inside the points. The lead chopped and changed at the front in the early stages, and soon Bagnaia’s lack of pace became evident as he started to fall back through the pack, and towards Oliveira.
At the front it was a big scrap, with Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing) being joined in a group fight for the lead by Xavi Vierge (Dynavolt Intact GP), Brad Binder, the two HP40 Pons machines of Lorenzo Baldassarri and Augusto Fernandez, Iker Lecuona (Swiss Innovative Investors), Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46), Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing) and Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS). Both Baldassarri and Marini had shown some impressive pace in the early laps after the start; after getting caught behind Bagnaia in the initial stages they both managed to clear their VR46 Riders Academy colleague and join the fight at the front.
However, by the time they had arrived in the lead battle, Pasini had hit the deck, crashing out at turn four, and continuing his record of having never scored an intermediate class point at Phillip Island.
Soon after, Lecuona went down as he was trying to pass Vierge in the Southern Loop. Lecuona got a decent run through Doohan’s and looked on the inside of Vierge at turn two, but didn’t get far enough alongside his compatriot, who wiped the KTM rider’s nose sending the pair of them wide and Lecuona onto the grass, losing control and falling.
The next rider to drop out of the leading group was Remy Gardner, who crashed at MG (turn ten) on lap thirteen. It was a shame for Gardner, who had enjoyed a good home Grand Prix weekend, and was certainly in the mix for a top result.
That left Baldassarri, Fernandez, Mir, Binder, Vierge and Marini to fight it out for the win – at least until Baldassarri went down at MG with three laps to go.
With Baldassarri down, Binder made his move, climbing from fifth on lap 22 to second a lap later, before taking the lead on the penultimate lap, a lead which he held going into the final tour.
A strong move from Vierge on Fernandez at the Honda Hairpin let the two leaders escape a little, which was enough to ensure that the win was decided in a duel. Marini was unable to take advantage of Vierge and Fernandez running on as he ran on himself in the same corner.
A strong final lap from Binder ensured that he had enough distance to Mir going into MG – the last real overtaking opportunity of the lap – so the Spaniard couldn’t make a move, and had to focus on getting a good run from the final corner to try to slipstream Binder to the line.
Binder should have been far gone, really, but a good run through the final two corners for Mir, and what looked like too much spin for Binder gave the rookie a chance, although the South African’s tow proved insufficient to pull Mir by, and the 2016 Moto3 World Champion took his third win of the season.
Not only did Binder gain from this the satisfaction of taking victory, but he also surpassed his championship-contending teammate’s win total for the season, and heavily strengthened his position in third in the standings, which was also assisted by Baldassarri’s late crash.
Second place for Mir means he has one less race to try to claim his first Moto2 win before he steps up to MotoGP next season with Suzuki. Certainly the Phillip Island circuit saw a return to form for the reigning Moto3 World Champion, and he needs to carry this into Sepang and Valencia if he is to take a win before 2018 is through.
Joining Binder and Mir on the podium was Xavi Vierge, who won out in the all-Spanish fight for the bottom step of the podium. It was Vierge’s second podium of the season, and first since his injury in Austria. Like Mir, he will be aiming to carry this forward into the final two rounds in search of his first Moto2 World Championship victory.
Augusto Fernandez enjoyed yet another impressive performance for HP40 Pons, and built on his encouraging Japanese GP weekend one week ago. He missed the podium by 0.008 seconds to Vierge.
Fifth place for Luca Marini was well deserved. After the race he complained of chatter towards the end, which he offered as an explanation to his final lap mistake at Honda. Another solid result for him means that he looks to be ending the season in a good way, which is positive for him as he looks to 2019 and what should be a championship challenge.
Dominique Aegerter finished sixth in what was his best race of the season, which came at the end of his best weekend of the season. It looks like the team are not going to be on the grid next year, so on the weekend which marked one year since the death of Stefan Kiefer, Aegerter’s result was timely to say the least.
Miguel Oliveira eventually came home in eleventh place, with his championship rival Francesco Bagnaia 1.1 seconds behind in twelfth. Ultimately, Bagnaia did what he had to do, and lost only one point to Oliveira. Bagnaia now has the opportunity to take the championship in Sepang, needing just eleven points to become the 2018 Moto2 World Champion.