Wild weather raises fresh questions over PI MotoGP date

A crash at Miller Corner on Lap 1 of the Moto2 race at Phillip Island

Wild weather has raised questions over the Phillip Island MotoGP date again. Image: Ross Gibb Photography

The wild weather which saw the Phillip Island MotoGP Sprint cancelled has again raised questions over the date of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.

Organisers decided on Friday to swap around the Sprint and Grand Prix races, which would ordinarily take place on Saturday and Sunday respectively, in a bid to ensure the headline act would go ahead.

That much did occur, but then came on Sunday the not unexpected decision that the weekend’s 13-lapper could not go ahead due to dangerously high winds.

Phillip Island’s weather is infamous, with MotoGP qualifying postponed to Sunday morning in 2019 after Miguel Oliveira was blown off the track in a practice session, and yesterday’s Moto2 race cut short because of wind.

For years now, there have been suggestions that the worst of it might be avoided by moving the event out of its now customary October slot, in the middle of spring.

Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia said after the cancellation of the Sprint that he would like a date shift, but conceded that it might not be feasible.

“We are asking for it but I think it is difficult to do for more [many] reasons,” said the Ducati Team rider.

“Maybe for the schedule of Formula 1 [it is difficult] – I don’t know – but it’s clear that, for me, it will be better to move Mandalika and this race at the start of this season.

“Because, Phillip Island maybe in the summer is much better than these conditions.

“Maybe the wind will be the same but you have sun and the temperatures are good because, also, today [Sunday] in the Warm Up it was, like, impossible to warm the front brake.

“We were arriving at Corner 10 [MG] every lap without brakes, so also the temperature was too low.”

The Formula 1 reference is to the fact that, with the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) promoting both the state’s premier two- and four-wheel world championship events, the spacing of the two at roughly six months apart is ideal from a resourcing perspective.

Albert Park invariably hosts F1 in March or early-April and is guaranteed four season-openers from 2025 to the expiry of its latest contract in 2037.

MotoGP has its own commitments on that front too, with Qatar entitled to its curtain-raiser, which takes place next year on the weekend of Sunday, March 10.

That was one of multiple points noted by Dorna Chief Sporting Officer Carlos Ezpeleta when asked by Speedcafe on Friday, just after confirmation of the original schedule change, if that represented cause to rethink the date again.

“Obviously, that’s a major decision with a lot of factors involved in that,” he said.

“The schedule for next year has already been set and I’m not a local or an expert but, from what I’m told, the weather here is not very predictable, unless you’re speaking about something like January or February, which is challenging for us for a number of reasons.

“As you know, we have commitments to start in Qatar and the [2024] calendar has been published.

“But yes, it’s a challenge that we’ve had in the past, and we’d like to sort of minimise the risk for the future.”

The Moto2 race at the 2023 Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was cut short due to high winds. Image: Ross Gibb Photography

The Moto2 race at the 2023 Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was cut short due to high winds. Image: Ross Gibb Photography

Ezpeleta’s comments are notable also for the fact that they contrast to speculation from Europe in recent years that Dorna Sports was pushing for a change to the Phillip Island date, suggesting the company has accepted that its Australian MotoGP round will invariably fall at this time of year.

Nevertheless, Race Director Mike Webb, who said there was “no choice” but to cancel Sunday’s race, predicted during the same briefing to media that Dorna and the AGPC will consider a switch again.

“Trying to predict the weather, as far as venues go, it’s a difficult game to play,” he admitted.

“I would say that negotiations will take place with Grand Prix Corporation and Dorna as to whether there’s a timeslot that’s better for us as far as just a chance of good weather, because we can’t guarantee it,” added Webb.

As it stands, finding a date which comes with a better weather expectations while also meeting the logistical and contractual challenges outlined above, plus the increasingly regionalised nature of the MotoGP calendar, would seem tricky.

Still, new AGPC CEO Travis Auld did not rule out at least entertaining a move of MotoGP when he spoke to Speedcafe shortly after the unprecedented Saturday Grand Prix race at Phillip Island.

“I would say that we’re open to any conversation that improves the event,” he said on the question of a possible date shift.

“Weather can be unpredictable most times of the year in Victoria [and] Australia.

“There’s certainly Dorna’s calendar and the MotoGP calendar, but also the Victorian events calendar and making sure that those two things work together, including the F1 event.

“That’s a very broad answer to say, I think we’re always up for a conversation, if there’s a better slot that works for everyone.

“But for next year, we’ve got a slot locked in, and that’s really good because you want to have certainty 12 months out so you can start to build on the back of, I think, what’s so far been an incredibly successful weekend.”

Saturday’s crowd was the biggest at an Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix since 2012, the year of Casey Stoner’s retirement, with the shift of the Grand Prix race presumably drawing more fans out to the Island on what was traditionally qualifying day.

Sunday ticketholders were offered complimentary Saturday tickets and/or refunds, depending on their original purchase and situation.

Regardless, Jack Miller and a small group of fellow MotoGP riders walked to the fence to personally thank the hardy fans who turned up on Sunday in a vain attempt to see more racing in the premier class.

Phillip Island will host the 2024 season-opener for the Superbike World Championship, another Dorna property, on February 23-25, with MotoGP due back again on October 18-20.

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