‘Birds can happen, Wallabies cannot!’ - Wildlife hazards at Phillip Island

Just as at last month’s Australian MotoGP event, Friday's practice for the Phillip Island World Superbike round saw red flags due to wildlife near the track.
Wallaby on the track, Fabio Quartararo, MotoGP, Australian MotoGP 14 October
Wallaby on the track, Fabio Quartararo, MotoGP, Australian MotoGP 14…

Fortunately, it was the circuit’s geese that caused today’s brief WorldSBK interruption, rather than one of the wallabies, which Aleix Espargaro came frighteningly close to striking at highspeed during the MotoGP weekend.

While Phillip Island certainly isn’t alone in having bird scares, some MotoGP riders requested that more be done to stop a potentially disastrous impact with the much larger Wallabies.

“At the beginning, everybody was laughing [about the near miss with the Wallaby], I mean I understand it could be fun,” Espargaro said. “But in the Safety Commission, they also understood it was a very, very important thing in terms of safety.

“If I hit the wallaby, I was doing 220k per hour. A big, big, big crash. For me it’s unacceptable. It was very dangerous.

“We asked for them to improve, to close off the track a bit better.

“For the birds, you can’t do anything, and we also have birds in other places. I mean, the birds can happen, but wallabies cannot.”

One of the most memorable Phillip Island bird strikes occurred when Andrea Iannone headbutted a seagull while leading the 2015 race - prompting Crash.net podcast pundit Keith Huewen’s famous “He’s nutted it!” reaction on the TV commentary:

But Australian Jack Miller felt there was little that can be done to limit the wildlife given the rural nature of the seaside circuit, which also includes a lake.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s very dangerous to have Kangaroos hopping around in the middle of the racetrack when you’re doing 350kph,” Miller said.

“But like I said in the Safety Commission, that [Wallaby] definitely didn’t just waltz in. I’d say it was burrowed in somewhere. Even the Moto3 machines didn’t wake it up, but these bloody 300hp MotoGP things did and they were out!

“At the end of the day, you have a track in such an iconic location and you’re always going to have an issue in Australia with wildlife, whether it’s seagulls, geese or whatever.

“What are we going to do? Stamp out the whole Island? Like I said, it’s not nice but everyone knows in Australia there’s wildlife. Just drive down one of the highways here and you see the amount of roadkill on the side of the road.

“There’s a lot more animals than people here. But that’s a part of it.”

Phillip Island aerial view, Australian MotoGP
Phillip Island aerial view, Australian MotoGP

One course of action that both Espargaro and Miller agreed needs to be taken is a resurfacing of the track.

“For sure, surface-wise, she’s been on there for about ten years and she’s starting to get pretty used,” said Miller. “Just bumps. Not so much on the racing line but as soon as you go off, you’ve seen guys go wide at turn 1 or turn 8, they manage to hit the deck. It’s at that point now where she’s probably due a freshen up.”

“All the riders love this track,” said Espargaro. “We love this place. It’s very, very high adrenaline to ride here, but without any doubt it’s the most dangerous circuit of the calendar for many reasons.

“Because it's very bumpy. Grip is very low now. Now the bikes are super, super fast, super good. I mean a lot better than ten years ago, but we just dropped one tenth below a lap record from ten years ago. So I think this is a good example [of why it’s needed].

“So we need new asphalt and they need to take more care about the animals.”

The Phillip Island WorldSBK round, which traditionally opens the world championships but has been moved to the 2023 finale due to covid restrictions at the start of the year, continues on Saturday and Sunday.

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