The MotoGP action continues at double pace with the second leg of the triple-header at the iconic Phillip Island for the Australian Grand Prix where Valentino Rossi is ready to celebrate an incredible 400th start.

Already leading the statistics for highest number of race starts, the 40-year-old will reach 400 not out on Sunday as he looks to bounce back from a nightmare outing on his 399th attempt when he crashed out while battling down in 11th place at the Japanese round.

Without doubt Rossi will be looking to add to his stunning career statistics, having started 42.5% of all Grands Prix, winning 115 and scoring points in 353 of them.

Phillip Island could be seen as the ideal place for Rossi to battle back as Yamaha will be fancied to impressive once again at the Australian round. The circuit hosted the Iwata factory’s only victory of the season in 2018, clinched by Maverick Vinales, and while the Spanish rider has already won earlier this season at Assen it looks like Yamaha’s best chance of reaching the top step of the rostrum again before the end of the campaign.

Rossi, who last won in Australia in 2014, holds the record for most-ever victories at Phillip Island with eight in total – six in the premier class to go with two from his 250cc days – which puts him two clear of the next best in Casey Stoner.

Phillip Island is also a happy hunting ground for Yamaha with three wins from the last six editions of the Australian GP shared between Rossi (2014), Vinales (2018) and Jorge Lorenzo (2013). The fast and flowing nature of the track lends itself to the high cornering speeds of the M1 while the lack of heavy braking zones and long straights means it is shielded from the power advantage of the likes of Honda and Ducati.

While expectations will be on both factory Yamaha pair, the rider most in form on an M1 is Fabio Quartararo thanks to his trio of second place finishes across the last four rounds.

The French rider, who wrapped up the MotoGP top rookie honour at the last round, has been the only rider to consistently fight the 2019 world champion Marc Marquez and will be fancied as a front-runner equipped with his Petronas Yamaha this weekend.

Without discounting Quartararo’s team-mate Franco Morbidelli, who showed impressive pace in Japan before fading in the race to sixth place using a soft rear tyre, all four Yamaha riders should be forcing their way to the front in a bid for late-season glory.

But can any team be ruled out of contention?

Phillip Island is synonymous with close racing thanks to its layout - partly for not suiting any manufacturer outright and partly for being one of the hardest tracks to master in terms of setup and riding style - while the unpredictable weather and tyre-killing track characteristics act as constant headaches to teams.

Given Marquez’s unwavering form this season and decent record at Phillip Island as a two-time winner in the top class (2015 and 2017), the newly-crowned champion cannot be discounted especially fress from four consecutive victories.

Suzuki, whose chassis strengths equipped with the inline four, also starred in Australia 12 months ago with Andrea Iannone taking second place and Alex Rins in fifth place.

Splitting the pair were factory Ducati duo Andrea Dovizioso – taking his first podium at Phillip Island since joining the Italian manufacturer – while Alvaro Bautista (standing in for the injured Jorge Lorenzo) claimed his best result of the season in fourth place.

The race is also being eyed-up by KTM who are confident recent developments with its RC16 will be evident having broken into the top 10 12 months ago, while Aprilia also cannot be discounted with Aleix Espargaro clinching his joint-second best result of the season with ninth place last year.

Given two of the three major MotoGP world titles have already been wrapped up, with only the teams’ championship to be decided, there’s very few championship points equations riders will need to contemplate in their race weekend plans meaning it should provide an all-out attack for glory.

The return of Zarco

All eyes will also be on one half of the LCR Honda garage as Johann Zarco makes his debut as stand-in for Takaaki Nakagami who has ended his 2019 campaign prematurely due to a shoulder injury which required surgery.

With Nakagami going under the knife this week, Zarco has a three-race job interview to save his MotoGP career having endured a nightmare with Red Bull KTM which came to an end after the San Marino MotoGP when the two parties officially split.

Having struggled to gel with the RC16 this year, the two-time Moto2 world champion will look to get to grips with the 2018-specificaiton Honda RC213V in double-quick time – not an easy feat across three race weekends with zero testing preparation – as the French rider looks to rediscover the stunning form he demonstrated with Tech3 on the Yamaha in 2017 and 2018.

Regardless of how he fares for LCR Honda over the next month, Zarco’s future is far from clear as he looks to have turned down the test rider opportunity at Yamaha for 2020 while Honda gives assurances to Jorge Lorenzo his place is safe at Repsol Honda for next season.

World title glory moves closer to Marquez and Dalla Porta

While the biggest prizes in MotoGP have already been decided for 2019, the most important crowns remain up for grabs in Moto2 and Moto3 respectively.

Alex Marquez’s lead in the Moto2 world championship stands at 36 points over nearest challenger Thomas Luthi going into the Australia round meaning he can wrap-up the title if he outscores the Swiss by 14 points, Augusto Fernandez by eight points, Jorge Navarro by two points and finish ahead of Brad Binder.

While mathematically the odds look unlikely for the stars to aligns for the Spanish rider to seal his second world title, following up his Moto3 triumph in 2014, Marquez can move within touching distance with another solid points haul having taken fifth place in Thailand and sixth place in Japan.

In Moto3 the equation is far simpler for Lorenzo Dalla Porta thanks to his stunning victory at Motegi last weekend.

Coupled with a DNF for Aron Canet in Japan, the Leopard Racing rider only needs to outscore his rival by four points to make it mathematically certain the Moto3 world title is his for 2019.

But given how last year’s Australian Moto3 thriller unfolded, with the top 14 covered by less than one second at the chequered flag after 23 manic laps, Dalla Porta’s path to the title is far from a certainty – for this weekend at least.

 

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