Jorge Lorenzo narrowed the gap on his Fiat Yamaha team-mate, reigning champion and current standings leader Valentino Rossi with victory at Estoril, where Rossi finished a distant fourth as his championship lead over the Spaniard was cut from 30 to 18 points with three races remaining.
Lorenzo’s win was the tenth for a Yamaha rider this year, leaving the manufacturer one short of its most successful year ever – 2005. Indeed, Lorenzo and Rossi have alternated wins since the Italian won in Brno, and a win for either in Australia would equal the longest-ever sequence of successive victories for Yamaha in the premier class, a feat they achieved in both 2005 and 2008.
In Phillip Island, Rossi will arrive at a circuit that harbours fond memories, and one which he has stated as a personal favourite. In his 12 visits to the track across all classes the reigning world champion has only once failed to finish on the podium, with five consecutive victories from 2001-2005 in the MotoGP class forming the body of a standout record.
Rossi has not won in his last three outings Down Under though, and with main title rival Lorenzo putting together a strong finale to his season, the pressure is intensifying. Two wins and a runner-up spot in his last three races is fine form from Lorenzo, who finished fourth last year at Phillip Island on his MotoGP debut on the track from second on the grid, and has twice tasted victory there in the 250cc class.
Casey Stoner’s impressive return to action in Portugal after a three-race absence means there is an added component to an already intriguing equation, with the Ducati Marlboro rider finishing second behind Lorenzo at Estoril. Stoner’s consecutive start-to-finish wins on his home track for the past two years mean that he will provide stern competition for both Yamaha factory riders, and at just three points behind third-placed Dani Pedrosa in the championship standings the Australian has his own immediate goal.
Repsol Honda rider Pedrosa has recovered from his crash and subsequent tenth-placed finish at Indianapolis by finishing third consecutively in Misano and Estoril, and with a DNF blemishing his record at Phillip Island last year after a first-lap crash he will be determined to not only rediscover the kind of ride that brought him a 250cc victory there in 2005, but also hold off the challenge of Stoner in the championship.
Pedrosa’s team-mate Andrea Dovizioso placed seventh at Phillip Island in his rookie season last year. He triumphed at 125cc level in the 2004 race – beating Lorenzo and Stoner – and will hope to continue building on an encouraging second season in the top class, which currently sees him sitting fifth in the championship, some eight points ahead of Colin Edwards.
The American rounds off the top six as it stands in the championship, with a sizeable 37-point lead over nearest competitor Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki). Edwards’ best-ever result at Phillip Island was fourth place in 2004, when he rode a Honda, and the Texan is seeking only his second podium finish of the season on his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 machine.
Following on from Edwards and Capirossi in sixth and seventh spots respectively, Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda), Marco Melandri (Hayate Racing) and Toni Elías (San Carlo Honda Gresini) complete the current top ten in the MotoGP rankings.
The 2009 Iveco Australian Grand Prix takes place from 16th-18th October, with free practice in the MotoGP class commencing at 1.55pm local time.