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High drama down under. . .

Words by Simon Bradley, pictures as credited

Phillip Island is usually a pretty good circuit for excitement and drama. Picturesque as it is, the Melbourne circuit is difficult to learn, having lots of undulations, a good few blind bends and a couple of off camber sections as well. It's also extremely fast. Local talent always goes well here, having the advantage of experience, so all eyes were on the Aussie riders to show the others the way home.

Troy Bayliss - a man on a missionQualifying certainly emphasised the point, as Ducati mounted Troy Bayliss simply dominated the sessions with blistering laps that nobody else could even approach. Troy Corser was going well, too, as was Andrew Pitt on the Yamaha and everybody's favourite Steve Martin, who got the underpowered but sweet handling FP-1 into sixth before Superpole. Notable non - Australian riders were headed by MotoGP refugee Alex Barros on the Klaffi Honda, hotly pursued by James Toseland. Nori Haga, Chris Walker and Frankie Chili were also putting on a good show, Chili nursing heavy bruising and a broken finger after last weekend's rapid getoff.

Superpole saw Bayliss put in a lap that he thought was full of silly errors but which gave him a new lap record and a comfortable lead over Corser, whose Suzuki was spinning the back tyre and robbing him of drive. Toseland stormed to third, with Steve Martin riding the wheels off the FP-1 to take a well deserved and hugely popular front row start. Alex Barros headed up the second row, ahead of a disappointed Karl Muggeridge with the Yamaha pairing of Andrew Pitt and Nori Haga next to him. Lorenzo Lanzi, struggling on a new circuit, headed row three with Chris Walker rounding out the top ten.

The biggest challenge for the teams at Phillip Island is choosing the right tyre. It's a tough circuit on rubber, and the high ambient temperature this weekend didn't help at all.

Steve Martin fighting hardRace One saw Steve Martin get swamped, losing the advantage of a front row start, while Bayliss made high in the sunshine, storming off on the big red Ducati, followed by James Toseland, Corser, Haga, Pitt, Barros, and Walker in a great snaking freight train. But push as hard as they might, the pursuers couldn't catch or even keep up with Bayliss who extended a great yawning chasm of a lead by the halfway point. And so it looked as though it would stay. With a few exceptions, of course. Seven laps in and Toseland, whose tyres were not lasting well at all, ran slightly wide at the Honda Hairpin, allowing both Corser and Barros to dive through inside him. Barros, indeed, was riding like a man possessed, climbing all over the back of Corser's Suzuki in an attempt to get past. A timely reminder that this is a man who beat Valentino Rossi last year. Despite constantly fighting each other, the pair continued to pull away from Toseland, who himself extended a respectable lead over fifth placed Haga. Further back, Toseland's tyre problems were multiplied for his team-mate, the unfortunate Muggas eventually retiring as grip problems made it too dangerous to continue. A man on the move, though, was Roberto Rolfo, carving his way up the pack to climb to a very respectable sixth place. Ruben Xaus is still on crutches after a nasty pre-season accident, but he's still battling and he fought his way through to seventh after scrapping with Walker, Martin and countless others. Martin was struggling, not with a lack of grip but with lack of power. He is ever so fast round corners, but if there is someone in front who is slower then you have to ease off. Then you get out-dragged down the straights and it all starts again.Toseland has something to prove this season. I think he might just do it...

Back up at the front, things were happening. Bayliss was on the move again, but this time it was backwards. The Ducati had eaten the rear Pirelli and the tortured rubber was crying enough. Bayliss could do nothing as his lap times increased, gifting first place to Corser with Barros still in hot pursuit. A lap later and Toseland had a podium, passing the Aussie, while on the last lap it got worse still as both Haga and Rolfo came past, relegating Bayliss to sixth place. Behind him, by less than a tenth of a second, came Xaus with Nieto a few seconds back on the first Kawasaki, ahead of Pitt and Walker. The Kawasaki, it seems, is still having trouble with tyre wear and Nieto seems to be better at dealing with it, perhaps by riding in a barely controlled manner even when the rubber is OK.

By race two it was even hotter and tyre wear was going to be an issue again. Most teams plumped for the hardest compound Pirelli could give them. And come the start, it was Toseland who made the break, chased by Corser, Haga, Pitt and Bayliss. Bayliss made a few spectacular moves to get up into second place on the third lap. Then an uncharacteristic error from Bayliss setting the la record in SuperpoleCorser saw him highside the Suzuki and get hit by Barros, who had nowhere else to go. The impact ripped the aerodynamic hump off Corser's leathers as well as taking a chunk out of his helmet. Ostensibly uninjured, the Australian threw himself onto the grass in an impressive parachute roll just in time to avoid being hit again by the hard charging Karl Muggeridge. Corser was later confirmed as having nothing broken but went off for an internal check up just in case. Talking of Muggas, his much improved race ended a few laps later. Lanzi made it two highsides in two meetings, this time collecting the Ten Kate rider with his sliding bike and punting him off. In the middle of all this, Fonsi Nieto made a particularly robust pass on his team-mate Chris Walker to move up into ninth place. But at the front, with just six laps to go, Bayliss outbraked Toseland to take the lead at Honda again. Confident that his tyres had enough meat left in them, Bayliss extended a comfortable lead to take his first win of the season while Toseland completed an excellent day's work to take second. Barros, who had rather gone off the pace following his collision with Corser, pulled himself together and rode like the wind to take third from Haga who in turn just beat Pitt. Kagayama was sixth, ahead of Rolfo and Xaus, both of whom had a fantastic weekend.

The weekend's events won't have done the championship any harm at all, leaving the leader clear by just one point and with three champions occupying the top three spaces. Valencia next. Should be good...

The big Suzuki eats tyres but my word it's fast. Looks good, too...Race One

1 Troy Corser (Suzuki)
2 Alex Barros (Honda)
3 James Toseland (Honda)
4 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
5 Roberto Rolfo (Ducati)
6 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
7 Ruben Xaus (Ducati)
8 Fonsi Nieto (Kawasaki)
9 Andrew Pitt (Yamaha)
10 Chris Walker (Kawasaki)

Race Two

1 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
2 James Toseland (Honda)
3 Alex Barros (Honda)
4 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
5 Andrew Pitt (Yamaha)
6 Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)
7 Roberto Rolfo (Ducati)
8 Ruben Xaus (Ducati)
9 Fonsi Nieto (Kawasaki)
10 Chris Walker (Kawasaki)

Championship Standing after two rounds:

1 Troy Bayliss 75
2 James Toseland 74
3 Troy Corser 63
4 Alex Barros 55
5 Andrew Pitt 45
6 Nori Haga 42
7 Roberto Rolfo 32
8 Michel Fabrizio 25
9 Ruben Xaus 24
10 Fonsi Nieto 19



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