Jack writes about leading his home Grand Prix and learning a valuable lesson after his dramatic comeback at Phillip Island.
Well, I definitely didn’t expect that. I mean, how could you? When I woke up at Phillip Island on Sunday morning, it did make me think that this time three Sundays ago, I was basically coming out of surgery after breaking my leg. At that stage, riding anything seemed a bit far-fetched, and here I was about to go into my home Grand Prix fifth on the grid, and feeling way better than I expected to. I’d been quick in the wet and the dry, I’d been in the top 10 in every session, and I was pretty optimistic that the adrenaline of racing again – and racing at home – would carry me through 27 laps at the Island without needing a painkiller.
And then the start happened.
I generally start pretty well anyway, but to be first into Turn 1 after Marc (Marquez) opened the door for me, that absolutely wasn’t in my plans. Heaps of people afterwards asked me if I’d heard the crowd go up because I’d taken the lead, or wondering if I’d been pushed along by the crowd – not at all. I was a bit bloody surprised to be in the lead, and I definitely had a ‘is this really happening?’ moment as I came towards Turn 4 on the first lap. All my family and heaps of mates were at Turn 4 all weekend, and I’m guessing they were all as shocked as I was. Turn 4 here on the first lap can be a pretty hairy place to be if you’re in the middle of the pack, so to be up front, and not expecting to be, that worked out pretty well.
You saw what happened after that. I definitely went for too much in the first few laps, led almost five of them before Vale (Valentino Rossi) and Maverick (Vinales) came past me on the straight so fast that they almost pulled the stickers off my bike, and then settled into that front group of eight that was setting a pretty ferocious pace. I knew even then that I’d probably taken too much out of the tyres with the excitement of being in the lead, and that I’d probably pay for that later in the race. So to finish seventh after leading, in one way, was a bit of a shame. But I learned a big lesson, and did that while finishing five seconds off the win, and three and a bit seconds from the podium. Three weeks after breaking my leg? I’d have signed up for that with a body that wasn’t injured, let alone one that was.
Someone asked me afterwards whether it felt like I was only in the lead for a second or two and then the pack came past me, but it was the opposite – it felt like forever. Being in the lead and not really knowing what pace I should set or how hard I should be pushing was actually pretty difficult, so I buttoned off a bit after three laps and hoped that someone would come through so I could see the pace they were running. I didn’t know how hard I should have been pushing. If I’d kept going the way I was, I’d have spun the tyre off its head and definitely not made the finish. So I learned something today.
With three laps to go I decided to have another little dig and close the gap to ‘Crutch’ (Cal Crutchlow), but I just started spinning too much, and that the caused the tyre to go down to the base rubber. On the last lap I threw it into Turn 2, I was maybe half a second behind ‘Crutch’, I flicked the bike over quite aggressively and she nearly came around on me. The tyre was finished on the left side. Done. But when you consider that I haven’t had that many strong dry races – we’ve been there or thereabouts, but never for a whole race – today was just a really good run.
I was so into it that I realised that during the race, I hadn’t noticed my leg a lot. Adrenaline is better than any painkiller you could take, for sure. My leg didn’t really give me any grief, and I didn’t really notice it up until I went to do a burnout in front of my fans at Turn 4 – when I straightened my leg out, it was a bit stiff. But on the bike, it was fine.
The whole weekend was just really strong from start to finish. I was a bit worried on Saturday when it was cold and rainy, because I just couldn’t get warm all of a sudden. I just felt really cold all day, and wondered if I was starting to get sick or something. I spent a week at my parents’ place in Townsville because I missed Japan, so coming to the Island from there … the week home in a t-shirt might have softened me up! I had an early night Saturday night, literally grabbed some takeaway and slept. Felt heaps better on Sunday, and as much as I don’t mind riding in the rain, I was pretty happy when the sun came out for the race. That circuit in sunny weather, it’s something else.
Sunday was obviously good, but Saturday, to do that lap in qualifying in the 1:28s, that was pretty awesome. Fifth on the grid was way more than I’d expected coming in. I mean, how can you expect anything much when three weeks ago to the day you’re coming out of an anaesthetic in hospital after having eight screws and a plate put into your leg? The good thing was that I was actually bit shitty with how the end of qualifying went, because me, Marc, Dani (Pedrosa) and Pol (Espargaro) were all waiting around for a tow and none of us managed to get any benefit out of it. Nobody really wanted to go; I gave Marc a slipstream and he didn’t return the favour – that was pretty nice of him … But fifth, same as the best I’ve done in MotoGP that I did at the Island last year, was really good. Shame to get so close to (Andrea) Iannone and miss a best MotoGP qualifying by two-hundredths, but maybe that was a sign that I’m getting better, that it went well and I still wanted more …
It’s definitely been a whirlwind of a week, but a really good one as well. Sepang next weekend will definitely be two things – a lot hotter and a lot quieter for me! A lot more people wanted to see me and talk to me this week, and while you’d get exhausted or maybe a bit distracted if it was like that every week, it’s your home race – and not everyone gets one of those. It’s a privilege to have one, and to have one at a track that every one of us riders loves (and we’re not just saying that to be nice like we sometimes do!), that’s a bonus.
Thanks to everyone that came out, and I hope we put on a good show for you. I know I enjoyed it …
This story originally appeared on redbull.com
Photos courtesy of Marc VDS.