Tire issues force first bike swap in MotoGP

Sun Oct 20, 2013 7:07pm EDT
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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Tire problems have forced dramatic changes to Sunday's Australian Grand Prix where riders will have to change their bikes mid-race for the first time in MotoGP.

Phillip Island's new tarmac saw defending MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo clock a record lap during qualifying to take pole on Saturday, but also contributed to excessive degradation to the Bridgestone tires, stoking fears for riders' safety.

Officials have shaved the race by a lap to 26 and ordered all riders to take a mandatory pitstop in an embarrassment for the tire providers and organizers.

"We have been notified by Bridgestone that they are unable to guarantee safety of their rear slick tires beyond 14 laps," Race Direction said in a statement.

"This means that a bike/tire change before lap 12 will require a second bike/tire change to finish the race."

While certain to annoy riders and their teams, the overhaul will add intrigue to the battle between Lorenzo and champion-in-waiting Marc Marquez, who both eclipsed Casey Stoner's 2008 lap record in an incident-packed qualifying.

Lorenzo, fighting to keep his title defense alive, survived a bizarre brush with a seagull early in the session and was forced to pit when the bird became lodged in the fairing of his Yamaha at the circuit's Lukey Heights.

The Spaniard re-emerged later and was unflappable as he posted a scorching lap of one minute 27.899 seconds, smashing Australian Stoner's 2008 mark by more than half a second.

"This lap is a lap you can only do with a PlayStation," the affable Lorenzo told reporters, referring to Sony's popular video game console.   Continued...

Yamaha MotoGP rider Jorge Lorenzo of Spain (L) rubs his eye as his teammate Valentino Rossi of Italy watches during the post-qualifying news conference ahead of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, at Phillip Island Circuit October 19, 2013. REUTERS/Brandon Malone