With just a short amount of time to draw breath after last Sunday’s race at Brno – and then a test session the following day – MotoGP™ action continues in the spectacular Styrian Alps of Austria this weekend.
Ducati refused to say as much in public, but the Italian company will be confident of making it successive wins around the 4.3km Red Bull Ring layout, which rewards a bike with excellent acceleration, a sizzling top end and plenty of stability under brakes – which is the Desmosedici to a tee.
In 2016, Ducati broke through for its first MotoGP™ win in six years thanks to Andrea Iannone, with Andrea Dovizioso a close second.
Jorge Lorenzo was third on his Yamaha, but the Spaniard has now replaced Iannone at Ducati and the Red Bull Ring shapes as the best opportunity to win his first race on the red rocket – although his teammate Dovi still starts as favourite.
Ducati, like Yamaha, has recently unveiled a new aero screen, and it’s to Lorenzo’s liking.
“Monday’s test (at Brno) was positive because we found some new set-up solutions that will help us to go quicker,” said Lorenzo.
“On paper our bike is perfectly suited to the Spielberg circuit. It will be the first time I’ll be on track with the Desmosedici in Austria and it’ll be very important to find the sensation I had at Brno again and demonstrate that I am competitive right from the first practice session.
“I feel pretty good with the new fairing and now we also have an opportunity to test its performance at a new circuit.”
Even if Lorenzo wins, he’s too far back to challenge for the 2017 world title, with that battle already whittled down to five riders – Marc Marquez, Maverick Vinales, Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa.
Reigning champion Marquez (Repsol Honda) is the man of the moment after winning the last two races at Sachsenring and Brno, and he sits on 154 points ahead of Vinales (Movistar Yamaha, 140), Dovizioso (133), Rossi (Movistar Yamaha, 132) and Pedrosa (Repsol Honda, 123).
Compared to past years, the gap between the top echelon is small, and the pressure is on to perform week after week. Marquez knows that, which is why he’s keen to bounce back from his below-par performance at the Red Bull Ring in 2016, when he finished well back in fifth position.
“We struggled quite a bit last year at Red Bull Ring but hopefully this year it will be different,” said Marquez.
“Brno also used to be a challenging track for us but in the end we got a fantastic result, so we’re going to Austria feeling positive.
”In the post-race test we were able to look into several aspects of our bike’s setup, also in view of the next race, such as getting better acceleration and reducing the wheelying.
“Of course we also need good stability on the brakes so we’ll see; as always, it will be a matter of finding a good compromise.
”The Red Bull Ring round is also important for one of our main sponsors, and we’ll do our best to get a good result for them and to gain important points for the championship.”
Meanwhile, Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Ducati) could be a dark horse on the 2017 model Desmosedici – he’s already come close to a win this year – while Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) has now settled into some strong form as has Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini).
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 pilots Johann Zarco (the 2016 Moto2™ winner at the Ted Bull Ring) and Jonas Folger will also be pushing hard, as will Aussie Jack Miller (EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) who is finally getting back into the groove of MotoGP™ racing after spending a large chunk of July on a Bridgestone-shod Honda superbike testing and then competing in the Suzuka 8 Hours world endurance race.
The dynamics changed dramatically at Brno as Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) dominated the restated six-lap sprint while Championship leader Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) crossed the line in eighth. The gap is now 17 points between the pair.
Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) was another who gained in the Czech Grand Prix, finishing in second and moving up to equal third on points alongside Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo).
There's only one previous event at the track to compare form and much is different this season, but it makes for good reading for the top three – Morbidelli was second, Luthi fourth and Marquez sixth. Oliveira, even as a rookie, scored points. So it should be a good battle.
Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) wants to make amends after crashing out at Brno, while Aussie Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing) is coming off a career-best ninth-place finish.
Joan Mir (Leopard Racing Honda) claimed his first ever Moto3™ victory in Austria last year, and this year's runaway Championship leader will be keen to go back to back.
Key rival Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda) arrives with a little less track time at the venue. Last season the Italian didn’t race after splitting with his previous team following qualifying, although he was set to line up in P11.
Teammates Aron Canet and Enea Bastianini (both Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda), John McPhee (British Talent Team Honda), Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3™ Honda) – who broke his leg in Germany and tried to ride in Brno, but was forced to pull out of the event – Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3™ Honda) and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46 KTM) are others to watch.
The three World Championship races at the Red Bull Ring will be held over the following distances and times:
- MotoGP™: 28 laps, 120.9km, starting 2.00pm local time (10.00pm AEST)
- Moto2™: 25 laps, 108.0km, starting 12.20pm local time (8.20pm AEST)
- Moto3™: 23 laps, 99.3km, starting 11.00am local time (7.00pm AEST)