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Talking points ahead of the Indian MotoGP™

Thursday, 21 September 2023

A rebooted track in a new country plays host to MotoGP™ this weekend in New Delhi, with Jorge Martin's Misano double turning up the heat on a battered and bruised Pecco Bagnaia as the series heads into Asia.

MotoGP™ takes a step into the unknown this weekend, with the Buddh International Circuit south of New Delhi hosting the inaugural Indian Motorcycle Grand Prix (September 22-24) in a country where two-wheel transport is king.

The arrival of the world's most populous country onto the MotoGP™ calendar offers a potential audience like no other; when Dorna announced the world championship would make its first foray into India last September, the series promoter noted that 75 per cent of the total vehicles used daily in the country are motorcycles – and more than 200 million bikes are on the road …

They're numbers nowhere else can claim, but who can step up at a new location to match Ducati? An all-Ducati podium in the Sprint and Grand Prix last time out in Misano means the Italian brand has won nine of the 12 Grands Prix this year and taken eight straight poles; the rest of the pack will be hoping a change of scenery snaps that streak.

Here's three talking points we're watching.

Ready or not, here they come

It's been a race against time to get the Buddh International Circuit – used for Formula 1® from 2011-13 – ready for two wheels, with little international motorsport taking place at the track since. The 4.96km track differs slightly from the layout where Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing dominated on four wheels a decade ago, primarily in the second sector of the lap, while the proximity of walls at certain corners – not to mention a very 'green' track surface – are sure to be early-weekend discussion points.

The circuit features a 1.006km straight between Turns 4-5 and considerable elevation change, the banked hairpin at Turns 9-10 set to offer something different for the riders and become a favourite spot for trackside photographers.

The regular Friday MotoGP™ Safety Commission meeting at the previous race at Misano addressed the concerns held by some riders about the location of walls and kerbs at certain corners, and the suitability of run-off areas at various points. Gresini Ducati rider Alex Marquez spoke for his peers when he adopted a wait-and-see approach.

"Turn 2 to Turn 3 are quite close to the wall, and that is no solution," the Spaniard said. "We'll see when we arrive. They did a really good job, but we need to see if it's enough. If we arrive there and it's safe to ride, we are the first ones who want to race."

Fast riders, faster learners

India is the most recent addition to a MotoGP™ calendar that has evolved in recent years; Delhi was supposed to be one of two new tracks on the schedule this year along with Kazakhstan, but the proposed race in Almaty was cancelled because of ongoing homologation works.

Three new tracks have come onto the calendar in the past five years – the Buriram International Circuit in Thailand (2018), the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal (2020) and the Mandalika International Street Circuit in Indonesia (2022) – and there's one rider who has proven to be the fastest learner of the current crop.

That Miguel Oliveira won in Portugal for KTM in 2020 was no surprise; the only Portuguese rider on the grid can probably lap Portimao in his sleep. Oliveira has showed well at tracks nobody is familiar with, too; the new-for-2023 Aprilia rider took two wins last year, one in Indonesia's maiden race in round two, and the other in Thailand in the fourth-last race of last year, both Grands Prix held in the rain.

It's likely to be hot this weekend – even minimum temperatures in Delhi in September are often in the high-20s – but thunderstorms aren't uncommon, something you suspect Oliveira mightn't mind at all.

A race in three?

Brad Binder's early crash and recovery to just 14th at Misano dropped the KTM rider to more than 100 points behind Pecco Bagnaia's championship-leading tally of 283 with eight race weekends remaining, likely extinguishing the South African's slim hopes of a late-season title tilt.

With Binder cut adrift, this year's crown is almost certainly going to one of Bagnaia, Marco Bezzecchi or Jorge Martin, the Ducati trio who were on the podium in both the Sprint and Grand Prix in San Marino. It was the healthiest of that trio – Martin – who was in a bullish mood after smashing the circuit pole record and winning both races to narrow his deficit to Bagnaia to just 36 points.

"I'm not even a factory rider, so it's not on me to win the championship," the Pramac Ducati man insisted, starting the mind games as Bagnaia (right leg) and Bezzecchi (left hand) suffered with injuries from the previous weekend in Barcelona.

"I don't feel like I have that responsibility. For sure, if I have the chance – as I am having now – I will try to get it."

The speedy Spaniard talks as rapidly as he rides, but his display at Misano was one that would have made a fully-fit Bagnaia take notice, let alone one gritting his teeth to even be able to compete. The reigning world champion's consistent excellence has been his calling card, but Martin is fast enough and – as his words suggest – free enough to make the factory man sweat.

India MotoGP™ fast facts
Circuit name/location: Buddh International Circuit, New Delhi, India
Length/laps: 4.96km, 24 laps (MotoGP™), 19 laps (Moto2™), 17 laps (Moto3™)
Grands Prix held/debut: Debut in 2023
Most successful rider: N/A
2022 podium N/A

The 2023 Indian Motorcycle Grand Prix will be available to watch live on Foxtel and Kayo. See our What time does the 2023 Indian MotoGP™ start in Australia article for timings.