Austria Watch Out For The Ducati

Last week, the 2017 MotoGP Championship returned to action at Brno following a month-long summer break.

Striking first in the second-half of the season was Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez. The three-time MotoGP Champion dominated the Czech Republic Grand Prix due tactics—he was the first to switch to slicks on the drying circuit, and beat Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Vinales to the finish line by over 12 seconds.

Marc Marquez Repsol Honda Team
photo: MICHELIN

Marquez will now take that momentum directly to the Red Bull Ring in Austria this weekend , the official test track of the Repsol Honda team. Heading into 2017 Austria MotoGP, Marquez has the points lead with 154. With eight rounds remaining, the battle is tight, though, and only 22 points separate the top four riders.

Marquez is 14 points ahead of Vinales; 21 ahead of Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso; and 22 ahead of Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi, who led Monday’s Brno MotoGP Test. The 24-year-old Spaniard Marquez struggled last year during the Red Bull Ring’s debut, finishing fifth.

Taking the debut win was then-Ducati rider Andrea Iannone, who finished ahead of teammate Andrea Dovizioso and then-Yamaha pilot Jorge Lorenzo.

Karel Abraham Pull & Bear Aspar Team Ducati
photo: MICHELIN

The Ducatis performed well at Red Bull Ring, and this may give this year’s Ducati Team lineup of Dovizioso and three-time MotoGP Champion Lorenzo the edge. The timing couldn’t be better for Dovizioso, either, as he chases a second world title for Ducati.

Last season, “DesmoDovi” took second. Since then, Italian has won three MotoGP races and led the Championship earlier in the year. He surely arrives as favorite, and the venue should be a positive one for new teammate Lorenzo. Lorenzo completed the podium in 2016, and was only beaten then by the Desmosedicis ahead of him. The red machines will be in attack mode.

Looking to defend his position as much as possible is Marquez. Now with the most breathing space of anyone, the rider from Cervera has a 14 point cushion as the paddock arrives at a venue that was more difficult for him last year.

Using the post-Czech GP test to prepare for Austria, however, leaves the number 93 more confident of putting up a bigger fight this year. Teammate Dani Pedrosa, who gained on everyone except Marquez by coming second in Brno, will be a key rival, too – with both men firmly pitched against each other as well as the rest of the field. 150 podiums into his career, Pedrosa remains a threat.

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP duo Viñales and Valentino Rossi are two more who will want to spring a surprise and take the spoils. Viñales was back on the podium in Brno for the first time since Mugello, with Rossi just off it in fourth and making useful points gains on Dovizioso – not something they’ll want to see eroded only a week later. The Yamahas followed the Ducatis home in 2016, which should hearten both as a good springboard. Viñales came sixth, too.

Maverick Vinales Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
photo: MICHELIN

Octo Pramac Racing fielded the first Independent Team rider in 2016: Scott Redding, and their Ducati machinery will be a threat again. Redding is now on the bike that won last year, and teammate Danilo Petrucci on the GP17 along with Dovizioso and Lorenzo.

Having just missed out on victories this season and having often made his name at the front, Petrucci will see a big opportunity at the Red Bull Ring to kickstart the second half of his campaign. Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Team) and teammate Karel Abraham also have Borgo Panigale machinery, as well as Reale Avintia Racing’s Hector Barbera and Loris Baz.

In the green corner, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 squad will want to get in the way as much as possible, with both Jonas Folger and Johann Zarco having had more difficult Czech GPs. Both podium finishers by now, a trip to parc ferme as top Independent Rider will be a serious target – the trip made by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) at Brno. The experienced Brit always has his own designs on the front group.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing are an interesting question at their home race. With good experience at the track and lots of testing – although at various stages of development – the incredible ninth position taken by Pol Espargaro at Brno will have them walking tall on the way to the Red Bull Ring. There will be pressure to perform, of course, but the squad should be well armed as they look to keep ticking off the ‘firsts’ – and test rider Mika Kallio is on track as a wildcard.

Last year, Austria staged its own first: the first premier class victory for Andrea Iannone. Now on Team Suzuki Ecstar machinery, the ‘Maniac’’s expectations will have been adjusted for 2017 – but the memories of the venue will make it a happy hunting ground. The Hamamatsu factory took solid results last year as an added bonus, and made good use of the Brno test.

The action gets underway with free practice Friday, ahead of Saturday qualifying and Sunday’s race at 2 p.m. local time. Will Marquez extend his lead, or will someone behind take over?