All eyes on Austria

Can Honda and Yamaha repel Ducati’s charge as MotoGP returns to the Red Bull Ring?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

MotoGP heads to its first new track since Argentina in 2014 this weekend, when the world championship roars back into life at the Red Bull Ring in Austria for round 10 of the season. But it’s not quite a ‘new’ track – the world championship visited the Red Bull Ring, then under a different name, as recently as 1997.

Most of the teams and riders have sampled the 4.3-kilometre layout this season, Repsol Honda duo Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa in early July, and the majority of the rest of the grid later last month on what was, for most riders, their initial laps in anger of the circuit at a two-day test.

The MotoGP mid-season report card: who shone, and who bombed?

What did we learn from that first taste of MotoGP machinery in Austria for nearly 20 years? And who hits the ground running as they try to start the second half of the season with a strong result? Here’s what we know.

There’s nowhere quite like it
The Red Bull Ring looks like nothing else on the MotoGP calendar. Sure, there’s other tracks with plenty of elevation – Austin, Mugello, Brno and Sachsenring come to mind – but there’s nowhere that has just nine turns, and nowhere that has (on paper at least) such a relatively simple layout. Does that make it easy? Far from it. “Compared to the other circuits it has a lot less corners,” says Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi. “At the end of the lap you have done only nine or 10, normally there are around 15.”

For Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales, the Red Bull Ring is unlike anything he’s encountered in his world championship career. “It is a very unusual track; it’s a typical ‘on/off track’, with hard accelerations, three long straights and hard braking,” the Spaniard says.

Over to you, Ducati
Those very circuit characteristics point to Ducati finally being able to snap a win drought that has – unfortunately for fans of the red bikes – almost reached historically barren levels. It’s been 99 races since Casey Stoner took Ducati’s last win at Phillip Island in 2010; can a Ducati stop that unwelcome run from reaching triple figures? Andrea Iannone set the fastest time of the two-day test (1min 23.240secs), with factory Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso, Stoner (in his role as a test rider for the team) and satellite Ducati rider Hector Barbera rounding out the top four. Fellow satellite riders Scott Redding (ninth) and Yonny Hernandez (10th) made it six Ducatis in the top 10, their sheer grunt advantage down the straights plainly obvious. “These were two days of very positive tests for us,” said a grinning Dovizioso afterwards. “We can exploit our potential to the maximum, and I believe that we can be really competitive in the race.”

Yamaha is in damage control
When you trail series leader Marquez by 48 points (Jorge Lorenzo) and 59 points (Rossi) respectively, Austria is the race you don’t want as the first one back after the mid-year break. While Honda struggled at the test without Marquez and Pedrosa present, Cal Crutchlow its fastest rider and 1.2 seconds off the pace, Yamaha didn’t do a lot better, Rossi 0.929secs off Iannone’s benchmark, and Lorenzo a couple of hundredths slower still. It doesn’t shape as a race where Lorenzo and Rossi can take a significant chunk out of Marquez’s advantage, and the Yamaha riders know it.

“It’s a very particular circuit because it is really, really fast and you spend a lot of time with the throttle fully open,” Rossi says. “For us, personally, it’s not the best circuit because usually we suffer a bit on top speed.”

Lorenzo, who comes into round 10 desperate for a good result after diabolical races at Assen and the Sachsenring, was even more pessimistic. “Some of our rivals are fast, it looks like the track is giving them a big advantage, especially in braking stability, acceleration and top speed,” he says. “They can put in all the power they have at this track, and the difference is huge.”

Miller’s ready for more
Jack Miller’s Assen win came from nowhere, but the Australian backed that up with another fine performance in the final race before the mid-year break at the Sachsenring, where he ran convincingly in the top five before finishing seventh. He’s one of the few riders to have experienced the Red Bull Ring before this year, racing at the circuit in the German 125cc championship in his early days in Europe in 2011, and Marc VDS team principal Michael Bartholemy expects the 21-year-old Australian to be “fired up” for this weekend. Miller is injury-free, confident and ready to go after racking up 151 laps across the two days last month. “This test was really important for us after missing so many tests at the start of the season,” he said afterwards. “It was great just to get a whole heap of dry laps in where I could just go out and ride the bike.” Another top-10 finish is definitely in play.

The hills are alive, and the walls are close
Expect the track – and its surrounds – to get plenty of air time this weekend. The picturesque setting is undoubtedly spectacular – “every direction you look is like a postcard, but the only way it gets this green is with a lot of rain,” joked Stoner at last month’s test – but it’s the scenery closer to the track that caused some consternation amongst the riders. “In terms of safety, I think there are a few spots with very little space and close to the walls,” Aprilia rider Alvaro Bautista said, echoing the thoughts of several of his colleagues. “Before the race it would be good to think about a few solutions, especially given the high speeds.”

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