MotoGP: Red Bull Ring, Austria Preview
MotoGP: Red Bull Ring, Austria Preview

After a dramatic opening round that got the second half of the 2017 MotoGP season underway in Brno, the elite championship class are heading to the Red Bull Ring in Austria less than a week later ready to get round 11 underway.

Home to many of the teams throughout the classes including Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Red Bull KTM Moto2 and Red Bull KTM Ajo, it is a chance for these in particular to showcase their true potential at familiar grounds.

Flashback to 2016 at the Red Bull Ring

Reflecting back on last year’s race in Austria, this is the location where the factory Ducati team scored a magnificent one, two with Andrea Iannone collecting his first Ducati win, and his then teammate, Andrea Dovizioso coming in second. Ironically, it was the man who was to take over aboard the Desmosedici, Jorge Lorenzo (then with Movistar Yamaha) forcing Iannone to look elsewhere for work, that completed the podium in third.

Returning to the Austrian track for the first time since 1997 it all came down to strategy. Prior to the race, many riders and teams had completed two days of testing which were useful especially as French tyre manufacturer Michelin were within their first year of  supplying the tyres to the class. It was Iannone who dominated throughout the unofficial test before going on to emerge victorious.

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Ducati dominated at the Austrian track

In the build-up, it was only Maverick Vinales (then with Team Suzuki Ectsar) who was able to break Ducati’s complete rain throughout the sessions when he topped the timesheets during Free Practice. Iannone opted for the soft Michelin Power Slick for the race which appeared to be a risky strategy, but is what ultimately paid off as he led from pole when the race got underway.

He did come under attack from his teammate at the time, Dovizioso, which would have if anything been an opportunity for Iannone to help conserve his tyres so they would complete full race distance, but then when he felt it was right, he passed Dovizioso and went on to win the first Austrian MotoGP in 19 years by 0.938 seconds.

Barbera disqualified after missing ride-through penalty

The race saw 19 out of the 21 competitors in the class finish with Hector Barbera (Reale Avintia Racing) being disqualified for not completing his ride-through penalty in time and Aleix Espargaro (then with Team Suzuki Ecstar) crashing out with four laps to go.

Will 2016 winner experience the same success this time round with Suzuki?

Returning this year, there has been so much change in the MotoGP paddock. Iannone is now with Team Suzuki Ecstar, and will the confidence from winning there the year previous pay and help him to continue on with his birthday celebrations celebrated just before the round, and allow him to gain his first victory since moving to the Japanese manufacturer.

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Ducati strong at the Red Bull Ring

For Ducati, they will be wanting to continue the same success experienced in 2016. Dovizioso realistically looks like hot favourite as he remained with the same team and so hasn’t had to endure a learning curve this season; instead he has been able to concentrate on developing the Desmosedici GP 17 that he has already brought to victory twice this season with back to back wins in Mugello and Barcelona.

Lorenzo focusing on aerodynamics of late

For his new teammate, Lorenzo on the other hand, the Spaniard has been working on finding a way to overcome the ban that as enforced this year on winglets by race officials. He has been working on developing a new fairing that has been compared to many a thing on the internet since it was launched less than a week ago in Brno, as it appears to have the winglets included in a box like frame on the front. It has improved Lorenzo’s confidence so much that he even ran better in the wet, although the mixed conditions in Brno’s flag to flag wet to dry race saw him claim only one point when he finished 15th.

So what will happen this time round? Will Lorenzo continue with the fairing that the other riders have already decided against as Dovizioso ran with the ‘usual’ and Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) did test some winglet type things but did not use them on race-day.

The fact that the Red Bull Ring is well suited for the Ducati, as it allows riders to gain advantage using it’s well known acceleration on several areas including the main straight, means that many riders will be hopefully be able to make an impression on their bosses.

Petrucci involved in a mishap on the last lap last year

Petrucci, last year, was involved in an incident with former MotoGP rider, Eugene Laverty (then with Pull & Bear Aspar Team) during the Austrian round in 2016. The two were enthralled in battle, right up until the last lap which is when Petrucci hit Laverty, knocking him off and leaving for him to scramble to pick up his bike and finished last.

The incident was apparently building up as Laverty reported that Petrucci almost rode inside of him at turn three instead of overtaking, Petrucci then hit him at the apex and the Irishman re-passed him on turn four. Then as Laverty said that he was defending his line on the final corner, Petrucci did the same as earlier causing Laverty to fall off; Petrucci continued on to finish 11th.

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Miller to replace Redding at Octo Pramac Racing

It was announced as the MotoGP paddock arrived in Austria that Scott Redding has lost his position at Octo Pramac Racing; he hasn’t been having the best of seasons despite putting up a good fight against his teammate, Petrucci, for the number one bike in 2016. He has experienced this year what he referred to as the worst race of his career, but he is still hopeful that he can returning to his successful ways and hopefully the Red Bull Ring will help him adhere to that.

Jack Miller is set to take over from the Brit after confirming on arrival in Austria that the contract has been signed for them to collaborate from 2018.

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What will Scott do?

What will it mean for Redding now? Well a place will have opened up at Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS, but the team already confirmed that Franco Morbidelli, who represents them in Moto2, will be acquiring one of them next season. So will they keep Tito Rabat? The Spaniard is in his second year of racing in the MotoGP class but will haye keep him or possibly opt to take on Redding?

Chance for the independent team Ducatis to make up results

We aren’t seeing as much this year from Barbera; his efforts are being outdone by the Pull & Bear Aspar Team riders Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham even though he was upgraded to the 2016 evolution of the Desmosedici; Loris Baz now he is not haunted by injury has so far managed to prove more competitive also.

Important round for sponsors, Red Bull

Going back to the Red Bull Ring being the home turf of the likes of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, they will they be keen to showcase their capabilities, although it may prove to be extra pressure for Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith and the rest of the clan as they work to do so. They will be most familiar to this track, and the machine that is proving to be competitive under their reigns less than a year in should be well and truly ready to race at the Austrian Circuit.

As it is their home round, test rider of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team, Mika Kallio will be making another wildcard appearance at the Red Bull Ring. He debuted the bike at the final round in Valencia last season, and has made an appearance already this year as he is desperate to prove that he is still competitive and capable of being in the MotoGP class… let’s hope it works out for him!

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The championship remains close

Attention now turns to the championship that heading into the summer break was closer than ever. Just 10 points covered the top four, with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) taking over as the leader ahead of Vinales who leap-frogged now third place Dovizioso, and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) after Sachsenring, a lead that he has extended with his win in Brno where he collected 25 points meaning there are now 21 points between him and Rossi who remains in fourth after his comeback with a late decision in Brno.

The outcome from the last round in Brno

Quickly summarising the last round, Marquez led from pole on what was declared a wet race. Having completed the warm-up lap it was clear that the track was drying. Marquez appeared to lose group after making a late decision to switch to the soft compound Michelin Power Slick and went backwards before making the decision to enter the pits and switch bikes to his other one set up for the dry.

However, those who remained at the front chose to remain out on track for several laps more. The sky looked threatening, they were unsure whether to risk pitting and having it rain on them again, and were reluctant to make the switch, but eventually they had to cave. It turns out though that Marquez, who made the switch earlier, was quickly up to speed and was closing the gap on the likes of Dovizioso, Rossi and rookie, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).

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Marquez collected back-to-back wins in Brno

Soon enough, the trio pitted and knowing the championship was at stake, they proceeded to force their way through the pack to compensate lost time and positions. Marquez won, his teammate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) was second and Vinales completed the podium. Rossi finished up fourth as Crutchlow finished as the top independent team rider in fifth and Dovizioso followed behind him in sixth.

Petrucci was seventh in Brno ahead of Aleix Espargaro who after a solid performance on the Aprilia finished eighth ahead of his brother on his team’s best result so far in ninth.

May have been a different story for Folger

Unfortunately for rookie, Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech3) he had to overcome making two pit-stops as his team weren’t ready for him the first time round. He was 10th in Brno, subtract approximately 30 seconds that he lost completing essentially his ‘ride-through penalty’ he could have been on that podium.

Will Marquez lose his points cushion in Austria?

So heading into the 11th round of the season, the championship remains closer than ever after extraordinary to extend/maintain leads. Last year, the Movistar Yamaha riders finished third (Lorenzo) and fourth (Rossi), with half a second connecting them, but then they had over a seven point cushion between them and Marquez in fifth. Taking that into consideration, the Austrian MotoGP may be the chance to compensate for lost points.

See the Honda camp have been having to deal with overcoming a lack of acceleration especially out of the corners, at the likes of the Red Bull Ring it will be more obvious so what are they going to change for this year?

The ins and outs of the Red Bull Ring

The Red Bull Ring, in Spielberg, Austria, home of the second NeroGiargini Motorrad Grand Prix von Osterrich is a 4.3 kilometre (2.68 miles) track that is ran clockwise meaning that there are predominantly right hand corners with there being seven compared to the three left hand corners at the track. The 13m (42.65 ft) wide track has a longest straight of 626 metres (2053 ft) however there are four other areas that allow for harsh acceleration.

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The track itself…

Turn one is a right angled right hander at the end of the start-finish straight that immediately leads on to the longest straight, where the Ducatis will get their biggest advantage. The straight actually has a slight curve referred to as to the left hand turn two, before they hit ‘Remus’, turn three, the hairpin at the end of the straight stat takes them down another straight towards turn four known as ‘Rauch’.

They then enter the twists and turns made up of a sweeping turn five, and the two ong left handers, ‘Pirelli’ (six) and ‘Wurth’ (seven) before a sweeping fast right hand turn eight that leads to another short straight before right hand turn nine, ‘Rindt’. More on the obtuse side of a right-angle turn, the right hand has another sort straight between that and the next similar and final turn 10, ‘Red Bull Mobile’ that takes them to the finish line.

Four overtaking hotspots to look out for…

Overtaking opportunities come heading into turn three, left hand turns six and seven where the right line and speed could prove effective, and then at the final turn, turn 10 where again the right line and drive will set them up for a great run down the start-finish straight or towards the finish line.

Unique about the Red Bull Ring, is the fact that the circuit has a change of altitude of 65 metres; a factor that will prove more significant in the Moto3 class where they will have to have enough drive for the 250cc engine. The whole track circulates around the 18 metre high ‘Bull of Spielberg’, a landmark of the track.

The various race statistics…

The MotoGP race is planned to run over the duration of 28 laps meaning they will complete 120.9 km (75 miles) of high-speed racing action. The Moto2 class will complete 25 laps, with two/thirds of race coverage being classed after 16 laps, and the Moto3 class will complete 23 laps, with them calling it a day if necessary after 15 laps.

Iannone dominates the records at the Red Bull Ring

With the track being missing from the MotoGP calendar for 19 years, all records began during the returning round in 2016. Not only did Iannone win at the Red Bull Ring, he set the fastest lap of 1:23.142 when he secured pole during Qualifying, and then set the Circuit Record with a time of 1:24.56 during the race. It was his teammate, Dovizioso who set the top speed of 313 km/h (194.47 mph).

Time to talk tyres…

When it comes to tyres, after a fantastic debut for Michelin at the track in 2016 (no previous data would have helped matters), they will be returning with three compounds, soft, medium and hard for both the front and rear. Both tyres will be asymmetric in design to compensate for the endurance that the right hand side of the tyre will face at the circuit. A softer left-hand wall means the riders will be able to get their tyres up to temperature faster when facing the three turns.

As always the weather in Europe, especially in the mountain range in Styria means that rain is again a possibility. So, Michelin will be bringing the Michelin Power Rain tyres in both soft and medium compounds. The wet tyres will also be of an asymmetric design due to the layout of the track and will be built up more on the right hand side.

Rossi hasn’t experienced the podium at the Red Bull Ring

So for Marquez he will be hoping to continue with his back-to-back wins, or his success from finishing on the podium in the last four rounds which has significantly changed his championship hopes. The Red Bull Ring is the only place where nine times world champion, Rossi has not managed to finish has not finished on the podium as he has only had once chance during his long and illustrious grand prix career. Pedrosa has also never experienced a podium at the track although he has proven successful everywhere else that they have competed.

The mixed conditions in Brno meant that things have also become more intense regarding the championship in the Moto2 class. With last year’s race  and championship winner, Zarco out the way, and championship contender Sam Lowes (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Folger out of the way, Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0.0 Marc VDS) has dominated the 2017 Moto2 championship.

What is going on in the Moto2…

However, with a couple of poor results, around the mid-way point of the season, and following his win in Brno, Thomas Luthi (CarXpert Interwetten) has managed to reduce the gap between him and Morbidelli on 182 points, down to 17 points as he is now on 165 points with his recent success.

British rider Danny Kent will be making a wildcard appearance in the Moto2 class this time for Marcel Schrotter with the Dynavolt Intact GP team aboard a Suter chassis. Augusto Fernandez will be back aboard the Speed Up Racing Kalex, and Joe Roberts will be back aboard the AGR Team Kalex.

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What happened in the Moto2 class last time round…

The Moto2 round in Brno was declared a dry race before things got underway, and was brought to a halt probably too long after the riders began waving their hands because rain was starting to fall; which can prove extremely dangerous on the slick tyres. Two riders unfortunately, Dominque Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) and Marcel Schrotter (Dynavolt Intact GP) didn’t make it back within the five minute time-frame and were not allowed back out when the now six lap race resumed after the Quick-Start Procedure.

It was Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) who was leading before the red flag, from pole and who first made the signal. He led the pack away from the grid the second time as positions from lap seven on face one were used to determine it. But, after the restart, it was an extraordinary start on an outside line for Luthi that saw him steam to the front and lead straight away for the shortened race that he went on to win with ease.

Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) took off ahead of him and finished second almost five seconds behind him, and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) completed the podium in Brno. Unfortunately for Pasini, he crashed out second time around.

Morbidelli finished eighth behind Luca Marini (Forward Racing Team) who claimed his best Moto2 career result so far, the top Tech three rider Xavi Vierge (Tech 3 Racing), who announced his move to Dynavolt Intact GP from 2018, the top Speed Up rider, Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing), and the top rookie, Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46), which meant he was unable to protect his championship lead.

Fantastic performance from the newbies

Injured Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing) made a fantastic comeback from injury in ninth and American Joe Roberts on his Moto2 debut with the AGR Team completed the top 10 beating rookies Jorge Navarro (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team) and Khairul Idham Pawi (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia).

Morbidelli or Luthi race winning favourites?

Last year in Austria, Zarco won with a three second lead of Morbidelli in second and Rins in third completing the podium and so Morbidelli appears favourite to win this time round. Luthi was at the back of the group of three including Morbidelli and Rins and after collecting his first win in Brno, he is going to be hungry for more success.

Will Oliveira claim his and team’s first Moto2 victory?

Back to being on home turf, it is Oliveira who is going to have that bit of extra determination to win at the Red Bull Ring, home to his new Moto2 team. He has graced the podium with his presence five times already this year but not made it as far as the top step, will Austria be the place to do it? Will he be joined by his 2016 Moto3 championship winning teammate, Brad Binder who was on fire in Brno? Binder turns just 22 years old on Friday whereas Pasini will turn 32 on race-day so will be wanting extra special celebrations.

Zarco holds the records for the 600cc class

The lap records for the 600cc class at the Red Bull Ring are all dominated by double Moto2 champion, and now MotoGP rookie, Zarco. His pole lap time is the Best Ever Lap record time standing at 1:29.255. He also set the fastest lap during the race, the Circuit Record Lap on lap 8 with a time of 1:29.497; all records are there to be broken and we may see that should the weather be right this year.

Enduring race for the Moto3 class

The Moto3 class have a hard slog ahead of them especially with the fact they have to get their 250cc four-stroke engines up that hill at the Red Bull Ring. This like the other classes, is the second time the Moto3 class return to the Austrian Circuit, 19 years previous to their debut last year was the first time 25cc rider then, Rossi graced the podium.

Then, 19 years later getting himself into the history books, it was current 2017 Moto3 championship leader, Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) who won from his first ever Moto3 career pole position.

Mir the one to watch in Austria where he claimed his first Moto3 win last year

Mir’s success came after Marinelli Rivacold Snipers rider, Romano Fenati parted ways with his team at the time Sky Racing Team VR46. After qualifying in 11th on the grid, the news came that he would not be competing come race-day and that in fact would not be continuing with the team; he was out on his ear and looking for a new ride and his new team have decided to move up to Moto2 with him next season.

Brad Binder and Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0) forced their way past the pole position man last year when the race started but Mir used the length of the straights to his advantage, and slipstreamed his competition. The three broke away from the remainder of the pack and Mir gained the lead on lap two. His two rivals then proved a distraction for each other which gave Mir a slight break.

It was short-lived and once caught Mir ran wide allowing the two through. This continued throughout and soon enough Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) was added to the mix. At one point the two teammates came together before he was able to recover and work his way back to the front.

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Close finish last time round

Trying every defensive manoeuvre, Mir battled to stay at the front and when combining the perfect drive out of the final corner with the perfect drag run to the finish line, Mir won by 0.107 seconds over Binder who was second for Red Bull KTM Ajo, and Bastianini finished third in Austria; Quartararo missed out on a podium by just 0.08 seconds.

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Things looking great for Mir

Mir’s pole position lap time leaves him with the Best Lap record at the Austrian Circuit with a time of 1:36.228. However, during the race it was Philipp Oettl (Sudmetall Schedl GP Racing) that set the Circuit Record Lap during the race with a time of 1:36.557.

Mir’s win means he is equal on Moto3 wins with 2016 Moto3 champion, Brad Binder. He has already claimed six victories this season, out of the 10 that have been raced; his win in Austria last year means he has secured seven overall.

Currently on 190 points in the championship, he has a 42 point lead over second place man Fenati. Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) is in third with 126 points. Scottish rider, John McPhee (British Talent Team) trails on 93 points ahead of injured Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) who may not be able to compete as he is still carrying his leg injury that saw him miss the last race in Brno.

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Again watch out for the Red Bull riders….

Someone who looks promising to continue on his success from the last round is Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) who claimed fourth in Brno. Out of the two Red Bull KTM Ajo riders he is having the better season and will surely do what he can to get on that podium for his sponsors.

Unfamiliar faces in the class…

Darryn Binder remains out of action due to injury and so will be replaced by Spaniard, Jaume Masia on the Platinum Bay Real Estate KTM. There will be two other wildcard appearances at the class in Austria. Mexican, Gabriel Martinez-Abrego will follow on from his appearance in Brno with the Motomex Team Moto3 aboard a KTM and local rider, Maximilian Kofler will make his debut with Motorsport Kofler E.U. also aboard a KTM.

Red Bull Ring Schedule

The schedule for the weekend’s sessions are as follows: