Heading into the 11th round of the 2017 MotoGP season most bets would have most likely been placed on Ducati to collect their consecutive win at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria where former factory Ducati rider, Andrea Iannone collected his first ever MotoGP win.
Contract speculation in the MotoGP paddock
But amid all the transfer and contract speculation that surrounded the paddock in the build-up, it seemed that no-one realised that Honda appeared to have turned things around when it comes to acceleration on the factory bike.
It was announced upon arrival at the track that British rider Scott Redding was to lose his place at the Octo Pramac Racing team on the Ducati and he was to be replaced by Jack Miller who will be moving from Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS. The question then arose, where would Scott go?
Lowes has lost his place at Aprilia
Speculation continued that he would be taking over at Aprilia Racing Team Gresini where British rookie, Sam Lowes is said to have lost his set as the team have told the British twin racer that they will not be continuing with his contract for several years. This in turn has uncovered many stories and opinions that Aprilia are not fair and they have not treated him well from the start with many opinions resulting in him being better off out of those working conditions.
Less than a week after the 10th round of the season that followed the summer break in Brno however, the riders were back in action with the speculation having to be put aside as Redding confirmed although he was in talks with the team, that nothing had been decided or anything signed.
Dry start to the meeting at the Red Bull Ring
Day one of the meeting was overcast, but dry and cool. The track is well suited to Italian manufacturer, Ducati and so straight away the pilots of the various evolutions of the Desmosedici were soon jumping to the top of the timesheets when Free Practice 1 got underway.
The likes of Redding, Hector Barbera (Reale Avintia Racing), and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) were some who were successful as well as nine times world champion, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha), and current championship leader, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda).
Track proving tricky
The track was difficult in its own way for many reasons at several particular hotspots. Rookie, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech3) took a scenic route through the gravel trap when he missed the braking point, and wildcard rider for the local Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team, Mika Kalio also travelled across the gravel at turn six and turned in time on the narrow path to avoid the airbag.
An incident track saw rookie, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) return to the pits but in doing so he got in the way of Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) who was on a fast lap, and the Yamaha rider was quick to express his feelings to the rookie with some gestures before he continued on.
Dovizioso tops the opening session
A late lap from Dovizioso meant he went to the top of the timesheets at the end of the opening session but it was cancelled as he had exceeded track limits (the final turn had been narrowed and riders were caught out and spotted riding on the green painted area) and so it was independent Ducati team rider, Barbera that ended the first session on top.
Rain before FP2 left track greasy
It had rained in between sessions on the opening day for the class but the track had dried and so riders gradually filtered out when Free Practice 2 got underway. Redding, Alvaro Bautista (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) and Marquez again were contenders for the top spot.
Redding must have been feeling the pressure around him, and knowing that eyes were on him he was determined to prove his worth but at one point he ran on at turn four. He found the Ducati didn’t want to turn and he ended up going into the gravel but stayed upright.
Dovizioso ends the first day on top
Later in the session, Zarco, Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) took over the battle for the top spot, but then after a massive save heading into turn four from Marquez, who headed into the gravel after the rear end lifted under heavy braking, Vinales and Dovizioso surpassed them and Dovizioso finished the session and the day on top. Combining practice times, it was only Barbera who did not improve during the session, and the top five consisted of Vinales, Pedrosa, Zarco and Lorenzo who followed behind Dovizioso.
Various fairings being introduced to overcome aerodynamic issues
The practice was a chance to showcase and test the various new fairings produced from the manufacturers to overcome the wing ban and designed to keep the front end down under acceleration. Rossi was the latest to give his a run; rather than the zimmer frame look that Ducati have embraced, Yamaha have chizelled grooves and narrow tunnels down each side of the bike.
Marquez and Kalio have a run in
Marquez and Kalio had a run in during Free Practice 3. Marquez was left fuming was Kalio returned to track after running on at turn three and got in his race line spoiling his lap time. The Spaniard waved his hands to gesture and make his feelings to Kalio clear.
Cruthclow crashes out as others run on
British rider, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) who has been very vocal about the contract changes came off at turn nine during the session. The front tucked on his Honda early on as he approached the fast turn and the bike rolled through the gravel.
At turn four later on Marquez had a huge slide and rookie, Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech3) who was celebrating his birthday on race-day in Austria ran wide at turn 10. British rider Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) crashed out when the front folded at turn one and both he and the bike slid.
Free Practice 3 saw further progression with Marquez quickest
The riders were able to improve on earlier times set in the previously in the session. Towards the end though, as the riders battled to stay in the top 10, Rossi went top, only to be beaten by Zarco, and then by Marquez who was quickest on combined times at the end of FP3.
Again combining times, only Dovizioso was unable to improve on his FP2 time, but all other riders progressed in FP3. Marquez, Zarco and Rossi ended up first, second and fifth. Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was third ahead of Lorenzo in fourth.
Dovizioso’s FP2 time meant he was sixth and Vinales, Loris Baz (Real Avintia Racing), Karel Abraham (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) and Crutchlow completed the top 10 riders who automatically progressed through to Qualifying 2; Redding and his Octo Pramac Racing teammate, Danilo Petrucci were favourites to join them as they were 11th and 12th after FP3.
Marquez crashes during FP4
The final session before Qualifying, Free Practice 4 was proved quite difficult for some. Abraham ran through the gravel at turn four, and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) ran on at turn three; it was clear he was not happy and content in Austria.
Marquez had a crash as he came off at turn three of the circuit. He managed to keep hold as he slid out but it stalled after the front folded after the turn. He was quickly able to get going again though with help from the marshalls.
Iannone’s engine blows on the Suzuki
Then the engine on Iannone’s GSX-RR blew, or another fault occurred that saw steam or smoke pouring from his machine. Knowing he lost power he quickly retreated from the race line and had to catch a lift back to the paddock. Folger also had another close call at turn four as he had to run on after almost losing it.
Marquez was able to steal the top spot at the end of the session taking over from Vinales who occupied it previously, but the times were insignificant really as Qualifying followed, and if it did not go ahead the times from FP3 would be used.
Pedrosa and Petrucci go through to Qualifying 2
Pedrosa and Petrucci were the two factory riders outside the top 10 who appeared to be most likely to continue forward onto Qualifying 1 but Redding was fast and trying hard as was Barbera. The four all took turns to occupy the top two spots with Redding’s team displaying “WANT IT” as a message to the Brit as they urged him to push on. Aleix Espargaro was still struggling as he again ran on after missing a turn.
Folger was also pushing hard and at the end of the session he looked close to making it into the top two. He didn’t make it, as Petrucci and Pedrosa went faster and it was clear that Folger, who just missed out, was not happy with starting from 13th on the grid.
Marquez reluctant to be followed during Qualifying
When Qualifying 2 began, the riders quickly rushed out to the track. But, championship leader, Marquez took extra care to ensure that no-one was behind him and ready to follow him round the track while he ‘did something special’ and he gestured for people to go ahead of him rather than stay behind; Iannone was reluctant though and pointed to his bike to say he is on the Suzuki.
It may have benefited him though. Showing someone with potential around, who is not a contender for the championship (i.e not Dovizioso, Vinales, Rossi or Pedrosa) could have helped the other rider to get to the front row and could be used as a barrier on race day and could force his rivals further down the grid.
Marquez collects pole at the Red Bull Ring
Eventually he pushed on and Iannone, Pedrosa, Rossi, Abraham, Vinales and Marquez all held a potential pole position at various occasion. Marquez had a big slide at turn 10 of the track, but it didn’t deter him and he went on to claim pole, stealing the crown from Ducati and breaking their reign.
Marquez’s pole winning lap time did break Iannone’s Circuit Record Lap time of 1:24.561 set during the race last season, but Marquez’s time of 1:23.235 was not enough to beat the Best Lap Record which got the Italian pole with a time of 1:23.142.
Marquez was joined on the front row by Dovizioso and Lorenzo who completed it in second and third respectively. Vinales led row two in fourth ahead of Petrucci and the highest placed rookie and independent rider, Zarco in sixth. Rossi was seventh at the front of row three and joined by Pedrosa and Crutchlow, and Iannone, Abraham and Baz completed row four.
Dovizioso quickest after the warm-up
Race-day was dry fortunately, as Moto2’s wet Free Practice session through the race into doubt should it rain as it appeared so unsafe especially at turn one where it was incredibly smooth. On his birthday, Folger came off at turn four of the track. Dovizioso was quickest during the morning warm-up session.
Marquez leads from pole
The 28 lap race got underway in the dry and Marquez led from pole into turn one. It wasn’t a clean start from all of the grid, as Petrucci jump-started and ended up pulling a massive wheelie on the grid that saw him lose time; it ended up that he was investigated but they didn’t penalise as he did not benefit.
Several riders came together as they left the grid and as a result several riders were forced to retire over the next couple of laps. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was first to retire after two laps, and he following lap birthday boy, Folger also was disappointed as he returned to the pits. Both were reporting loss of brakes.
Lorenzo takes over at the front
Before the third turnoff the race, Marquez lost his lead to Lorenzo who used the acceleration of his Desmosedici GP 17 to his advantage. Looking like he could finally get his first Ducati win, he appeared to pull away and create a gap between him and Marquez. Behind them, Rossi had made an early attack and passed, Vinales and Pedrosa, and Vinales also passed Pedrosa. Rossi then went on to pass Dovizioso, but the he ran wide and so Dovizioso was able to retaliate and retain third.
By the second lap, Lorenzo had increased his gap to around one second at the front. By lap three, Vinales caught and attacked his teammate, Rossi at turn three, but Rossi retaliated and remained third. Zarco was stalking Pedrosa in fifth after he gained positions when Vinales ran wide at turn one of the next lap and re-joined in seventh. The Frenchman soon made his move on the Spaniard, passing him at turn three.
Marquez works to manage the gap at the front
Seeing Lorenzo was getting away, Marquez acted fast and closed the gap down to half a second between him and Lorenzo. He wasn’t quickest however as Rossi had set the fastest lap and in doing so had set a new Circuit Lap Record in the meantime. Further down the field, Baz passed Iannone, Barbera passed Redding and Rins passed Aleix Espargaro.
By the fifth lap, the gap at the front was closed but once again it was a Yamaha rider that was faster as Zarco surpassed Rossi’s quick lap time and set a new record… that’s right… the rookie! The race came to an early end for Italian Ducati rider, Petrucci as he was forced to retire with oil pump issues.
Back at the front on the seventh lap, Dovizioso passed Marquez at turn three after the Honda rider ran wide. A lap later, Rossi was spotted smoking his rear tyre; after this he went backwards and appeared reluctant to push and risk battling for points with a quicker pace. On the 10th lap, Marquez passed Dovizioso to reclaim second.
Marquez was waiting to pounce
The lead group at the front of the pack turned into a group of seven. Marquez sat waiting to pounce, and worked to conserve his tyres. When Lorenzo went wide at turn three on lap 12, he attacked and they almost touched as Marquez spun the rear and his foot came off the peg.
They were joined down the straight by Dovizioso and a drag race began. Dovizioso went wide at the end of the straight, but still was able to stay second behind Marquez, and Lorenzo went from first to third.
Zarco on the move
A lap later, independent Yamaha rider, Zarco passed factory Yamaha rider, Rossi at turn three. The distraction meant that Pedrosa was able to attack and take fourth as he bypassed the two. In an attempt to avoid another attack from Zarco, Rossi accidentally ran wide which is when he went backwards but was unable to fight.
Lorenzo was also seen running wide at several turns and a move from Pedrosa on the Spaniard looked adamant. On the 16th lap, Pedrosa made a move when Lorenzo again ran wide, but Lorenzo was saved from it sticking by the acceleration of his machinery. (Aleix Espargaro passed Crutchlow to take 16th.)
Pedrosa waits to make his move
Instead Pedrosa waited until they began the 17th lap, and after getting a good drive out of turn 10 and headed towards the line, he was able to combine that with the slipstream from Lorenzo and passed him on as they crossed the line. At turn three, Marquez lost his lead as he ran wide and Dovizioso got through.
Miller crashes out at turn nine
Unfortunately for Miller his weekend came to an end early as he came off at turn nine of the track with eight laps to go The front folded and he slid out but fortunately he was not hurt and instead was able to slide to a halt and still look cool and laid back. Further back rookie, Rins passed British rider, Smith to take 17th.
Things growing intense at the front
The battle for the win was heating up at the front and with seven laps to go, Dovizioso was well and truly applying the pressure as he stayed on Marquez’s tail. On the start-finish straight, Dovizioso passed Marquez and then forced him wide heading into turn one. At turn three, Marquez tried to attack back but ran slightly wide and Dovizioso snapped back.
They continued on, having another drag race down the straight. Dovizioso had the advantage as he had the inside line heading towards the next right hander. He took the lead back, but then as they passed through the two adjacent left hand turns out of the only three at the track, Marquez cleanly got back in front. Instead, Dovizioso out-accelerated him again on a short straight, but the delays they caused for each other meant that Pedrosa was able to catch right up and almost passed them both.
Changes further down the field
Three quarters of the race had passed and the tension was increasing. Crutchlow who was unusually down the ranks gained another position on lap 21 when he passed Barbera to place 15th and then he lost another position to Rins. Also, Aleix Espargaro who had begun to turn things around passed Redding to move up to 14th.
Vinales had begun his chase for Zarco hoping to take fifth and become the top Yamaha. On lap 23, Marquez made a lunge at turn one and ran wide to avoid crashing and ending his race completely. This gave Dovizioso a slight break of approximately half a second. This was short-lived as Marquez worked hard to get back in touch with the Italian and by the end of the penultimate lap he was back on his tail.
It all came down to the last lap in the end, Dovizioso was determined to win for him, his championship and Ducati and Marquez wanted to stop him... and, he was willing to try anything.
Intense lap sees Marquez nearly ruin everything
On the last lap, Marquez tried to get the right drive again out of turn three, before heading down the straight. Dovizioso went wide but then was forced out further by Marquez. Marquez then passed Dovizioso, on the outside as they approached the final corners, possibly in an attempt to distract Dovizioso and then he dived up the inside. Dovizioso retaliated and accelerated to the line, and narrowly avoiding colliding with the Spaniard who risked everything for both of them.
Dovizioso wins at the Red Bull Ring in Assen
Annoyed, Dovizioso flicked his hand in the air to express his disgust in Marquez’s risky attack, and then so cool and slick continued on and crossed the line and won the race. He finished just 0.176 seconds ahead of Marquez in third and 2.661 seconds behind Dovizioso, Pedrosa completed the podium in third.
The drama continues
As they made their way back to parc ferme, Marquez grabbed Dovizioso's right arm, the Italian was unwilling to discuss things so soon and instead, Marquez who had a flag in the same hand, hit the Ducati with the stick before pulling away when Dovizioso gestured.
Lorenzo fourth ahead of top rookie Zarco
Lorenzo was fourth having fended off fifth place man, Zarco. Zarco was the top Yamaha, top independent team rider, and leaves the Red Bull Ring as the new fastest Circuit Record Lap holder with his fastest lap time of 1:24.312 set on lap six… that’s right, the rookie!
Finishing as the second quickest Yamaha on track behind the rookie was Vinales in sixth who crossed the line ahead of his factory teammate, Rossi in seventh. Bautista was eighth ahead of Baz in ninth. On his wildcard appearance at the home track of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Kalio finished 10th getting one of the best results so far for the team, and finishing above both of the regular riders. (The rider from Finland is determined to prove his worth and that he is still competitive.)
Last years’ winner in Austria, Iannone finished in 11th on his new machinery ahead of Redding in 12th. Aleix Espargaro was 13th ahead of Abraham and Crutchlow who collected the last championship point available in 15th. Just outside the points was Rookie, Rins in 6th ahead of Barbera and Smith who only managed 18th on his bike’s home track. Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) and Lowes completed the list of finishers at the Red Bull Ring.
Dovizioso reduces the gap in the championship but Marquez still leads
Picking up 25 points in Austria means that Dovizioso has reduced the gap in the championship between him and current leader, Marquez by five points. Marquez leads with 174 points and Dovizioso is 16 points behind on 158 points.
Vinales trails Dovizioso by eight points and is third with 150 points, he is now nine ahead of Rossi in fourth on 141 points. Finishing third in Austria means that Pedrosa has caught right up to Rossi and is now trailing him by just two points as he is in fifth with 139 in total. The championship remains close and undecided as 35 points now covers the top five.
Following on from the top five, Zarco is the highest placed rookie and independent rider in sixth with 99 points, 20 ahead of Lorenzo (79) in seventh, who is two ahead of Folger (77) in eighth, Crutchlow (76) in ninth and Petrucci (75) completes the top 10 after collecting a DNF in Austria.