MotoGP 2016 Austrian Grand Prix Preview

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcyle.com

Ducati has the Inside Track for Round 10

Based upon the test results after Round 9, it appears MotoGP Chief Cheddar Carmelo Ezpeleta has finally located a circuit at which the Ducati teams can compete for a win, their first since 2010.  The two-day test, at which the Repsol Honda and Tech 3 teams were AWOL, found seven of the top eight times on Tuesday clutched by Ducati pilots.  Wednesday, it was the top four and six of the top ten, with the factory Yamahas and Suzukis claiming fifth through eighth.

Ducati Corse’s battle cry heading into the year was, “Back to winning races in 2016!”  Due to some back luck (Andrea Dovizioso) and bad judgment (Andrea Iannone) this has yet to be the case.

For the Ducati Desmosedici, which is blisteringly fast in the straights, but still difficult to manage in the turns, the ideal circuit layout design is shown below, two long straights with but two turns.

Two turns

The next best layout would look rather Daytona-ish, with only three turns.   Three turns.png

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval layout would be great, too, with only four turns:Four turns As we saw back in July, the Red Bull Ring, consisting of nine (9) turns, is overtly Ducati-friendly.  It favors the Ducati so much it is easy to imagine, like, two of the Italian machines on the podium this weekend.

Red Bull Ring is as close as MotoGP is likely ever to get to the Bonneville Salt Flats.Circuit_Red_Bull_RingAccording to some F-1 sites, the racing surface is relatively low grip, low abrasion and bumpy in places; what we kickball pitchers used to refer to as “fast and bouncy.”  Tire choices, as always, will be important, with the softer options predicted to be in high demand.  One thing is certain—the track is fast, meaning Jorge Lorenzo will have a puncher’s chance to improve his 2016 fortunes this weekend.

When Last We Left our Intrepid Heroes

Speaking personally, it seems like 2015 since MotoGP has been front of mind.  These back-to-back vacations (one race since June 26) are great for the riders and the teams, miserable for the hack journalists (me) trying to maintain some readership during the summer months.  For those of you who share my general lack of recall, let’s review where we are and how we got here.

  1. Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda, 170 points.  Three wins, eight podiums, in the points every time out despite a slide-off in France.  Looking consistent and mature, riding eerily like he did in 2014.  Perhaps because he’s on a 2014 frame.  With a 48-point lead heading into the back nine (38 of which he’s gathered since Montmelo during the Great Yamaha Collapse), he is the man to beat.  Now showing the maturity to settle for second place when a win isn’t in the cards.
  2. Jorge Lorenzo, Movistar Yamaha, 122 points.  Three wins, five podiums, two DNFs.  Since winning at Mugello, he crashed at Catalunya, finished 10th at Assen and 15th at The Sachsenring, the latter two in wet conditions.  Cannot maintain his signature high corner speed in the rain.  Unless he can make a major move this weekend and the following week at Brno, his chances to repeat and earn his fourth premier class title would appear to be toast.  Heading off into the wild red yonder next season with Ducati, where world championships are as scarce as hen’s teeth.
  3. Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha, 111 points.  Two wins, four podiums, three DNFs, including an unforced off at Assen that has hurt his chances for a 10th premier class title in 2016.  Blew an engine at Mugello in a race he might have won otherwise.  Despite a new two-year contract at Yamaha, he will need all his skill and a pile of bad luck for Marquez if he is to challenge this year.  In a déjà vu to 2008, he will have a fast, young, aggressive teammate next season in Maverick Vinales, who could push him farther than he seems to be going in 2016.
  4. Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda, 96 points.  No wins, two podiums, one DNF.  Though he denies it, Pedrosa, to me, appears to have lost his passion for racing.  He understands he will never win a premier class title.  He is not competitive on a bike being designed for his teammate.  He is signed with the Repsol team through 2018, but I don’t know why.  He is able to provide good feedback to the engineers, none of whom appear to be listening to him.  He has tax issues.  He flirted with Suzuki earlier this year before re-upping with Honda.  He is in danger of losing his Alien card, and is starting to remind me of Colin Edwards late in his career when he could be counted on to finish fifth.
  5. Maverick Vinales, Suzuki Ecstar, 83 points.  No wins, one podium, one DNF.  Ticketed to the factory Yamaha team for next season, his star is rising as quickly as Pedrosa’s is falling.  He could take Pedrosa’s Alien card from him next year, 2018 at the latest.  According to many he is The Next Great MotoGP Rider.  Last year’s Rookie of the Year turned 21 this past January and has a lot of racing in front of him.
  6. Pol Espargaro, Tech 3 Yamaha, 72 points.  No wins, no podiums, one DNF at The Sachsenring.  Prior to crashing out of the last round he had finished in the points every time out.  Top-ranked satellite rider on the grid, slated to join the nascent KTM factory team for its maiden season next year.  At 25 years old, he will likely never hold an Alien card, but he is fast and consistent.
  7. Hector Barbera, Avintia Ducati, 65 points.  Winless, he has finished in the points every time out in the midst of his best ever premier class season.  Having accumulated a grand total of 94 points in his last three seasons combined, he is getting lots of speed out of his two-year old Ducati.  Qualified in the middle of the first row in Germany.  At 29 years old, he is getting a little long in the tooth for this sport.  Were he to earn a newer version of the Desmo next year he could see some top five finishes.
  8.  Andrea Iannone, Factory Ducati, 63 points.  No wins, two podiums, four DNFs in a dumpster fire of a season in which I had tagged him for Alien status.  He has changed his nickname from Crazy Joe to The Maniac; to me, he is Loose Cannon, having taken both his teammate Andrea Dovizioso and rival Jorge Lorenzo out of races.  The most dangerous rider on the grid, he was encouraged by Ducati management to find new employment starting next year, and has been picked up by Suzuki Ecstar, where he will make life interesting for teammate Alex Rins in 2017 and 2018.  Has shortened the ubiquitous “win or bin” motto to just “bin.”
  9. Andrea Dovizioso, Factory Ducati, 59 points.  Two podiums, four DNFs and an empty bottle of Tums to show for his 2016 season.  He’s been poleaxed by Dani Pedrosa, chop-blocked by Andrea Dovizioso, and had an engine come loose on him before finally having earned a DNF in Race #2 at Assen, after leading Race #1 when it was red-flagged.  At age 30, having flirted with Alien status earlier in his career, he appears to be a good wingman for Lorenzo starting next year.  Steady, mature, reliable, drama-free, Dovizioso should not be sitting in ninth place at this point of the season.
  10. Eugene Laverty, Aspar Ducati, 53 points. #3 satellite rider on the grid, finished in the points every time out on his beat-up old Ducati.  Seems significantly faster than brother Michael who, it must be acknowledged, was stuck with even worse machinery than Eugene.  As of this writing Laverty is unsigned for 2017, despite being the highest placed Brit on the grid, if not the noisiest or most irritating.  In my unsolicited opinion he has earned a MotoGP seat for next season with one of the Ducati satellite teams.

Ihr Wochenende Prognose

As regards the weather in the Spielberg metro area, cool, wet conditions midweek are expected to give way to drier and gradually warmer weather for the weekend, with Sunday looking like the warmest day of the three.  The track is likely to be dirty from lack of recent use and a couple of days of rain.  FP1 and FP2 could present some surprises, with the slow track, riders not very familiar with the layout, and cool weather.  All of which leads me to predict that some unfamiliar names will show up in Q1.

As for the race itself, I can’t help but think the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team should be in the mix, along with Lorenzo and Marquez.  Rossi, pressing, can be expected to threaten the podium, too.  The dramatic changes in elevation resemble the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, and we all know who owns that joint.  Put a gun to my head and I’ll say Marquez, Lorenzo and Dovizioso on the podium Sunday; no idea as to which of the three will stand on the top step.

We’ll have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.

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