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.

Andrea Iannone posted the fastest lap in a private test at the Red Bull Ring last month with an unofficial time of 1:23:240. The only other riders to come in under 1:24 were teammate Andrea Dovizioso and a Ducati test rider by the name of Casey Stoner.

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.

081016-motogp-austria-preview-Two turns

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

081016-motogp-austria-preview-Three turns

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval layout would be great, too, with only four turns:

081016-motogp-austria-preview-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.

081016-motogp-austria-preview-Circuit_Red_Bull_Ring

According to some F1 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

Honda did not take part in the two-day Red Bull Ring test but Marc Marquez did take the RC213V to the streets in a promotional event ahead of this weekend.

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.
Maverick Vinales isn’t quite in the upper tier of racers yet but he’s getting closer and closer with every race.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
The KTM RC16 MotoGP prototype will make its public debut Saturday with test riders Miko Kallio and Alex Hofmann taking it out for some demonstration laps. Kallio will race the RC16 as a wildcard at Valencia.
  1. 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 Dovizioso and rival 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.”
  2. 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 Pedrosa, chop-blocked by Iannone, 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.
  3. 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.

Jorge Lorenzo is currently second in the championship standings but it doesn’t feel like it. With several weeks off and a couple of lackluster races, Lorenzo hasn’t had a podium since May 22.

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 late Sunday.

  • Old MOron

    Good stuff, Brucey. I love how Cal never escapes your attention. As for the podium, I can’t agree with your forecast this week. I’m thinking that, provided they don’t destroy their tires, it will be an all-Ducati affair. Marquez will be content to finish ahead of the blue bikes.

  • JMDonald

    A great track makes for a great race. There is no bigger handicap than great potential. I hope the race is as good as the preview. It is Moto GP you know.

  • Old MOron

    Hmm, I just found a quote from Dovi:
    “[W]e will have to see what tyres Michelin will bring for the GP, because wear is very high here, you slide around a lot and the tyres will struggle to complete a race distance.”

    And from Bibendum:
    “Michelin … have duly created two ‘new’ medium and hard rears for the race weekend, which have been ‘developed from the tyres tested at Spielberg’.”

    So Michelin is bringing harder tires this weekend. That means the Duc’s grip may not be as good as it was during the test. Still, once the bike stretches its legs, it should outpace the Hondas. But they should have some real braking battles at the ends of the long straights. This would normally favor Dovi, but he can’t brake as well on the Michelins as he did on the B’stones.

    Additionally, since Vale and Vinales are supposed to be good at conserving their tires, maybe they’ll figure late in the race.

    And Lorenzo? Let’s hope it rains :-)

    • Bruce Allen

      Yeah, I know. I vaguely remember hearing about tire wear during the testing, then went out and located one or two F-1 publications that described it as low grip, low abrasion. Perhaps low grip for the 4 wheelers does not translate for the bikes?

    • Jeevan Chaukar

      Rossi hasn’t been top of the consistency game this year – but you can never ignore him…He might spring a surprise – isn’t that something all of us would be hoping for? :-)

  • john phyyt

    I thought these “Paper Clip” track designs were deeply unfashionable.

    ” These shit ,point and squirt, tracks really don’t suit true Moto GP professionals”

    Just Preparing an excuse for he of tranche five.

    • Bruce Allen

      And here I was showing all this restraint. Lost on you, I can see. Hilarious comment. (Actually, with him not in the top ten it was easy.)

      • Old MOron

        I’ve been thinking about your self-professed restraint. Are you really becoming more restrained, or just more subtle?

        “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.”

        As I said in my first post, good stuff, Brucey!

        • Bruce Allen

          I was including young Mr. Redding “I deserve a factory ride” in this slur as well.

    • Old MOron

      Wow, he of tranche five was the fastest Honda rider today. It’s like watching a Cohen Bros movie.

      • Bruce Allen

        Marquez is just warming up. Look for him to fly tomorrow.

        • Old MOron

          Since this is supposed to be horsepower track, how is it that el Maverick is doing so well? Maybe I’m incorrectly equating Suzuki’s power with Aprilia’s. Do the Suzuki’s have any beans?

          • Bruce Allen

            If they snuck a new engine with more grunt in during vacay, which I’m pretty sure they’re allowed to do, they sure kept quiet about it. People were commenting about what an easy track it is; those people presumably do not include #93, who now has a shoulder issue and may be concussed as well. With Brno on the horizon, this is a bad time for him to come up hurt, or out. Of course, one could look back at Silverstone 2013 and not be too worried about MM tomorrow. The Ducs are a blur, though.

      • Bruce Allen

        Right, and on his way to Q1. See John Phytt comment above!

        • Old MOron

          Very impressive. He outdid all of the satellite Ducs today.

    • Bruce Allen

      And Q1.

  • Gruf Rude

    Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi should just hang back and wait for Iannone to do his bowling ball imitation on all the other fast Ducati ‘pins’ and then cruise to the podium on their completely fragged new Michelins . . .

  • Starmag

    All I’ve got this week is praise. I’m usually so busy cracking wise myself that I haven’t given credit where due. This article and all your others are filled with tasty sarcastic humor as well as being well researched and informative. I’m also a fan of Emmett but he’s nowhere as much fun to read. Kudos.

    • Bruce Allen

      I’ve tried to get David to post some of my stuff as “guest columnist.” He has steadfastly refused, adding to my respect for the depth of his knowledge of the sport. But I appreciate the kind words and agree that you’ll get more laughs, if not insights, from me than you will from him.

  • Vrooom

    Interesting there are so few turns in that track. Should be interesting, I’m going to go Lorenzo, Iannone (Crazy Maniacal Joe), Dovizioso. Marquez and Rossi can fight over 4th and 5th.

  • Old MOron

    That was an exciting Q2 today. Can’t wait for the race tomorrow.

    • Bruce Allen

      I still have trouble believing in the Ducs. Remember back in 2011 when Sic would qualify second and finish eighth? Until they win a race, I’m still believing in The Aliens. (Except for Pedrosa, who appears to have mailed it in this weekend. It must be very hard being Dani Pedrosa these days.) But if the Reds are going to win a race in 2016, it should be here.

      • Old MOron

        Oh ye of little faith :-)
        At least your confidence in Jorge was justified.

        • Bruce Allen

          You’re mentioned, obliquely, in the results article. :)

          • Old MOron

            Thanks, I hope I fare better than Cal and Scott did in their oblique reference! :-)

  • Old MOron

    Oh no! Naughty Fenati has been suspended by his own team? I guess he’s a bit of a hothead. Remember when he tripped Niklas Ajo’s kill switch? That was hilarious! I guess it’s not so funny when he directs anger at his own team.

    • Bruce Allen

      Man, you keep up with Moto3 too? Where do you find the time? I think these young Italian guns will be gunning in MotoGP by, like, 2019.