Honda Racing took a turn slapping the competition around at Brno. This week, in a country synonymous with mountains, beer halls, and alarming political geneses, Ducati Corse gets its chance. The Track with Only Nine Turns hosts Round 11 of the 2017 MotoGP championship on Sunday. Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci and Jorge Lorenzo need to make hay while the sun shines, because Honda man-child Marc Marquez is pulling away from the field.
One of the truths of racing in general is that, on any given weekend, your chances of kicking away a possible championship exceed your chances of seizing it by the throat. Marc Marquez, the exception to many rules, could crash in Turn 1 of Lap 1 this week and still be in the heart of the chase, if somewhat humbled. But for his four chasers – teammate Dani Pedrosa, Yamaha bros Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi, and Ducati rep Dovizioso – crashing out of the points at this stage could spell the end of their year. For Marquez, this is Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. For his pursuers, it is already Game 6, and they’re behind.
Overlooked Details from Brno
The announcers and I missed the fact that rookie Jonas Folger, one of the year’s great surprises on the Tech 3 Yamaha, could have podiumed on Sunday had his crew not been asleep at the switch. Starting 14th, Folger was right behind Marquez entering the pits at the end of Lap 2. Whether Marquez’ early stop had been planned or not (probably had), Folger’s was completely spontaneous and completely correct. Had his #2 bike been ready, he could have followed Marquez around all day and perhaps had a second consecutive silver. Or a maiden premier class win.
His crew, with the bike not yet set up for the dry, waved him off, causing him to have to take, in effect, a voluntary ridethrough penalty. He pitted again after Lap 3, changed bikes, and fought his way to a respectable 10th place finish. Another example of how the Repsol Honda crew dominates their competition, an aspect of racing that goes largely unnoticed. The other teams are WAY behind the factory Honda bunch.
One more thing: Pol Espargaro (9th) scored KTM’s first premier class top-ten finish on Sunday. We trust it won’t be their last.
Recent History at Red Bull Ring
A number of writers would, gratuitously, try to summarize this segment of the preview in a single sentence. In its debut season, last year’s Austrian round saw Ducati pilots Andrea Iannone and Dovi lead the factory Yamahas on a merry chase through the bucolic Teutonic countryside, followed by everyone else. Stunts like this could explain why we have difficulty securing pressbox credentials for most races.
Mental Exercise, Austria-Style
Just for grins, imagine the following (okay, unlikely) scenario for this weekend’s race: Marquez gets a DNF. Pedrosa somehow wins with Dovizioso second. Rossi snakes Viñales for third. The standings going into Round 12 would look like the this.
Stranger things have happened, just not in this present life cycle.
Caution: Re-Tranching in Process
Comparing the rankings after Rounds 9 and 10:
After Round 9:
Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
Tranche 2: Zarco, Petrucci, Folger, Bautista, Pedrosa, Crutchlow
Tranche 3: Lorenzo, Barbera, Miller, A Espargaro
Tranche 4: Redding, Baz, Abraham, P Espargaro, Iannone
Tranche 5: Rabat, Smith, Lowes, Rins
After Round 10:
Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Pedrosa ↑
Tranche 2: Zarco, Petrucci, Folger, Crutchlow, A Espargaro ↑
Tranche 3: Barbera, Miller, Bautista↓, Baz ↑, Rins ↑↑
Tranche 4: Abraham, P Espargaro, Iannone, Lorenzo↓
Tranche 5: Redding ↓, Rabat, Smith, Lowes
Four riders moving up, three moving down. This thing should not change that much, meaning I am probably placing too much emphasis on Brno. However, Pedrosa has proven he is still a tier one rider in the right conditions. Aleix Espargaro could have easily finished sixth on Sunday. Loris Baz qualified for Q2, crashed out of 14th place. I am itching to drop Jack Miller like a bad habit now that he has checked out with Honda. I suspect he will make that task easy for me in the weeks and months to come.
Alex Rins missed a top ten finish in his first real return to health on the Suzuki by 5/100ths of a second, causing him to jump two levels. And Lonesome Jorge Lorenzo has now worked himself back into Tranche 4, a measure of the difficulty of changing one’s world championship riding style. It appears muscle memory, once attained, takes a long time to forget. Like Iannone, he is trying to re-program his lizard brain, which has mutated in response to years of Yamaha inputs. Thought he could do what Rossi couldn’t; the sin of pride. Be humble or get humbled, I say.
Much is made of the Autodromo’s nickname, The Czech Adrenaline Factory. It is compared to that of Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, The Horsepower Rodeo. Totally unaware that these tracks even had mottos and nicknames, I came up with some ideas for other venues that may lack a snappy moniker:
- The Sachsenring: Ve Have Vays
- Assen: Roll with Us at Assen
- Rio Hondo: Nowhere → 1000km
- Sepang: Bungle in the Jungle
- Silverstone: Next Year in Ebbw Vale!
- Valencia: Let Valencia Decide
Readers with other ideas are welcome to submit them below in the Comments section. Good luck coming up with something funnier than Argentina.
Finland is on the MotoGP calendar beginning in 2019. Dorna’s expansion plans are becoming very Wide World of Sports-ish – “the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, spanning the globe,” from the steaming tarmac of Malaysia to the frozen tundra of Finland, imposing unbelievable strains on our teams in pursuit of the almighty euro.
Thailand and Indonesia are banging on the door, demanding to be let in, presaging two Pacific flyaways. With the global motorcycle and scooter markets booming, most notably in the Asia Pacific region, the calendar, like everything else, follows the money. Must be true in Finland, too.
A 20-round calendar can’t be far away.
Your Weekend Forecast
Weather conditions for the weekend should provide something for every taste and budget. Friday is forecast to be wet, Saturday less so, and Sunday clear, cool and breezy. Wet practice sessions leading up to a dry race can be a problem for the riders and teams early in the season. At this point, they’ve all been there, done that. If there is a salient point somewhere in here, it’s that the temps are not expected to be warm enough Sunday to help the Hondas overcome the built-in strengths of the Ducati GP17 on a simple layout like this.
Which in turn means that the smart money will be on Ducatis on Sunday, notably Dovi and Petrucci. Marquez is bound to be a factor; Pedrosa, who will likely have trouble getting his tires up to temperature, not so much. The factory Yamahas, based upon last year’s race, will battle for the third podium spot; my money is on Viñales.
The races go off early Sunday morning again in the U.S. Look for results and analysis right here Sunday afternoon.