By any measure, today’s Austrian Grand Prix was an eventful race. The starting grid featured an all-Italian front row for the first time since Motegi in 2006. Andrea Iannone, late of the factory Ducati team, won his career first premier class race, several whiskers in front of teammate Andrea Dovizioso. Ducati bikes finished 1st and 2nd for the first time since Phillip Island in 2007. But once the celebration dies down, the Bologna factory may need a reality check, as explained below.
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.
Misfortune having found Movistar Yamaha icons Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo last time out in Assen, Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez looks to be getting away with the 2016 MotoGP championship. For the riders currently trailing Marquez, i.e., everyone, the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland couldn’t come at a worse time.
Here’s some eye candy for you: Honda’s MotoGP bike for the street, the RC213V-S, the picturesque Red Bull Ring in Austria, and Repsol Honda riders Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa ripping laps in their Alpinestars Tech-Air Race suits as they learn a new circuit on the MotoGP calendar. And speaking of Pedrosa, listen in as he narrates a lap of the track from memory.
The 86th running of the Dutch TT Assen featured so many zany antics that a simple line listing would exceed the space available for this story. Australian Jack Miller’s first premier class win aboard the Marc VDS Honda sits at the top of this list, even though it took him two tries, as the first race was red-flagged after 14 laps. Valentino Rossi recorded his third DNF of the season, his once-high hopes for 2016 in tatters. And Marc Marquez, in deep yogurt early in the first race, leaves Assen with some breathing room between himself and the Yamahas in the 2016 world championship chase.
Seems like months ago when Ducati wildman Andrea Iannone T-boned Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona, handing the Mallorcan his second DNF of the season and costing him the 2016 championship lead. The triple world champion must now commence his attack on Honda wünderkind and series leader Marc Marquez at a venue where his recent fortunes have ranged from bad to worse. Meanwhile, teammate and rival Valentino Rossi and Marquez look to pick things up where they left off last June as we steam into Round 8 of 2016, The Motul TT Assen.
Just like Bruce Allen says in his preview of Catalunya, “Suddenly, the season is getting away from Rossi.” Can the chosen one earn his first win in Barcelona in seven years? Is it a foregone conclusion that one of the three dominant Spaniards will win? Or maybe the kid from Figueres will mark his arrival as an official alien, having now sewn up the Yamaha contract, by winning on homeground. The spoilers to the party are Dovizioso and Iannone, both with something to prove.
Heading into Mugello two weeks ago, the world appeared to be Movistar Yamaha matinee idol Valentino Rossi’s oyster. Sure, he was sitting in third place, courtesy of his slide-off in Austin. But he was within striking distance of both Repsol Honda nemesis Marc Marquez and teammate/rival Jorge Lorenzo. His sense of the moment led many to expect a dramatic win at his home crib. Instead, a blown engine on Sunday has put him squarely behind the eight ball, the not-so-magic eight ball that had falsely predicted something grand in Scarperia.
For those of you whose loyalties lie elsewhere, let’s be clear: Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo deserved to win the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM today. After a poor qualifying session on Saturday, he slingshotted his way into the lead in Turn 1 of Lap 1, withstood heated challenges from teammate Valentino Rossi and rival Marc Marquez, and crossed the finish line a blink of an eye in front of Marquez. But heading into the second third of the 2016 season, storm clouds are building on his horizon.
Mugello used to be, for Valentino Rossi, what Phillip Island was for Casey Stoner. During his salad days, between 2002 and 2008, Rossi stood on the top step of the podium at his home track seven straight times, while Stoner won the Australian Grand Prix six times from 2007-2012. On race days, the two old priests at the Catholic church in Tavullia, Rossi’s home town, would watch the race, get a load on with the locals, and ring the church bells afterwards. The bells have been silent after the Italian Grand Prix for the past seven years.
The record books will show that Yamaha defector Jorge Lorenzo won today’s French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi. The mainstream racing media will be busy slavering over young Maverick Vinales, who put a Suzuki on the podium for the first time since Loris Capirossi did so at Brno in 2008. The real story of today’s race, however, was the eight riders, including at least three contenders, who crashed out as if the race had been run in the wet, marking the first time the Rain Gods have ruined a race on a clear sunny day.
Round 5 of the 2016 MotoGP championship brings those daring young men on their wingleted machines to the French countryside for the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France. The Loire river valley is wine country and, as most folks know, you need rain and mild temperatures to grow a decent sauvignon blanc. What’s good for the grapes is, unfortunately, bad for motorcycle racing. Without a clue who might win Sunday’s race, it’s a safe bet that the Rain Gods will play a part in the outcome.
Just when we thought we knew what to expect from the 2016 MotoGP season, today happened. The practice sessions leading up to the (first of four) Spanish Grand Prix found the factory Yamaha team consistently at or near the top of the charts. Repsol Honda wonderkid Marc Marquez was competitive while struggling with rear grip. Valentino Rossi waited until the last lap of Q2 to lay down the fastest lap of the weekend, for his first Jerez pole since 2005. Today, The Doctor made a house call on Jorge Lorenzo, “administering a dose of his own medicine” in winning at Jerez for the first time since 2009.
So Jorge Lorenzo’s move from the factory Yamaha team to the factory Ducati team is now old news. Maverick Vinales appears set to abandon the Suzuki team to take Lorenzo’s place. We don’t know which of the current Andreas laboring for Ducati will be dislodged next year, but Sam Lowes has been tagged to move up from Moto2 to unseat either Alvaro Bautista or Stefan Bradl on the Gresini Aprilia. Dani Pedrosa’s seat with Repsol Honda appears to be in play; Suzuki is said to covet him or Andrea Dovizioso for 2017-18. With several up-and-comers expected to graduate from Moto2 along with Lowes – Alex Rins and Johann Zarco first and foremost – the silly season is becoming more interesting than the 2016 championship season itself.