Since the Red Bull Ring and Austria returned to the calendar in 2016, only Ducati have won there. And that means, therefore, that reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) is yet to conquer Spielberg. Will 2019 be the year?
The signs look good. Marquez has only put together two better runs of podium finishes in his entire premier class career, and the number 93 seems to have turned up the wick of late. But no one is ever invincible; that’s already been proven this season at the Circuit of the Americas. And Marquez’ record in Austria is quite different.
So will it be Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) becoming the first repeat winner since the Red Bull Ring returned? His 2017 victory against Marquez was one of their many classic duels and the Italian was back on the podium at Brno after a more difficult few races. And then there’s teammate Danilo Petrucci, now a Grand Prix winner after that stunning victory at Mugello, and he could make it four different riders in a row to win for the Borgo Panigale factory. More than points, this weekend is pride on the line.
And can Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) get in the fight? He was on the podium at Brno for the second time this season and, earlier in the year, was the only man to have overtaken Marquez for some time. He’s top Independent Team rider too, having pulled out some breathing space on Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) in the standings, who incidentally hits a milestone of 150 Grands Prix. Crutchlow could also be one to watch in Austria, having come home just off the podium last season and the Honda remaining a match for the Ducati…
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), meanwhile, could face a more difficult weekend. Honda and Ducati have ruled in Austria and the Suzukis, like the Yamahas, may need to pull something special out the bag to contend. But to finish first, first you must finish and the Spaniard was back on it at Brno after two uncharacteristic crashes from podium contention before summer. What can he do? And can Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and teammate Maverick Viñales – who hits 150 GPs – create any magic in the mountains? Yamaha were a force to be reckoned with at the Brno test, but Austria is a very different venue.
The man on top at that test though was Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), and the rookie often doesn’t seem to play by the formbook of the factory team. Leading Rookie of the Year comfortably, he’ll likely have his sights set more on Crutchlow and Miller ahead of him in the Independent Team rider standings. But he’ll have to contend with teammate Franco Morbidelli, who will be eager to bounce back from a crash that was no fault of his own, and fellow Independent contenders like Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini).
And then, of course, there’s the home manufacturer: KTM. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) just can’t seem to stop impressing and has been one of only two riders to have scored in every race this season – the other being Petrucci. He’ll want to put on the show of the season on the Austrian factory’s home turf, especially after losing out on the chance last season through injury. And teammate Johann Zarco, fresh from taking KTM’s first front row last time out, will be out to prove a few things too. Can Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) and teammate Hafizh Syahrin showcase some pace as well?
Another weekend, another win. Alex Marquez (EG0,0 Marc VDS) obliterated Brno, and even worse news for those closest to him in the standings was the two rookies who followed him home: Fabio Di Giannantonio (Beta Tools Speed Up) and Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team), who were on incredible form to take their first podiums in the intermediate class. Because after a crash for Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) to boot, Marquez has a 33-point lead and some serious momentum.
So who can take the fight to the Championship leader? Last year Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) did for the podium, with Marquez dramatically crashing out at the final corner in their battle. Marini is one of only three riders in the class, along with Marquez and Lüthi, who has a podium in Austria. He’s also one of only two riders, along with Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP), who’s scored in every race this year. Can any of them upset the steamroller? Or what about Brno’s impressive rookies? Can they keep their momentum going?
There’s also Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) and Jorge Navarro (Beta Tools Speed Up) who are equal on points in third and fourth in the Championship respectively, and both have been key threats at times this season. And what about Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40)? He ruled the early part of the season and has now slipped down to sixth overall. Can he take home a bigger haul of points from the Red Bull Ring?
At the Red Bull Ring, though, the clue is in the name as to who will probably be pushing the hardest: Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Brad Binder. He took two podiums before the summer break and the South African will want to bounce back from a crash at Brno in some style at the home race for both the team’s title sponsor and manufacturer KTM. His teammate, Jorge Martin, will also be looking for some glory after the exploits of his fellow rookies last time out.
Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) struck back in style after the summer break, once more the man with the momentum and the Championship lead. But Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) did follow him home by just tenths and took another second place, his consistency this year becoming somewhat of a trademark. And so, as we head into the myWorld Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich, it’s still just three points in it.
Last year’s podium finishers have all moved into Moto2™ and the best either rider has achieved at the track is a fifth place, so neither is a specialist. But they do have the best finishes of the Moto3™ grid barring Albert Arenas (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team), who has a P4 to his name, so it’s a solid foundation to give both some confidence. It’s also a track where the lightweight class haven’t crossed the line in a group of riders separated by mere thousandths, so history shows there’s chance to bolt and find some breathing space – exactly what each is looking for in the standings.
Another rider high on confidence heading into Austria, however, will be Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) as the Italian put in an unbelievable comeback at Brno. Forced to start from pitlane after a problem on the grid, the man third in the Championship cut his way through from dead last to get into the battle for the podium. The fairy-tale didn’t end in a rostrum finish but it was only five tenths off the win in fifth; a fairly serious statement of a ride.
And then there’s the likes of Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers), on the podium again in Czechia, and Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai), who was only just off it. John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) was on the front row and never got to show his pace after his startline incident. Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) will want to bounce back from failing to score, as will the likes of Qatar winner Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia), who crashed out.
The fight for Rookie of the Year is also heating up after a DNF for leader Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46), with Japanese rider Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) now within striking distance of the Italian after some solid consistency and form. He’s now had three top six finishes in the last four races and Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) isn’t far off Ogura, either.
Fernandez will also have some more company in the box this weekend: home hero Max Kofler wildcards with the Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team, gaining more experience. There’s nowhere better than one of the most beautiful tracks in the world and there’s no place like home.
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