MotoGP entered the second half of the 2016 season with a leisurely trip around the circuit boasting the fastest average speed of the year. Spielberg once again heard the protesting scream of Grand Prix prototype machines after a hiatus of almost two decades from the FIM World Championship calendar and Austria was primed for the fastest show on two wheels; the picturesque location 200km from Vienna duly delivering with sunshine and blue skies and a 95,000 attendance (Sunday) that drank it all in.
In the wake of a hot two-day test and the chance for the MotoGP field to get acquainted with the unrelenting kinks, cambers and wonky straights of the Austrian layout last month (only Valentino Rossi had previously competed at the circuit once known as the A1 Ring back in 1997) it was clear that this would be a happy course for the horsepower and acceleration of the factory Ducatis.
And so it would come to pass. The ‘Andreas’ – Iannone and Dovizioso – controlled the twenty-eight laps of round ten of eighteen with Movistar Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi initially providing a blue shadow but then reduced to a spectating role when the Desmosedicis’ pushed the limits of the Michelins, and Iannone celebrated a maiden success. Lorenzo remained error-free to defy Rossi and bury the drama of the previous two rounds in Germany and Holland where the World Champ barely scored points. “This third place is almost like a victory,” the Spaniard smiled. “When you have won many races like I have had the opportunity to do in my career then third place is not the same as a victory but today third was a realistic position, and if nothing strange happened then it was the maximum. I pushed the whole race to do it.”
“Every time I don't make results then it is ‘Lorenzo’s in crisis’,” he continued. “This has happened many times but it’s the sport and this is MotoGP: sometimes the circumstances are not the best and you just have to do the best that you can, don't get injured and wait for your moment. We have been working a lot and waiting to demonstrate again that I can go for the win.”
Rossi showed promise on Saturday to occupy a position on the first row of the grid but a braking issue meant that he could not demote his teammate. “I’m not happy with fourth because my target was the podium but I was able to push and was just three seconds away from the victory,” Rossi said. “It was difficult conditions for all…but for me it was difficult to brake and get out of the corners; I would have been risking too much for more than we had.”
LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow crossed the line in fifteenth place after reacting too quickly to the start lights and suffering a pit lane ride through penalty that dropped the new father to the rear of the pack. “They held us too long on the light, I let the clutch out too early and that was it,” ‘35’ explained. “It was my mistake but I thought the penalty was very harsh but some others did it [jumped the start] also and if they had the penalty and I didn't then there would have been some uproar. I went, stopped and lost ten places and didn't even go over the line. It was disappointing because we had great pace back on the track. Anyway I made sure we finished the race and played with some switches and got some information; I got one point which is one point more than four other races next year!”
Austria was a mixed day for Monster Yamaha Tech3 duo Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. The Spaniard was continually searching for feeling and confidence through the long braking zones and ran to tenth…just behind Smith. “The result was not too bad…but I was disappointed I could not pass Scott Redding,” the Englishman said. “We made a miscalculation with fuel consumption and once I got going it was one of those races where nothing went right! I don't believe the package we have can do any more…but we have to keep doing the best we can and smile about a ninth position.”
World Champion Johann Zarco was predictably the man to catch in Moto2 but first had to deal with the breakaway pace of Marc VDS rider Franco Morbidelli. The Italian tried his hardest to made the Frenchman sweat and extend a run of dominance over the weekend that included the fastest lap-time in five from the six sessions that Moto2 warmed the asphalt. It was the fourth win from the last five Grands Prix for Zarco who now leads the standings by 34 points over Alex Rins; the Catalan’s superb charge from fifth place to third included plenty of risk but delivered his fifth podium appearance of the year and kept him in the title chase. Disaster for Federal Oil Gresini’s Sam Lowes who crashed twice and regrettably sustained his second DNF in a row.
Moto3 forged a leading quintet with inches separating the gaggle until the final laps and a gripping dice for the three podium slots. Triumph was snared by just two tenths of a second by Majorcan Joan Mir for the rookie’s very first set of victory spurs as Brad Binder increased his championship cushion.
More speed, curves and flicks lay in store for MotoGP in a matter of days with the paddock moving swiftly on to Brno for the HJC Helmets Czech Republic Grand Prix; annually one of the busiest and most vibrant events on the slate.