Seven days is a long time in politics; 0.130 of a second a long time in a motorcycle race. At least it is in a good one.
And one week after a record-breaking thriller at Brno, the same three riders, Lorenzo, Marquez and Dovi did it all over again in Austria.
The order was shuffled, the tension preserved, and the last-lap excitement repeated. This year’s championship may be a touch predictable, as Marquez further extends his enormous lead. The race results are not.
The Red Bull Ring circuit on the pre-Alpine hillsides near Spielberg has a short and simple layout, concentrating on braking, acceleration … and speed, the fastest track of the year – Andrea Dovizioso’s new lap record, sent on the sixth of 28 laps, raised the average to 184.4 km/h – some three km/h faster than Australia’s Phillip Island.
But Brno winner Dovi was still not fast enough to be involved in Sunday’s final battle.
It was left to his Ducati team-mate Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda). And after an increasingly frantic exchange of first position, a third win of the year (the 47th in his career) went to Lorenzo, by just over a tenth.
It was Ducati’s second in a row, and the red bikes’ third in succession at the track that all weekend Marquez had been calling “Ducati-land”.
“I have had some beautiful wins, but this was one of my best,” said Lorenzo, who for a second race had abandoned his usual run-away tactics to save tyres and energy in the early laps. “When you beat Marc it is always special … when you have to fight with a monster like him to the last lap.”
Marquez had equally enjoyed the race. “We lost the battle, but we increased our lead,” he said, now 49 points clear of Valentino Rossi, whose Movistar Yamaha was a distant but still impressive sixth today.
Dovi in third couldn’t hide his disappointment. He’d been held up in the early laps behind Lorenzo, and was forced to change his usual riding style. He thought this might have caused his later tyre drop off, “though you can never know. But the good thing if you make a mistake [with tyre choice] is you can learn from it for next time.”
Unusually, the top three were all using different tyres; Lorenzo soft front and rear, Marquez medium front/hard rear and Dovi medium at both ends. This dictated Lorenzo’s early caution, and an aggressive start for Marquez, though as the latter explained later: “When the tyres drop, the differences are on the straights.”
The variety was at least partly because of a shortage of time to explore options. There had been only two dry free practices, after heavy rain struck on Friday afternoon, and Saturday morning was still wet. Sunday however was balmy.
Cal Crutchlow was once again top independent-team rider, after a steadfast gallop to fourth on the LCR Castrol Honda. Unable to go with the leaders in the early laps as he waited for his hard front tyre to come in, he’d then had to fend off a hard-pressing Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Ducati); but by the end he was alone.
The podium trio had started together from the front row, Marquez on pole from Dovi by a minuscule two thousandths, but Dovi leading him into the first corner, and Lorenzo ahead at the end of the first lap after the three had tangled at Turn 3’s hard braking zone.
This was Marquez’s favourite passing spot, and on lap two he used it to take a lead he would hold until lap 18; with Dovi third, peering over Lorenzo’s shoulder, but never able to get by. After lap 12 the lead had stretched to almost a full second, and the race was taking on a familiar feel. Then things started to change.
One or two tenths at a time, Lorenzo was closing. The red bike’s power was a significant factor on the drag-strip straights … but not the only factor. It’s never just as simple as opening the twist-grip.
At the start of lap 19, Lorenzo pounced into the first corner. At the same time, Dovi was caught out – almost hitting Marquez’s back wheel and running wide. He lost touch, albeit only narrowly, and would never get back into an attacking position.
Marquez fought straight back. And so did Lorenzo. They would be only inches apart for the rest of the race, with the Honda in front again three or four more times, almost always at Turn 3, but never for very long. They were shaping up for the final battle.
They started the last lap with Marquez a couple of hundredths ahead over the line, Lorenzo retaking the lead into the first corner. There’s a fast kink next, then Turn 3. Lorenzo ran in wide, giving Marquez room, and he took the bait. But Lorenzo was able to open the throttle sooner, and get back ahead, and to hold off the furiously pressing Honda to the line.
Dovi was less than two seconds behind, and watched as Marquez’s final attempt to line up Lorenzo through the last two corners went wrong as both wheels slid under braking.
Crutchlow was alone, another eight seconds away.
Four more, and then the Petrucci/Rossi/Pedrosa trio, the latter pair having passed a fading Rins with three laps to go. It had been a fine effort from Rossi, who started from 14th, finished the first lap 11th, and gained places all race long, in spite of acceleration problems so bad they had prompted an extraordinary public apology from Yamaha the day before.
Next up, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha) regained two places on the last lap from Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Ducati – through from a slow start) and fast starter Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Ducati).
The increasingly dispirited Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) was a couple of seconds behind in 12th, never on the pace but ahead of Andrea Iannone (Ecstar Suzuki), who had been in the group chasing the leaders until running of at Turn 3. Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Idemitsu Honda) took the last of the points; Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha) missed out by less than half a second.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) faded badly to 17th after a strong start well up in the top ten; likewise 18th-placed Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Ducati), with tyre overheating problems.
Marquez has won five of the first ten races and been off the podium only twice for a massive points lead, 201 to 142 for Rossi, whose second is coming under threat. Lorenzo took over third from Dovi, 130:129; Vinales has 113.
By Michael Scott