Ducati’s return to MotoGP’s winner’s circle, Johann Zarco’s decimation of the Moto2 field, and how Romano Fenati lost the most-coveted Moto3 ride in the paddock…if we’re talking about all these things then it must be the Austrian GP, and it must be Episode 35 of the Paddock Pass Podcast.
This installment of your two-wheeled racing addiction sees David Emmett, Neil Morrison, Tony Goldsmith, and Scott Jones covering all the major topics from MotoGP’s first stop at the Red Bull Ring, along with some pointed insights.
The Austrian track is officially the fastest circuit on the GP calendar, and unofficially it might be the most picturesque as well. The guys talk about the new venue, and the racing it produced. There’s a lot to cover though, so the show is a healthy hour and thirty minutes. We think you’ll enjoy it though.
As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!
The rain finally came at 7:30pm, just as we were leaving the track. From Saturday night, the threat of rain at 2pm on Sunday – race time, local time – had hung over the Red Bull Ring in Austria, scaring riders at the prospect of racing on the circuit in the wet.
Though everyone feared the effect of the rain on the excessive asphalt run-off, some were more worried than others. After two dismal results in the wet, Jorge Lorenzo had to get his championship back on track. In the cold and the wet, Lorenzo struggled. In the sun, Lorenzo could shine. Even against the Ducatis.
He got his wish, as did the reported 95,000 people in the crowd, who had flocked to the Austrian circuit for their first taste of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in the country for the better part of twenty years.
And what a taste it was. A brutal, thrilling opener of a Moto3 race, competitive to the line, with a new and popular winner. A fierce fight in Moto2, which took two-thirds of the race to settle. And a scintillating and intense MotoGP race that had the crowd holding their breath.
The Spielberg track may not be a classic motorcycle track, but it produced some fantastic racing from the Grand Prix bikes.
So much for Ducati domination. Sure, the two factory Ducatis are on the front row, Andrea Iannone on pole, Andrea Dovizioso in third, but they did not destroy the competition in qualifying the way they did so in practice on Friday.
Austria is still Ducati’s best chance of a win since Casey Stoner left for Honda at the end of the 2010 season, but it is no longer the sure thing it seemed on Friday.
What happened? A lot of things, but most of all, the weather improved dramatically. That certainly helped Jorge Lorenzo find some confidence, and put him back into contention after a couple of tough races. Valentino Rossi found some acceleration, and improved his pace.
Marc Márquez worked on making up on the brakes what he is losing in acceleration. That puts the Ducatis, the Yamahas, and Márquez all within a tenth or two of each other in race pace. We really are going to have to wait for the fat lady to start singing on this one.
It’s the Sachsenring all over again. Or almost: when the MotoGP bikes were here in July, air temperatures were in the low 30s, and track temperature was around 50°C. During FP1, the air temperature was just 9°, and track temperature was 14°C.
“The temperature this morning was pretty extreme,” Jorge Lorenzo said after practice was over. “Only a few times in my life have we been riding in such cold conditions.”
Cold temperatures meant cold tire crashes, especially in the morning. The most obvious was Dani Pedrosa’s crash, who fell at Turn 9 as he touched the front brake, the front folding as if the track were wet.
The crash caused the session to be red-flagged, as Pedrosa’s Honda ended up puncturing the air fence and landing on top of the tire barrier.
The crash seemed to be a warning of the excesses of tarmac run off, but Pedrosa was happy that there wasn’t a gravel trap at the edge of the track. “I crashed in fifth gear, so I was going very fast,” Pedrosa said.
“From one point of view I think, most of the run-off area was asphalt so maybe the bike didn’t decelerate enough. But on the other side I was very lucky it was only asphalt, because I crashed so fast that if I went into the gravel I would have tumbled over and over with a lot of speed.”
There are upsides to asphalt run off sometimes.
Who is the real Jorge Lorenzo? Like Marc Márquez, it sometimes looks like Jorge Lorenzo’s place has been taken by an impostor in Movistar Yamaha leathers.
The swap would have taken place at Barcelona: in the first six races of the season, Lorenzo’s results included three wins, two second places and a crash in tricky conditions in Argentina.
From Barcelona onwards, Lorenzo was taken out by Andrea Iannone as he dropped down through the field, with a tenth and a fifteenth place finish. Tenth at Assen was Lorenzo’s worst finish in MotoGP since his rookie season. Three weeks later, he had his worst finish in Grand Prix racing since 2004.
What has happened to Lorenzo? It is hard to say whether his results at Assen and the Sachsenring represent a decline of Lorenzo’s form, or whether they were merely a collapse in confidence in difficult conditions at two of the circuits which have caused him the most physical and mental pain in the past.
Why do they call it Silly Season? Its origins lie in the 19th Century, when a London publication found itself concocting trivial stories to try to pad out its pages. Its meaning has mutated to cover any story consisting mainly of speculation and rumor meant to fill empty column inches.
And in motorcycle racing, it has come to mean the period of time during which riders and teams are negotiating over new contracts, and working on who will be riding where the following season.
This year, Silly Season has needed a new name. It has gone from beyond silly to being outright insane. In a normal year, riders touch base with teams at Jerez, start talks in earnest at Mugello, and sign contracts during the summer break, announcing deals at the first race after the break.
But this is no normal year. As we approach the first race after the summer break of 2016, all but two of the twenty-three seats in MotoGP have already been filled, officially or unofficially, and Silly Season is basically over.
The madness started before the season had even begun. At the Movistar Yamaha launch in January, Jorge Lorenzo stated publicly that he wanted to sign a new deal with the team before the start of the season.
Yamaha did its part, sending offers to both Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi in the period before the first race at Qatar. Lorenzo did not sign his deal, however. Valentino Rossi did.
The seven time MotoGP champion has tied his long term future to Yamaha, and never seriously looked elsewhere. Yamaha and Rossi will be making money for each other for many years to come.
The second day of testing at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria saw the Ducatis continue to dominate the timesheets, as times continued to tumble.
It was Andrea Iannone’s turn to top the timesheets, the Italian posting a very fast lap to beat his teammate Andrea Dovizioso by nearly half a second.
Test rider Casey Stoner set the third fastest time, though a late fall at the end of the session hampered any further improvement. Stoner put the fall down to using soft tires for the first time in four years.
He was unhurt in the crash, but ran out of time to get back out on track. Stoner has spent all his time testing the GP16 without wings, while the two factory riders tested the bike with wings.
Starting on pole, or at least on the front row, is important at every race track, but at the Sachsenring, it is doubly so. There are very few passing opportunities at the German circuit: Turn 1, though it is not easy. Turn 12, after the run down the hill.
And if you are smart, Turn 13, the final corner, but that is usually only possible if you have just been passed on the way into Turn 12, and the rider who passed you is now off line.
So a strong qualifying is crucial. Normally, that means the fastest riders make their way to the front of the grid. But not on Saturday.
At the Sachsenring, a series of crashes meant that the grid had a strangely unfamiliar look. Three satellite riders on the two front rows, and two riders universally acknowledged to have the strongest pace well down the field.
At least they weren’t crashing in Turn 11. With the sun out, the asphalt significantly warmer, and with riders having learned the hard way that they need to get the line right through that viciously fast corner, riders were instead finding different ways to crash.
Andrea Iannone went down unexpectedly at Turn 1. Jorge Lorenzo hit the deck at Turn 8, then again at Turn 1, bringing his crash total for the weekend to three.