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It is but a short trip up the road from Spielberg to Brno, but it is a journey between two very different worlds.
From the hyper-modern facility at the Red Bull Ring, to the frayed-around-the-edges buildings of Brno. From a track which has been missing from the calendar for the best part of twenty years to a circuit which has seen racing almost since its inception, where teams often come to test.
From a track with a paucity of corners, all hard braking and acceleration, to one which flows from corner to corner, where bikes mostly exit in third gear when getting on the gas.
The starkest difference between the Red Bull Ring and Brno is the layout. Both tracks snake up and down hillsides, but where Austria is a track stuck up against a mountain, Brno is a winding road which threads its way through hills and vales.
Where Spielberg is basically seven corners, three of which are almost hairpins, all fourteen of Brno’s corners are long and flowing.
Ironically, Brno’s flowing layout makes it somewhat more simple to set up a bike for it. All of the corners are similar, with no camber and needing the same approach.
“The set up is more important than at other tracks because all the corners are similar,” Danilo Petrucci explained to us on Thursday. “You have to be good on braking and especially the feeling of the front. Because for more than 50% of the track you are on the edge of the tire.”
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.
Before the start of the 2016 season, many insiders, including several MotoGP riders, were telling anyone who would listen to look out for Dani Pedrosa.
The new Michelin tires played perfectly into his hands. The extra grip of the powerful Michelin rear gave him the grip he had been missing with the Bridgestones, and his smoothness with the throttle was helping to overcome the limitations of the spec-electronics.
Pedrosa was the unanimous outside tip for the championship.
Once the 2016 season started, any hope of a Pedrosa title has flown. A mediocre Qatar got the season off to a weak start, but Pedrosa’s troubles started in earnest once Michelin changed their rear tire in the wake of Scott Redding’s delaminated tire in Argentina.
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.
The Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, venue for the Austrian round of MotoGP, appears to be a Ducati track. At the end of the first day of testing for the MotoGP riders in Austria, Andrea Dovizioso topped the timesheets, nearly six tenths clear of his factory Ducati teammate Andrea Iannone.
Scott Redding set the third fastest time of the day, just ahead of official test rider, Casey Stoner. There is persistent paddock gossip that Stoner is using this test to gauge his competitiveness, with a view to racing as a wildcard at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Given Stoner’s long association with Red Bull, and the fact that nobody has raced at the Red Bull Ring (except for Valentino Rossi, who raced a 125 there in 1996 and 1997, and Jack Miller, who raced a 125 there in 2011 in the German IDM championship), it gives him the best chance of being competitive.
Maverick Viñales was the first non-Ducati in fifth place, but he was squeezed in between three more Ducatis, with Hector Barbera, Eugene Laverty and Danilo Petrucci taking slots six through nine.
It was a wild and weird weekend at the Sachsenring. The second in a row, after the bizarre and thrilling two-part race at Assen three weeks ago. The weather proved to be decisive, favoring the brave and the smart.
And, perhaps, the lucky, but luck is always a part of racing. Sometimes the conditions come to you, and when they do, you have to capitalize.
That is precisely what happened in the MotoGP race at the Sachsenring – and in the Moto3 race as well, come to think of it. For motorcycle racing’s big guns, they started on a soaking wet track with a light drizzle falling, but by the halfway mark, the first hints of a dry line were starting to form.
That line would start to grow over the next few laps, and then it came down to two judgment calls: when to come in and swap bikes, and whether to gamble on slicks, or play it safe with intermediates.
Bike swaps are governed by circumstances as well as choice. Windows of opportunity open quickly, but they are often overlooked. The information the riders have to base their decision on is limited to what the team can convey via the pit board, and what they can glean from the jumbotron screens that line the circuit.
They find themselves locked in battle with other riders, something which can easily devolve into a game of chicken. Unlike the game of chicken, though, it isn’t the rider who blinks last who wins. It’s the rider who blinks at exactly the right time.
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