Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso proved beyond doubt that he remains a contender for the 2017 MotoGP world title after winning a thrilling Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring yesterday.
New to the calendar last year, the Austrian circuit provides the fastest average lap speed on the MotoGP calendar and the best racing of the year so far.
From the start it was Dovizioso’s high profile team-mate, the multiple world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who led confidently for the first 11 laps but behind him came a six rider train more reminiscent of a Moto3 race than that of the premier class.
When championship leader Marc Marquez took over the running at the front it was only Dovizioso that had the pace to match. The pair underwent an epic battle, constantly trading places, and never more than a few tenths of a second apart. Although Italian rider led the final six laps, he was never able to shake of the attentions of Honda rider Marquez, who tried an audacious last corner lunge. The manoeuvre saw the Spaniard briefly hit the front but Dovizioso maintained better momentum through the corner and was able to repass on the run to the line and take his third win of the season.
Behind the leading duo, Dani Pedrosa overcame a tough qualifying session to take third on the second Repsol Honda. Lorenzo ended the day fourth, ahead of a trio of Yamahas. Johann Zarco headed home the factory Yamahas of Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi on a track that wasn’t one of the M1’s strongest.
The result sees Dovizioso move back into second in the championship, 16 points behind Marquez, and after the race he said: “It was a crazy race, but to be honest the whole weekend was incredible, and in particular the final curve of the last lap, but I managed to remain clear headed and was aware that Marquez was going to try and pass me. It was a very difficult situation because if Marc had closed the door coming out of the corner, he would have forced me out and passed me. Instead I was able to resist his attack and I went on to win! I’m very satisfied with the way we managed the entire weekend with my team: understanding the right choice of tyres was really difficult but we did it. We had a great race, we’re making up points in the championship, and we’ve got all the right cards to fight for the title.”
Championship leader Marquez added: “I wouldn’t have slept well tonight if I didn’t try to go for the win in the last corner! But it wasn’t possible. Today Dovi had just a little bit more than us and it was difficult to overtake him. I tried my best all race, really gave it my all, and I lost the rear many times. It was a great battle, and Dovi deserved this victory as he rode very well. We got this second place and it’s good. I’m very happy with these 20 points at this track where I had struggled a lot last year. It’s an important result for the championship. We’re working well; step-by-step, we found a good base that allowed us to be there, and to be consistent in every situation. Today I was able to try that move at the end because I was feeling good with the bike. It will be important to continue like this and to try and be on the podium at every race.”
The Austrian race was characterised by the wide range of tyre compound selections made by the riders, with Dovizioso choosing the softest Michelin options and Marquez a harder rear tyre. For the Brits, it was a miserable weekend. Scott Redding was top British rider, albeit down in 12th, while Cal Crutchlow was the only rider to choose the hardest tyre options front and rear. The Coventry star admitted that he struggled to find a rhythm but failed to blame his equipment, openly admitting that he ‘didn’t ride great’. Bradley Smith finished out of the points on the new KTM, in 18th, although the appearance of Mika Kallio finishing 10th as a wild-card on a similar machine was unlikely to have gone down well for the Oxfordshire rider, while Sam Lowes’ weekend went from bad to worse as he came home 20th and last in the race. Earlier in the week the Lincolnshire rider was told that his services would no longer be required at Aprilia, where his place looks likely to be taken by Redding, and he now faces an uphill battle to retain a place in the MotoGP paddock.
Things were not much better for Brits in the other classes. Tarran Mackenzie finished a career best 20th in Moto2, albeit helped by a massive first corner pileup, but Danny Kent’s return to the class was cut short when he withdrew due to an injury sustained after being hit by another rider during Friday’s practice. In Moto3, John McPhee was running in the leading group when he was wiped out by another rider. He and the other Brits will be hoping for better fortune in two weeks’ time, when the British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone.
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