MotoGP is back!
Following the MotoGP summer break, the circus now heads to Spielberg in Austria for back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring, initially for the Michelin Grand Prix of Styria, followed seven days later by the Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich, which will include round five of the FIM Enel MotoE World Cup.
One big change, is that after so long without spectators due to Covid-19 restrictions, except for limited numbers at Doha, Catalunya and Assen, the crowds will be returning for both races in Austria to cheer on their racing heroes and add a buzz and inimitable ambiance around the track.
The 4,318m (2.684 miles) circuit, one of the most demanding on the calendar for tyres, is nestled in a picturesque bowl among the mountains and forests of the Styrian region. With only two distinct left turns, plus a very fast-left-hand curve, the remaining seven right-hand corners generate huge stresses and heat build-up that the tyres will have to endure. The longest of three straights, which are separated by a pair of uphill right-hand corners, is 626m (2054ft) and there is 65m (213ft) of elevation change throughout a lap. Michelin will bring rear tyres with a special casing designed specifically to cope with these arduous track conditions. Subject to the 2021 calendar, tyres with this type of casing construction will also be used at Buriram in Thailand due to the similarly harsh track conditions found there.
Starting with the traditional rulers of the Red Bull Ring, Ducati will expect to be strong. Winning most of the races at the track, and it suiting their bike to a T, means they’ll be heading in hoping to make some headway on Quartararo. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) remains second in the standings and will have his eye on that 34-point gap, and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) isn’t far behind either. His team-mate Jack Miller has a few more points to make up, but the Australian has podium form at the venue… and plenty of winning form this season. But there was a new kid on the block last season in Styria, so is it still truly Ducati turf?
KTM’s 2020 was a near-perfect fairy-tale at times, but 2021 started a little tougher for the Austrian factory. As we head onto their home turf after summer break though, they’ve already been back on top and back on the podium. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is leading the charge as arguably the standout performer on the grid since Mugello, and as luck would have it… it’s the Portuguese rider who took his first premier class win at the venue last year to end the Ducati run. Can he do it again? And can teammate Brad Binder reset after the break and come out swinging?
Tech3 KTM Factory Racing’s Iker Lecuona and Danilo Petrucci will also want to move forward on home turf, and make life difficult for the other factories at least.
Hervé Poncharal – Tech3 KTM Team Manager
“After the very nice summer break the whole MotoGP paddock enjoyed, it’s time for everyone to go back to business. We at Tech3 KTM Factory Racing are of course very eager to travel to Spielberg where we will have two important races. Everybody knows it’s the home Grand Prix for our manufacturer, therefore this meeting is very important for us. Obviously, we have great memories from last year when we got our first ever MotoGP victory with Miguel Oliveira, which we won’t forget. Yet, we know the KTM RC16 is working very well at the Austrian venue, so we are targeting top 10 results with Danilo and Iker this year. I’m sure they will be fired up to show their true potential after this long break. Apart from that, the Red Bull Ring is a beautiful circuit in amazing surroundings. I think you can’t find a better place to start the second part of the season. Everybody is more than ready to meet there and Tech3 KTM Factory Racing can’t wait to restart!”
But the headlines at KTM don’t stop at the same four horsemen of the Austrian factory as we’ve seen so far this year… they also include a MotoGP Legend. Dani Pedrosa made a few headlines when he retired from full-time competition and then headed to KTM to become a test rider. And then a few more as his input was largely lauded across the board. Now, he’s back not just at the track but on the track, doing a wildcard with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. He’ll be exciting to watch as both a Legend and as a presence for the factory, as he helps further hone the RC16 for the season ahead.
Meanwhile at Yamaha, eyes will be on Quartararo to see if the Frenchman can do some solid damage limitation in what is traditionally enemy territory, and El Diablo does have a good cushion of points at the top too. Teammate Maverick Viñales will be looking for somewhat of a reset on the other side of the garage, although he did take a podium at Assen.
But a lot of attention will also go towards Valentino Rossi as the Doctor looks to get his mojo back, and to the man joining him at Petronas Yamaha SRT for the next few races as Franco Morbidelli recovers from knee surgery: Cal Crutchlow. Multiple Grand Prix winner and now Yamaha test rider, the Brit is back for the two in Austria and Silverstone. What can he do?
“The summer break has been good. I was able to relax and spend some time away with my people, before heading back home for some training on the bikes. It will be nice to be racing again this weekend, but to be honest I’m not sure it is the best track for us. We know the areas where our bike is strong, but there are also areas that we need to improve and I think the Austrian track might not play to our strengths. It is in a very beautiful place though, with a lot of green around it so although it is a difficult track, it is a nice place to be. We will need to try to find the best balance for these next two races, as they are both at Spielberg, and aim to achieve the maximum that is possible for us.”
“I’m really looking forward to being back on the grid and getting into the swing of a race weekend again, although it’s going to feel very different to the job that I’ve been doing this year as Yamaha’s test rider. The circuit at Spielberg isn’t one that I’ve enjoyed too much in the past, however I did finish fourth in 2018 and that was a good result. It’s not a fast and flowing circuit, it’s somewhere where you need to be quick and very precise. I don’t have a target as such when it comes to results, my main aim will just be to try to improve session by session. I’ll be working with Ramon Forcada, who knows the Yamaha bike very well. I think it will be good as Ramon was with Yamaha when I was. I’m sure it will go well; I just want to make sure that I do a good job for the team.”
One dark horse – if the reigning Champion can be considered such – could also be Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). Now fourth in the standings after a tougher start, the Red Bull Ring is a special venue for the Spaniard. It’s where he took his first Moto3 win, and then another one, before also proving the place he’d take his first premier class podium. Mir will expect to be strong, and his CV backs that up. Teammate Alex Rins, meanwhile, will be the man likely most intent on a reset in the summer. His speed this season has been undermined by crashes, but it has been there, and he’ll be looking to iron out his second half of the season.
At Honda, meanwhile, there are plenty of questions too. How will Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) do in the latter half of 2021? Can Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) start homing back in on the podium? And likewise Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol)? More than anything though, the headline stealer will likely once again be Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team).
His return to the top step in Germany was an impressive and emotional feat, and his comeback ride in Assen was another warning shot. And that was now a while ago, with a good few more weeks of time to recover for the eight-time World Champion. Where will he be once the lights go out again?
“I’ve enjoyed the summer break; I was able to relax with friends and family and enjoy it. It was good not just for the mind, but also for the body and I am feeling better and stronger. I’ve been able to increase my training, spending more time on bikes and even returning to riding motocross – which I am enjoying a lot! But we know the situation on track will still not be simple and we have to keep working and stay focused. I’m looking forward riding my Honda RC213V again and having full grandstands again will be incredible.”
Finally, for Aprilia, the mission to finish in the top five continues. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) also continues to impress, with some good consistency and progress. But it won’t feel enough, and he’ll be pushing again to try and take that best MotoGP era result.
The fight for Rookie of the Year, meanwhile, rages on. Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) will be looking to hammer home his advantage at a track suited to his machine, but Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) will have had more time back from injury. Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) will be pushing too, and Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) aiming to add to his points tally. Martin and Marini also have good recent records at the track.
“I’m happy to be back at racing: it was a very long summer break. I can’t wait to get back at work and to ride my bike. Austria is a very special track, with few turns. Ducati has always done well here, the goal is to get close to the top guys and hit the points. We will run two consecutive races here, certainly in the second week the gaps will be even smaller, one more reason to work well from the day one.”
It’s been a long summer break and there’s plenty to play for in the Styrian GP. What awaits at the Red Bull Ring? Ducati dominance? KTM home glory? Mir’s glorious Austria form? A Marquez feeling ready to head out toe-to-toe with the rest? We’ll find out soon enough, with the lights going out for the MotoGP race at 2200 AEST on Sunday the 8th of August.
2021 MotoGP Standings
Gardner vs Fernandez: will the gloves come off in Styria?
The summer is over, the Styrian countryside awaits and Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) remains ahead of the game. With a 31-point lead, no one but the Australian is leaving the first of two weekends at the Red Bull Ring at the head of the standings… but if that gap is to come down, the season half of the season is crunch time for Gardner’s rivals… and it’s teammate Raul Fernandez who arrives from a stunner of a victory.
Gardner has so far been near pitch perfect all year though, so a mistake seems unlikely. He also, in some extra bad news for the rest, took a podium and a pole in one of the two weekends at the track last season, so he has form in Styria far before his form in 2021 became so metronomically impressive. But the most recent rider on the top step was his teammate and the Spaniard came back from a bad start to make a serious statement at Assen; a statement certainly one Gardner will have noted. Both also race on Red Bull home turf this time around, so that’s a little extra motivation if such a thing were possible. Will the duel pick right back up where it left off?
Assen did see the return of some serious competition at the front for the Red Bull KTM Ajo duo, however. Since Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) started the season on a high the momentum had very much switched to the Ajo team, but the Dutch TT saw both Lowes and teammate Augusto Fernandez right back in the fight at the front. For Augusto Fernandez it was also a welcome return to the podium and frontrunning form after a tougher run for the Spaniard, so can they use the reset of the summer break and that high note heading in to come out swinging?
Thinking back to last season at the Red Bull Ring brings to mind the man in third overall though: Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46). The second event at the track last year saw the Italian take to the top step after last lap track limits drama, making a big step forward in the second race weekend. This time round, can he come out the blocks fastest and get back to winning ways? After a more muted start to the season than likely expected, he’ll be pushing as hard as ever.
Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) is another rider with recent form at the Ring, as is Aron Canet (Aspar Team Moto2). Can they get in the mix? Canet already has podium form this year, and Schrötter is now sixth overall and just ahead of the Spaniard. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) will want to get back in the fight too, and the likes of Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) and Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing), equal on 50 points with Augusto Fernandez, could play a role…
Moto2 Championship Points Standing
If you’re a Moto3 rookie, leading the Championship and readying yourself to come back from summer break with a bang at the Michelin Grand Prix of Styria, what would put an extra spring in your step? Something like four Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup wins at the venue in question last time you raced there? That’s the sensational Pedro Acosta’s (Red Bull KTM Ajo) CV from the Red Bull Ring in 2020, and his lead remains nearly two entire race wins’ worth of points this season so we can probably expect some excellence-flavoured déjà vu. But all is not necessarily lost for his rivals as a few arrive in good form… and this is Moto3 after all!
Sergio Garcia (SANTANDER Consumer Bank GASGAS Aspar) remains the closest challenger, with two wins so far, some solid consistent scoring and a second place at Assen taken just before summer. But Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) feels like he has some serious momentum too, now in second overall, winning at Assen – his second victory of the season – and now clawing back some traction and what was a huge deficit to the top. Can the two keep the pressure on?
Behind them, it tightens up in the points and fourth is now Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team). The Italian is the only rider to have scored in every race so far this year, and he’ll want to keep that going and home in on a first win of the year. He has taken victory at the Red Bull Ring before too – a first win back on his return to Moto3 in 2019. The two riders just behind him will be coming back from summer gunning for glory too: Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing). A season of ups and downs for both has nevertheless seen both often up at the front and on the podium, and Masia began the season with a win. Can they use the reset of summer break to put bad luck and trouble to bed?
The likes of Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3), Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3), his teammate Jeremy Alcoba and Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) will likely be back up there at the front, and John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) is a former podium finisher at the venue looking for more luck too. And Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Acosta and Masia will be pushing hard on KTM and Red Bull’s home turf, but so will the Red Bull KTM Tech 3 squad. Deniz Öncü now has a podium and will be pushing for another, and his teammate will also be back on track: Ayumu Sasaki.
A first half of the season that saw the Japanese rider putting together some impressive consistency to hover in the top five, four and three in the standings was interrupted by that crash a Catalunya, and the number 71 was sidelined until given the absolute all-clear to return. He now has that, and will be more than eager to get back out and push.
Moto3 Championship Points Standings
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