MotoGP: Austrian Grand Prix
Circuit: Red Bull Ring
Journey Of The Jackass 2020, Chapter 4: The Spielberg Remakes
After Formula 1 had their Austrian double-header a month ago, it was the turn of MotoGP to visit the Red Bull Ring for an Austrian/Styrian double header, as KTM came home after claiming that maiden MotoGP win, and Ducati were probably at half mast, given they’re a perfect 4 wins from 4 attempts at the Red Bull Ring since 2016.
There was a threat of major rainfall through all 3 days, leading to some concerns that we may not even see any action on Sunday due to safety concerns, but while there was extended periods of rain, it was really only Friday and Saturday morning that required running on the Michelin rain tyres.
While Michele Pirro filled in for Pecco Bagnaia at Pramac, Ducati also announced that they’ll decide on Jack Miller’s teammate at the factory team for 2021 after next week’s Styrian Grand Prix – It could be Andrea Dovizioso, it could be Pecco, Johann Zarco, or possibly Jorge Lorenzo out of retirement.
Interestingly, Dovi was seen laughing at the announcement, and the reason was revealed by his manager Simone Battistella on Saturday.
Apparently it had nothing to do with the Corse’s request of a pay cut due to the COVID-crunch affecting the company, and seemingly more to do with the toxic relationship between Dovi and the team’s top brass over the recent years.
When you look at what Ferrari are going with Sebastian Vettel, you have to ask – What is it with Italian motorsport teams and shoddy working relationships….
FP3 was run in damp conditions, and interestingly, Jack Miller was the only rider who didn’t set a time on the Michelin Intermediates, most likely to save them in the realistic event of it raining in Qualifying and/or the Race.
It took about 25 minutes into FP3 for a decent dry line to form, and riders began to move on to slick tyres, setting up a crazy ending to see who could go straight into Q2, with a 1.24.7 (The 10th fastest time from FP1) being the absolute cutoff.
In a frantic finish, Maverick Vinales managed to pull himself out of the fire, Jack Miller was safely through, Miguel Oliveira did a great job, while Fabio Quartararo struggled badly in the changing conditions, but on the last lap, El Diablo smuggled himself into 10th fastest by 0.044 seconds ahead of Johann Zarco, narrowly avoiding appearing in Q1 for the first time in his MotoGP career.
Some of the noteworthy riders who would appear in Q1 – Valentino Rossi, Danilo Petrucci, and Brad Binder, fresh off his Czech Republic win.
Zarco and Rossi would both make it into Q2, and there was a major moment in the opening session, which saw Aleix Espagaro and Danilo Petrucci clash as time was expiring.
A coasting Espagaro drifted back onto the racing line at Turn 9 when Petrucci was on a flying lap, apparently costing the factory Ducati rider a spot in Q2 (He missed Rossi’s time by 0.024 seconds), and that was just the start of the argument, because Danilo gestured to Aleix that he was ‘Going for first’ in the pit lane, and it soon spilled over to Twitter, where Aleix claimed he hadn’t lost any time, while Petrux seemed to use the classic ‘Show us your wins’ argument.
They would both start on the 5th row, while Binder had a fair old comedown, being consigned to start from 17th, the slowest of the KTMs.
As Q2 heated up, Vinales set the early benchmarks, joined by Quartararo in exchanging fastest laps, while Dovi looked like he’d had a shot of adrenaline after the announcement, briefly claiming top spot, before Vinales hit back with a 1.23.450.
Our Jack Miller had the final shot of topping Maverick, but despite going red through 3 sectors, he lost time in Sector 4, and narrowly missed out on pole by 0.068 seconds to start 2nd, as Yamaha’s Top Gun claimed his first pole position since Phillip Island last year, with Quartararo on the front row again, and Dovi in 4th, right in contention for another Austrian win.
Just showing how close the session was, Alex Rins was only 0.281 from pole….. and yet, he was starting from 8th!
To the surprise of many, Yamaha had the one lap pace, but nobody on a horseower heavy track, nobody expected them to make it last the whole race – Quartararo admitted as much.
Race (28 Laps, reduced to 20)
Despite his front row start, Jack did have one big hurdle to leap over – He had never scored a point in 3 MotoGP attempts at the Red Bull Ring (He crashed in the Warm-Up in 2016), and had only finished once, a distant 18th in 2018.
Even with the apparent threat of rain, most riders went with a Medium front and a Soft rear, while both factory KTMs went for a Hard front and a Medium rear, joining Bradley Smith on the Aprillia as the only riders to use a Hard front.
At the start, Miller used that fabled holeshot device to fly into the lead, as Quartararo had a bad start and lost 6 spots at Turn 1, Dovi rounded Vinales to take 2nd at Turn 3, as did Pol Espagaro by Turn 4, and as many expected, the Ducatis and the KTMs were in front and looking hard to catch.
After a good start with the Suzuki holeshot, Alex Rins went wide at Turn 3 on Lap 2 from 5th, falling out of the Top 10, while Joan Mir on the other Suzuki had been quick in the Warm-Up, and he was showing plenty of early speed as he climbed up to 4th – It’s worth remembering that Mir won twice in Austria in Moto3 and Moto2, but he didn’t appear in the 2019 MotoGP race after a testing crash at Brno.
Meanwhile, Miller wasn’t pulling away out in front, possibly trying to preserve tyre life for the long run, which was allowing the Top 12 runners (Binder at the rear) to stay within striking distance of each other.
Espagaro made a move on Dovi at Turn 8 on Lap 4, but the Italian fought back on the next lap with a block pass at Turn 3, which only allowed Mir to claim 3rd from the factory Duke.
In a wild 7th lap, Quartararo lost his brakes and went into the gravel at Turn 4, dropping the championship leader down to a very distant last, and while that went on, Espagaro went through on Miller to take the lead, with no KTM fans there to witness a historic moments of the Austrian bike leading in Austria.
Dovi soon made the move on Miller, hoping to keep Espagaro at arm’s length with 20 laps to go, but for the second time on Sunday, there was another horror crash that brought out the red flag.
On Lap 9, Johann Zarco passed Franco Morbidelli for 8th at Turn 1, but was wide heading up the Turn 2 kink, as Franco tried getting a slip stream behind the Ducati heading into the fastest part of the circuit, but while Zarco was moving across to defend, he braked suddenly for Turn 3, and with no chance to react, it was Franco’s front wheel on Zarco’s rear wheel, causing an utterly frightening crash at some 280 km/h.
As both riders flew into the gravel trap, Zarco’s Ducati speared into the barrier and went flying back onto the circuit, as Morbidelli’s riderless Yamaha also went flying like a tomahawk into Turn 3….
MISSING ROSSI AND VINALES BY WHAT COULD BE DESCRIBED AS DIVINE INTERVENTION.
This was Rossi’s Point of View:
The view from Maverick’s rear:
A crazy shot of Vinales having to shield his head from the oncoming Ducati:
At every single angle, you’re left wondering how the **** Vale or Top Gun didn’t get killed there and then.
Having a bike length between each other saved them.
Thankfully for everyone, Franco and Johann were alive and bruised, although a furious Franco did call Johann “Half a killer“, while Pol Espagaro was mentally ravaged at having his momentum destroyed (Which he never recovered from), probably after seeing who had helped cause that red flag, while Rossi saw the replay, and wondered how he hadn’t suffered the same fate as Marco Simoncelli.
After a 20 minute stoppage, the new 20-lap race got underway, and Miller fought his way past Espagaro to claim the lead, avoiding contact with the Suzukis, while Rins was the big winner, jumping up to 4th place from 11th, and Binder was now up to 7th from 12th, and Quartararo used the restart to jump to 13th (He did fall back to 16th), after looking a serious chance of scoring nothing with his brake troubles.
In a weird incident, Vinales fell to last by Turn 3 of the opening lap, as if he was still mentally rattled by what had happened at the red flag, although it turned out the Yamaha was suffering from a slipping clutch, which almost ended his race after 3 laps, although he would continue, and began making up ground again.
Now in the lead, Miller had come out firing with a fastest lap, and it emerged he’d made a huge gamble on a pair of Soft tyres, like he was trying to build a gap and then nurse the tyres home.
Unfortunately for Jack, Dovi is far too experienced with tyre management to let him fly off, and the chase was on.
Rins passed Espagaro to move to 3rd place, as the Suzuki set the fastest lap of the race, and it looked like Miller’s tyre gamble was blowing up in his face.
Sadly for KTM, Espagaro’s once promising race ended on Lap 9, when he went too deep at Turn 4, and as he turned back on to the racing line without bothering to look (Again), Miguel Oliveira came flying through on the Tech 3 KTM, and in yet another case of shit luck for Miguel, he was taken out, putting both riders out of the race.
I’m surprised Dorna or the FIM haven’t asked their medical team to check Pol’s neck, considering he can never seem to turn it right.
So from KTM fighting for a win, it was down to Ducati vs Suzuki, as Rins passed Miller for 2nd at Turn 9, and was showing race-winning pace, until….
On Lap 11, RINS WENT DOWN AT TURN 6, JUST AS HE HAD TAKEN DOVI FOR THE LEAD!
What a sad end for the Spaniard, who was looking even better than he did in Brno as he continues his recovery from the shoulder injury.
Through all of these falls, Quartararo had gone into the Top 10, and Binder was now up to 4th from 17th, in another great Sunday ride from the rookie.
So with the Top 3 of Dovi, Miller and Mir pretty much set, another possible scare came when Simon Crafar reported that Yamaha were warming up Rossi’s wet weather bike due to the apparent incoming threat of rain, as Vale was battling Binder for 4th with the leading Honda of Takaaki Nakagami, while Vinales had rediscovered his pace, lapping faster than anyone on the circuit, albeit down in 11th.
But, the rain never came, and out in front, the Undaunted Dovi had another Ducati triumph in Austria sewn up, with slightly less final lap drama than last year, as Mir pressured Miller with the knowledge of his maiden MotoGP podium being secure, and despite Jack’s pretty good defence through tight corners and the straightline speed of the Duke, the Spaniard would claim 2nd place on the penultimate corner, as Jack’s worn tyres didn’t quite make it to the finish, although he did stay upright to finish 3rd!
So many stories – In a week where he gave the finger to Bologna, Dovi brought up Ducati’s 50th MotoGP win, Mir continued his love of the Red Bull Ring with his maiden MotoGP podium, Suzuki’s first of 2020, and our Jackass finally finished in the points in Austria, to also stand on the podium for the first time in 2020.
So, Ducati could easily have had a 1/2, and Suzuki could’ve had a win and both bikes on the podium.
It seems they’ll have to split it right down the middle.
Some other results of note – Binder did take 4th, Rossi was the first Yamaha home, brushing off his meeting with death like nothing had happened, Iker Lecuona scored his first Top 10 of the season, and Quartararo had a final corner battle with Petrucci for 7th, and while the Yamaha did complete the pass, Petrucci made it a drag race to the flag, and in that situation, a Ducati is always going to punch a Yamaha in the stomach.
Fabio did retain his Championship lead with some good damage limitation, but right now, it appears his biggest threat isn’t the factory Yamaha, it’s Dovi, who rocketed up to 2nd place on the standings, only 11 points behind (67 to 56) in this wide open race to the title.
Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster
It was Remy Gardner’s 87th Grand Prix, the conneciton being that his riding number is of course 87, a nod to the year Wayne won the 500cc World Championship, and it started out rather promisingly, as he set the 2nd Fastest combined Practice time, behind Sam Lowes, to go straight into Q2.
Despite his big frame, Gardner seems to relish the Red Bull Ring, if you remember how well he performed in the 2019 Race, where he was in contention for a win with 6 laps to go, only to lose the front at Turn 1 in a heartbreaking end.
Jorge Martin broke the Moto2 track record for the Red Bull Ring to set the early daunting marker, but out of nowhere with 5 minutes to go, Gardner got a slipstream behind Martin, and after 2 ordinary sectors, Gardner fired in the best 3rd Sector of anyone in Q2, and out nowhere, went TOP with a 1.28.681, eeking ahead by a mere 0.036!
On a 2019 Kalex, nonetheless!
It set up a nerve-jangling final 5 minutes, as dozens of riders bettered Gardner’s time through the opening 2 sectors, but none of them came close to beating him in the second half of the lap, and in a great turn of events, Remy was on Pole Position for the second in his Grand Prix career!
A great result for the Onexox TKKR SAG Team, who are, to put mildly, absolutely rooted financially.
Being realistic, Gardner probably wasn’t going to have to the long run pace to win the race on the older bike, especially against the likes of Martin, Sam Lowes, championship leader Ennea Bastiannini who qualified 4th, and his nearest rival Luca Marini.
Race (25 Laps, reduced to 13)
After a slightly longer hold, Martin beat Gardner into Turn 1, Schrotter passed him for 2nd at Turn 3, and unsurprisingly, the Aussie was under attack from the Championship challengers – Luca Marini cleared him after a bit of a tussle, Bastianini joined in, and the Kalex would have to settle in to 6th.
Just as the race was settling into a rhythm, on Lap 4, Bastianini lost the rear at Turn 1 and suffered an ugly highside, leaving his bike stranded on the racing line and a sitting duck to unsighted riders, and sadly, that’s exactly what happened.
As everyone peeled out to dodge the bike, Hafizh Syahrin was in the slipstream of Jake Dixon, and had no chance to avoid a horror crash, shattering both bikes to pieces and causing the Malaysian rider to be thrown 20-30m down the track as his airbag spared him from worse injuries, and Edgar Pons and Andi Farid Izdihar both fell after a rider struck debris and veered uncontrollably into their paths.
Fortunately, all riders were conscious and escaped serious injuries, with Hafizh suffering bruising on his hips and needing crutches for the time being, as the red flag was brought out due to the debris and fluid on the track, and the race was reduced to 13 laps, with the new grid being as the riders were after Lap 3, minus Bastianini and the 3 riders who fell.
What a red flag also meant was that all riders were allowed to make whatever changes they wanted to the bike – Including changing tyres, leaving the chance for all riders to go to the Soft front tyre if they so desired for what was effectively a sprint race.
As the race began for a second time, the Top 5 all held position and there was no incident at Turn 1, but at the end of Lap 1, Jorge Navarro’s bad year continued as he slid out.
Next lap, Marini’s teammate Marco Bezzecchi went wide at Turn 3, and Gardner went extremely deep into the corner, and was able to stay upright as he passed Schrotter for 4th, and then in the drag down to Turn 4, he was the last of the late brakers and moved up to 3rd.
Bezzecchi went wide again a lap later and lost half a dozen places, while out in front, Martin and Marini broke clear, as former championship leader Tetsuta Nagashima fell at Turn 1 after losing the front scrapping with Jake Dixon, and it was over and out for a gutted Nagashima, who has fallen off a cliff since the first race at Jerez.
But, in another crushing moment for us Aussies, Gardner fell at Turn 1 on Lap 5, going in to the corner too hot and losing the front, the end of yet another beautiful opportunity to get a decent result.
Speaking to Simon Crafar on the world feed, Gardner made the comment that riding with a full tank down the straights was like having one less cylinder than his rivals, then when the second race started, he was having to push and brake even later just to keep up, which is ultimately what ended his race.
As Martin, Marini and Schrotter cleared the rest of the field to set the podium places, the fight for 4th would become the highlight of the restart – Xavi Vierge was riding with his usual aggressive style, not fearing he would lose his tyres as is usually the case, while he was being hounded by a recovering Sam Lowes and Marco Bezzecchi.
Still, out in front, Martin was simply too good, claiming his first Moto2 win, and giving the Red Bull KTM-sponsored Kalex a win on home soil, while Marini took 2nd and became the new championship leader thanks to Bastianini’s fall, Marcel Schrotter returned to the podium, and Lowes, after looking set to run 5th thanks to some major bumping with Bezzecchi on the run to Turn 4, made a fantastic late charge to mow down Vierge for 4th on the line.
What could’ve been for Lowes, who had the best long run pace of anyone in practice, but managed to bomb both Sunday starts, which always had him on the back foot.
Yep, I’m still flat about Gardner though…
Next Up: Austria Part 2 this weekend!