Ahead of the eyetime Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich, it was pre-event Press Conference time after a quick turnaround from the Czech GP and Championship leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was joined by Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Brno winner Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and teammate Jorge Lorenzo, Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Moto2 Championship leader Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) as they geared up for another weekend of action.
Marquez was the first to talk, and the weekend began to take shape as another possible Ducati vs Marquez showdown: “One of the main goals in Brno we achieved: try to increase the lead in the Championship and we did it. I was happy, right after the race I was a bit bitter because of both Ducatis but then I analysed the race in the motorhome. It was a great race and a great result for us, then the Monday test was very busy with a lot of things to try. Some of them we will introduce here step by step because we found some interesting things. Both Ducati riders, like we saw in Brno, are on a really high level so we’ll try and find the best way to fight with them until the end. It will be tough, but you have to start the weekend positively, we’ll try to be there and find the step. The main aim is to be on the podium. If we can fight for victory we’ll try but you don’t know before you try the tyres and asphalt and everything.”
Rossi, meanwhile, will be wringing the neck of the weekend to get the most out of what could be a tougher track. “It’s always a difficult track, especially last year I didn’t enjoy it a lot because it was one of the most difficult races for me. I’ve never been on the podium here although in 2016 it wasn’t bad, me and Jorge were strong and not so far from the podium but it wasn’t enough. We have to try to do everything at the maximum and look after the details to be as strong as possible. On paper maybe it’s not the best track for us so we’ll have to suffer a bit. I wanted to be on the podium in Brno but the other three were faster, but then it wasn’t a bad race because I wasn’t so far. On Monday we worked a lot but didn’t find anything better so I think our level will be like in Brno. And the weather forecast isn’t fantastic, we’ll have to be ready for all conditions!”
Then man on the roll, however, is Dovizioso: the 2017 Austrian GP winner after the stunning duel with Marquez and the winner last time out as we arrive back at the venue. “After the victory in Brno, you arrive at the next round with good confidence and even more to this track because on paper our bike works well here. But last year it wasn’t easy! We struggled but then in the race, our speed was really good and I was able to fight with Marc. But I expect this season our competitors will be stronger because they’ve increased their power and aero – maybe they will be closer. Marc last year already arrived at the end with me. So I don’t think it will be easy but Brno was important for us. The victory comes from hard work, we changed a few things from me and the bike and I think we have a small margin to improve so let’s see how this weekend will go – and the weather.”
The weather – as also pointed out by Marquez and Rossi – could be an interesting factor. And so could a Lorenzo so close to being back on top in Brno.
“The improvement compared to the first races has been huge,” say five-time World Champion Lorenzo. “We were a bit unlucky in Qatar, even if I would probably have finished fifth or fourth but I had to crash. It was difficult for me, then new pieces arrived and at Mugello I got my first victory and from then on we could see a different Jorge riding, especially over race distance. It was a great race last time out and in the test we improved some more details, I’ve been more competitive especially on older tyres so I think we arrive in the best way possible to Austria.”
Best way possible? The number 99 says he hopes to fight for the win.
“Every race is different and in every race you have to see how the performance of each rider is. But obviously this track is where you are on the throttle the most, for our bike it should be good. We have great acceleration, great top speed, power, stability in braking so it should be a good track. But like Andrea said Honda improved the power of their engine and it should be close. But I think we’ll have a chance to fight for the win.”
Next the spotlight was turned on KTM, the home manufacturer. After a bad run of luck of late that sees Pol Espargaro and Mika Kallio side-lined, Bradley Smith faces down the weekend alone in the premier class.
“It’s a big disappointment not to have my other team members here and I wish a speedy recovery to Pol and Mika. In another way, it’s a positive for me in that everyone in the garage is focused on me, and I’m all ok after the crash fortunately. Lucky to walk away uninjured and ready for this weekend, and the expectation of all the KTM fans and our bosses.”
In terms of development, for Smith it’s feeling positive in terms of input and they’re just missing another step to break into the top ten. “I feel like I’m steering the bike in a good direction at the moment and the factory is working very hard to bridge the gap. We seem to be stuck in around P12 or 13 and we want to be more inside the top ten and we want to see better results later in the year.”
Although Smith is the sole Austrian machine on the MotoGP™ grid, there are plenty KTMs throughout the field for the fans to cheer – and that includes Miguel Oliveira, the points leader and Brno winner in the intermediate class. He’s exactly where he wants to be.
“The race in Brno was quite exciting, a lot of overtaking…and I feel good to be coming to the home GP of the team in the lead. It means we’re going in a good direction. Usually my second halves of seasons are quite strong so I hope I can stay in the lead until the end of the year.”
In terms of improvements? Qualifying. Which was something they managed at Brno. “Qualifying is one of the biggest points we need to improve at the moment. We know our bike is competitive over all race distance but qualifying is kind of an issue for us. In Brno it went well so I hope now we’ve changed strategy and we can qualify a bit more in front so I don’t have to pass 10 riders in half a lap! That would make my life easier for sure.”
It was a spectacular weekend of action in Czechia and now Austria steps up to try and repeat the feat. Watch track action from Friday morning as FP1s begin from 9:00 (GMT +2), before the lights go out at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday.