Honda have won four of the five last races held here at Brno. Casey Stoner has won one race, Marc Márquez has won one, and Dani Pedrosa has won two of those races between 2011 and 2015. After the first day of practice for this year's race at Brno, Marc Márquez sits atop the timesheets, with a lead of a tenth of a second over Andrea Iannone, and a shade more to Jorge Lorenzo. Does that mean that a fifth win for Honda is on the cards?
For the answer to that, see Marc Márquez' improbable save during FP2 at Brno. As he turned in for the penultimate corner at Turn 13, he lost the front of his Repsol Honda RC213V. With the steering at full lock, he hung on to the bars as his right foot slipped off the peg, trying first to lever the bike up with his elbow, then with his knee. Eventually the front slipped sideways, gripped, and the bike jimmied itself off the horizontal. It had lost just enough speed for Márquez to regain control, and buck it back to the outside of the corner, and head straight into the pits.
Was it Márquez' biggest ever save at Brno? "Still the 2014 save was bigger," Márquez laughed, "But this one was very long. I leaned 67.5°, in 2014 68.3°." Even Valentino Rossi was impressed. "He tries a lot, is his position on the bike, and is his ability," the Movistar Yamaha rider said. "first he tried with the elbow, then with the knee, and at the end, he saved it. So it was quite impressive. I don't know if I can do the same. But I go slower, so I don't lose the front!"
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.
Press releases from some of the MotoGP teams and Michelin ahead of this weekend's race at Brno:
Brno circuit according to Santi Hernandez and Ramon Aurin
Race engineers to Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, respectively, run through the key points of the historic Czech circuit.
Repsol Honda Team en route to Brno for Czech Republic GP
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after Sunday's historic race at the Spielberg circuit in Austria:
Fantastic 1-2 for Ducati Team riders at Zeltweg, as Iannone wins the Austrian GP ahead of team-mate Dovizioso. Pirro twelfth
The Ducati Team put in an outstanding performance today at the Austrian Grand Prix, round 10 of the MotoGP World Championship, held at Zeltweg’s Red Bull Ring.
The rain finally come at 7:30pm, just as we were leaving the track. From Saturday night, the threat of rain at 2pm on Sunday – race time, local time – had hung over the Red Bull Ring in Austria, scaring riders at the prospect at racing on the circuit in the wet. Though everyone feared the effect of the rain on excessive asphalt run off, some were more worried than others. After two dismal results in the wet, Jorge Lorenzo had to get his championship back on track. In the cold and the wet, Lorenzo struggled. In the sun, Lorenzo could shine. Even against the Ducatis.
He got his wish, as did the reported 95,000 crowd which had flocked to the Austrian circuit for their first taste of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in the country for the best part of twenty years. And what a taste it was. A brutal, thrilling opener of a Moto3 race, competitive to the line, with a new and popular winner. A fierce fight in Moto2 which took two-thirds of the race to settle. And a scintillating and intense MotoGP race which had the crowd holding their breath. The Spielberg track may not be a classic motorcycle track, but it produced some fantastic racing from the Grand Prix bikes.
So much for Ducati domination. Sure, the two factory Ducatis are on the front row, Andrea Iannone on pole, Andrea Dovizioso in third, but they did not destroy the competition in qualifying the way they did so in practice on Friday. Austria is still Ducati's best chance of a win since Casey Stoner left for Honda at the end of the 2010 season, but it is no longer the sure thing it seemed on Friday.
What happened? A lot of things, but most of all, the weather improved dramatically. That certainly helped Jorge Lorenzo find some confidence, and put him back into contention after a couple of tough races. Valentino Rossi found some acceleration, and improved his pace. Marc Márquez worked on making up on the brakes what he is losing in acceleration. That puts the Ducatis, the Yamahas and Márquez all within a tenth or two of each other in race pace. We really are going to have to wait for the fat lady to start singing on this one.
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.