The MotoGP field reconvened this week for a two-day test at the Red-Bull Ring, Austria, ahead of next month’s Grand-Prix…
Having not held a race at the circuit since 1997, running time on the track was crucial for both riders to learn the unique characteristics of the layout, and for as much technical data as possible to be gathered for the teams’ respective race setups…Repsol-Honda and Tech3-Yamaha, and Aprilia were the only teams not present at the test – Honda having run their own two-day ‘filming’ event at the circuit (albeit on Superbikes) earlier this month. Tech3 chose to ‘sit out’ on the grounds that neither of their riders were available (both testing at Suzuka ahead of the 8-hours endurance race at the end of July).
Ducati were ahead of the field by a considerable margin throughout the test’s duration. On the first day it was Andrea Dovizioso who set the standard with a time of 1:23.680s as his side of the garage focused on lower fuel runs throughout the day, as he seeks to rectify recent troubles in qualifying. The Italian team ran three factory-spec bikes over the course of the test; with former double world champion, Casey Stoner, gathering additional race setup and tyre data for the team on the opening day. Stoner was always within a second of the two Andreas’ times (with the time gaps decreasing throughout the event). On the second day of the test it was Iannone who dictated terms with a blistering lap time of 1:23.240 to confirm that – in qualifying trim at least – the Ducati machines will be at the sharp end of the grid. Whilst we must always be wary of test results, as teams are rightfully very guarded about releasing their collected data, it would seem that Ducati are also in a strong position for next month’s race as all three riders lapped with consistent speed and reliability. A word also for the performance of Scott Redding on the first day. The Pramac-Ducati man held similar pace to the likes of Dovi and Iannone, having been handed down a few performance upgrades from the factory team. Whilst it’s unclear yet whether Redding will race with the new parts next month, it is a clear indication from Ducati that every rider and machine from both the factory and satellite stables are working together in a bid to lock-out the front of the grid.
Elsewhere down the field, it appeared to be a difficult test for the Yamaha factory team. Without being able to compare data with their satellite Tech3 team, the Japanese outfit were relying solely on any shared information between Valentino Rossi (P5) and Jorge Lorenzo (P6). Although overall there was less than a tenth of a second to separate the two riders, the team found themselves almost a full second off the pace set by the Ducati bikes. The time gap admittedly was considerably smaller when longer-runs are compared, so it is safe to assume that the team has potentially found a good setup for the race weekend.
Suzuki at first glance had a similar outing – if lap times are to be believed. However, it must be noted that the first day of the test, was a truly experimental day for the team – with both riders (Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales) comparing performance from the 2015 and ’16 chassis. As with Stoner, Vinales also spent a considerable portion of the first day evaluating different tyre compounds from Michelin. As such, the second day was about race-day setup with long runs with heavy fuel loads the order of the day. Although their light fuel run times were around 1 second off Ducati, it is hard to imagine that this will actually be the case come qualifying on August 13.
Finally, a word for KTM, who fielded their MotoGP challenger for the first time with the rest of the field in Austria. Having already secured a place on the grid for the 2017 season, the premier class’ newest constructor took the opportunity to announce that the team will make their race debut this year at the season finale at Valencia, in November. With this in mind, the priority for the team at this test was not about laptime or even race setup. Rather, simply about ensuring the bike is technically and mechanically reliable, and the chance for their riders (Mika Kallio and Thomas Luthi) to acclimatise to the demands of controlling a MotoGP bike.
With the test complete, the MotoGP paddock now enters its traditional summer break. The battle for the championship resumes at the Red-Bull Ring on August 12-14th.