Czech Grand Prix, Brno: Race weekend preview – MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
The next stop on the MotoGP™ calendar sees the paddock ready to celebrate the 400th Grand Prix of the new era in the HJC Helmets Grand Prix České Republiky in Brno, with a quick turnaround after the thrills of the Austrian GP. Set in the Czech countryside in the south of the country, the Automotodrom Brno’s 5.4km of asphalt winds through the undulating landscape with one of the most impressive stadium sections in the world – and one of the biggest attendances. With Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) still leading the championship as the paddock makes the short journey north from the Red Bull Ring for the big 400, the riders are back on familiar ground at the legendary venue and ready to fight for another 25 points after the Ducati Team domination in Austria.
Championship leader Marquez has a good record at the Czech track, and a substantial 43 point cushion to play with as the Cervera native attempts to achieve his third world title in only 4 years in the premier class. Although some venues have seen the Spaniard with a runaway record – such as the Sachsenring – Marquez’ record at Brno is one matched – or bettered – by his contemporaries. With a P2 at the track in 2015 behind an unstoppable Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Marquez arrives in the Czech Republic with the championship on his mind after a good point haul at the Red Bull Ring despite a difficult weekend.
Marquez’ veteran teammate Dani Pedrosa is one of those with an enviable record at Brno – including a spectacular last lap win over Lorenzo in 2012 – and was the man to end his teammate’s domination in 2014 when the older Spaniard took the victory and set the lap record. After a 2015 weekend affected by a crash on Friday that left the former 125 and double 250 world champion riding through the pain barrier, Pedrosa will be optimistic upon his return to a track that has seen such success – and hoping to make some big progress in a tough season.
The man on the move in Austria was undoubtedly reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, however. The Movistar Yamaha rider ended a difficult podium drought with an intense ride at the Red Bull Ring to gain points back on Marquez in the title fight – and increased the gap between himself and teammate Valentino Rossi. As such, the title defender was the only man to make inroads in the higher echelons of the points standings last time out. Lorenzo, who took a signature lights to flag spectacular at Brno in 2015 and left his rivals in the dust, will begin the Czech GP with confidence from his past record at the track – added to his Austrian comeback.
9-time world champion Valentino Rossi is sure to prove as tough a rival as ever upon the paddock’s arrival in Brno. The veteran Italian has an impressive record in the Czech Republic – including his first ever GP win in the 125 world championship in his rookie year – but in recent seasons has struggled to move above P3 as his Spanish adversaries have claimed the track as their own. In 2015, Rossi came home third as key title rival Lorenzo dominated, but some incredible races – such as his victories at the Spanish and Catalan GPs – show the legendary rider is always a threat in 2016.
Ducati Team pairing Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso know the Automotodrom Brno will be a different challenge to the recently conquered Red Bull Ring. After Iannone’s stunning win in Austria – the first for the Borgo Panigale factory since Casey Stoner took the honours in Phillip Island in 2010 – confidence will be high and faith strengthened, but expectations will remain realistic as Brno could prove more difficult for the Bologna-based squad. The 1-2 completed by Dovizioso at the Red Bull Ring, that a first for the team since 2007, sets a fantastic foundation as Ducati look towards the future, however, and both riders will be focused squarely on the front.
Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) put in a solid ride at the horsepower-dominated Austrian GP to take another top 6 finish as he continues to impress, but Brno could prove more of a challenge – with a single podium for the 2013 Moto3™ world champion at the venue to date. Viñales, who will move to the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team in 2017 to partner Valentino Rossi, has already taken his Suzuki onto the podium this season and will be more motivated than ever to try and replicate that in the Czech Republic. Teammate Aleix Espargaro will be hoping to have an easier time in Brno after breaking a finger in Austria and trying to ride through the pain, and will hope the injury affects him as little as possible in the back-to-back Czech GP.
The fight to be top independent rider is headed by Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Pol Espargaro as MotoGP™ heads to Brno, as the Spaniard continues to string together an impressively consistent season. Closest rival Hector Barbera, who recently re-signed with Avintia Racing for next season, was unable to finish in Austria but Espargaro’s P10 finish didn’t open the gap too much – with Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Ducati) proving the top non-factory finisher at the Red Bull Ring as the Brit came home eighth. The battle to be top satellite rider is sure to rage once again in Brno, with Espargaro in the front seat but everything still to play for.
Assen winner Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) will head to Brno hoping to be declared fit after a crash at the Red Bull Ring ruled him out of the Austrian GP, and after a last lap clash with Eugene Laverty (PULL&BEAR Aspar Team), Octo Pramac Yakhnich rider Danilo Petrucci will be facing a 3-place grid penalty in Brno – as well as having been awarded a penalty point for the incident.
The HJC Helmets Grand Prix České Republiky sees the MotoGP™ grid on track at the Automotodrom Brno for the first time this season on Friday 19th August after the short trip from the Red Bull Ring, with the green light going on for FP1 at 9:55 local time (GMT +2).
Since the inaugural year of the world championship was won by Toni Elias in 2010, no Moto2™ champion has successfully defended the crown – but 2016 could prove the year as Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) took another stunning victory in Austria to stretch his lead at the top of the table. Now past the halfway point of the season, the Frenchman has clawed back a sizeable deficit from key rivals Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP40) and Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) to lead the standings – looking ever more likely to replace Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) as the man to last defend an intermediate class title.
Zarco moves into the premier class in 2017 with the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team and the Frenchman’s performances this season give a good answer as to why. Now the most successful rider from his home nation of France, Zarco took a calm, controlled and perfectly judged victory at the Red Bull Ring – making him not only the most recent Moto2™ race winner as the paddock heads north, but also the most recent winner at the Automotodrom Brno after a win in 2015 from former champion Tito Rabat. The crown continues to edge closer as rivals Rins and Lowes finish behind the Frenchman, and Zarco seems in ominous form.
Alex Rins, who struggled for pace at times in Austria, staged an impressive comeback to take a podium finish on the final lap at the Red Bull Ring, but the Spaniard still saw his deficit in the championship grow. Now clear of rival Sam Lowes in P2, the Paginas Amarillas HP 40 rider heads to Brno needing to start finishing ahead of Zarco – but did take home a podium at the track in 2015 in his rookie year.
It was a tough Austrian GP for Moto2™ title contender Lowes. The Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 rider had a difficult time through Free Practice and qualified in seventh, before a crash in the race sent him tumbling down the order and triggered a second incident after bike damage. The DNF put a dent in his title hopes as he lost further ground to Zarco, but the Brit took a solid P5 in the Czech GP last season and will be pushing to make up the deficit.
Further men to watch in Brno could prove Garage Plus Interwetten rider Tom Luthi, and Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS riders Franco Morbidelli and Alex Marquez. Experience should show for Luthi as the paddock gets back on familiar ground, and the Swiss veteran will be looking to hit back after losing P2 in Austria on the final lap – finding himself off the podium after heading into the final lap in second. Morbidelli was one of the men who passed Luthi and had an impressive showing in the Austrian GP to convert P2 on the grid into the same in the race, ensuring again that the Italian is no stranger to the Moto2™ podium. Marquez, who has had a tough second season in the class so far, turned his best ever qualifying in Austria into a solid P6 in the race, and ran up in the front group for the first time in 2016. The Cervera native had an impressive rookie run in Brno in 2015 too, battling for the podium with Rins, Zarco and erstwhile champion Tito Rabat. With his early season wrist injury shaken off and confidence restored somewhat after the Red Bull Ring, Marquez will want to consolidate his position in the HJC Helmets Grand Prix České Republiky.
Moto2™ complete a test at the Red Bull Ring on Monday before hitting the road to Brno, taking to the track on Friday morning after the MotoGP™ machines return to pitlane – with the race set for 12:20 local time (GMT +2) on Sunday 21st August.
Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Brad Binder looked unstoppable in Austria until losing pole and the victory to Spanish rookie Joan Mir. In the championship however, the South African has no one in his way as Moto3™ heads for the Czech Republic – with his key early season rivals both taking no points at the Red Bull Ring to cut the gap. Binder is on a freight train roll of supremacy in the lighter class that began with his win from the back of the grid in Jerez, and with 8 races remaining, it’s time for his rivals to start their last offensive.
Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) took his first win in the Catalan GP and the signs looked good for the Spaniard to begin clawing back the gap to Binder. After breaking his leg and missing out on the Dutch GP however, the mountain for Navarro to climb seemed to grow – although his Red Bull KTM Ajo rival had a bad day at the TT Circuit Assen. With a brave and controlled ride through the pain barrier to finish just ahead of the South African at the Sachsenring in the wet, Navarro kept himself in play – but a DNF that put paid to a scintillating fight back from P17 on the grid in Austria has grown the gap once again. Navarro has less and less to lose as the 2016 season counts down, and will now be squarely focused on winning – nothing else. A front row qualifying and P5 in the race in 2015 are a good foundation to build on.
Romano Fenati was the talk of Moto3™ at the Red Bull Ring as the Italian was suspended from Sky Racing Team VR46 ahead of the race and took no part in Sunday’s proceedings. With the details of his future unknown, his title aspirations seem on hold at best – although he is still P3 in the table, Binder’s 20-point haul in Austria has grown the gap by a large margin as Fenati watched from the sidelines. Compatriot Francesco Bagnaia (PULL&BEAR Aspar Mahindra) is now only 3 points behind Fenati’s third place in the title, and the Assen winner will be looking to take advantage.
Moto3™ can change in a heartbeat, with a full grid of talent and so many riders capable of winning a race or locking out the podium. The more experienced on the grid such as Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3), Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) and the recovering Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold) – last year’s winner – will be pushing to stop the South African from taking another victory, with new faces such as Austrian poleman and victor Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) looking to keep making their presence known on the grid as they start to become key protagonists – in the championship as well as the races.
The Moto3™ machines head for the HJC Helmets Grand Prix České Republiky from a post-Austrian GP test on Monday, ready to lead the charge out on track on Friday 19th August at 9:00 local time (GMT +2).