Grand Prix of the Czech Republic, Brno: Weekend preview – MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
2017 is already making history. After nine races, the second half of the season beckons at Brno with the top five riders in the Championship – Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) split by only 26 points. The top four of those are within 10 points of each other, and it has never been closer.
That’s a tantalising prospect as the second half of the season gets ready to fire up at the Automotodrom Brno for the Monster Energy České republiky, and there’s no sign that the thrilling ups and downs of the first nine races are about to abate. 10 different podium finishers, four different Championship leaders, and five different winners is the count so far. MotoGP™ just keeps getting better, and there’s no better place to get back in gear than the spectacular 5.4km amphitheatre of Brno: history, atmosphere and a incredible crowd.
Marquez is the title leader for the first time this season after the German GP, and the man seeking to defend it. He took victory at Brno as a MotoGP™ rookie in 2013, and has since had a number of podium finishes. It makes for good reading, but far from invincible – as teammate Dani Pedrosa can attest, after bringing Marquez’ winning streak at the beginning of 2014 to an end at the venue. Pedrosa has further form, too, including an awesome duel to the finish against former nemesis Jorge Lorenzo in 2012. A track where Honda have the best recent record and have tested in the summer, Brno is a good place for the Repsol liveried machines to launch their assault on the second half of the season.
The man now second in the standings – and who has been first or second since Qatar – is Viñales. His record at the Czech GP glitters a little less than the key rivals he is facing down for the title, but then the rider from Roses has been rewriting his own formbook this year at Movistar Yamaha. He’ll be wanting to stamp the authority he lost ahead of the summer break straight back onto proceedings as the second half gets underway – but the man on the other side of the garage will have a lot to say about that, too.
Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) has a long record of winning and rostrum finishes at Brno, and the venue was the scene of the ‘Doctor’’s first ever GP win in 1996, in the 125 World Championship. Rossi also won the 125cc crown at the Czech GP in 1997, and has both memories and form on his side. Still very much in the title fight at the halfway stage, Rossi has found his way from a challenging preseason to a good number of points by Round 10 – not something he’ll be ready to give up.
Then there are the red machines. Andrea Dovizioso has already won two races this season, and sits a very close third in the standings. ‘DesmoDovi’ knows Brno is another good chance to attack, and will be looking to do just that ahead of the Austrian GP, where the Ducati Team took a 1-2 last year. The momentum at stake is another bonus as well as the points, and that’s something not to be underestimated. Teammate Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) has had a tougher season so far, but the five-time World Champion has taken one podium so far, and has some great results at Brno including a stunning lights-to-flag victory from pole in 2015. A slew of podiums and victories mean the ‘Spartan’ is on good territory and will be looking to begin part two of the year as he means to go on – at the front.
Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins are two more looking to refine the storyline of the season in the second half of it. Iannone has a strong record at the Czech GP stretching back to the lower classes and will want to kick off part two on a high – and Rins will be looking for a reset after a first half tempered by injury.
Then there’s Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, as the Austrian factory hone in on regular points finishes. The big headline for the squad in the German GP was the gap, as a KTM finished the smallest margin yet to the winner. The progress is steady, with a new accomplishment every weekend, and both Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith have scored some good points – and want more.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) was left wanting more after the German GP, but the calendar could not be better for the Brit to begin the second half of the season with a bang. The rider from Coventry took a stunning win last year to become the first Brit to take victory in the premier class for 35 years, and the first since Barry Sheene. The win wasn’t a one-off, either, with the track also having hosted the number 35’s first MotoGP™ podium in 2012. Good memories can make great foundations for more solid results, and Crutchlow will be aiming squarely at the podium – maybe even higher.
Other Independent Team riders could also hold some important cards in the Czech GP. Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is now within reach of teammate Jonas Folger in the standings as the two lead the charge to be Rookie of the Year, and it’s not just each other the incredible Tech 3 duo have been racing. After Zarco’s podium in France, Folger managed the same at home in Germany – and was incredibly close to winner Marquez, who has been undefeated at Sachsenring eight years in a row. There is still plenty to learn for the rookies, and plenty left to achieve – with the bar seemingly raised after every race. Folger also won the Moto2™ race at Brno last year.
Another man to have raised the bar of expectation consistently so far in 2017 is Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing), and the Italian – as well as a key contributor to Press Conferences – is a key figure in the narrative of the year. Now it’s part two, and Petrucci has already had two near misses as he’s honed in on victories. ‘Petrux’ has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) will also be wanting to get back in the fight at the front after some more difficult races, with Jack Miller (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) another of those with big potential. The Aussie has taken a good slew of top ten finishes this year and a best of sixth so far, and will be coming back to Brno bike-fresh after taking part in the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race.
The home hero at Brno is Karel Abraham (Pull&Bear Aspar Team), who has had top ten results at the track in the past and has shown some top form in 2017. The huge local crowd that always line the spectacular venue will doubtless be a big force behind Abraham as he flies the flag.
FP1 on Friday morning (9:55 GMT +2) begins the final countdown: nine races, five contenders and one crown.
Please take your seats; Act 2 is about to begin.
Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is a long way clear in the points standings in 2017, and the Italian is undoubtedly in the best position as the second half of the season gets underway. Now the pressure is on to hold his nerve – which can be a bigger mountain to climb than being the man on the chase.
That man is the same as it was in the last half of 2016, as it eventually turned out. Then it was Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) who got closest to stopping Johann Zarco taking his second title, and it’s the Swiss veteran who looks closest to being able to halt Morbidelli this season. Lüthi’s run last year began after the Czech GP, which the Swiss rider missed after a crash in practice, but his ability to bounce back and take victory next time out will be his focus – having previous podium form at the venue in Czechia to back this up.
Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is the next up in third on points, and the Moto2™ sophomore showed his mettle once more – and that of the new intermediate class KTM effort – in the German GP just ahead of summer. He’ll want more of the same now, and got a top ten as a rookie last year at the track – all that is left now is for the combination to take their first win.
Going into the summer break after a very different end to the Sachsenring weekend was Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), who crashed out and injured some vertebrae – now needing to be passed fit to race in Brno. The 2014 Moto3™ World Champion has a great record at the track, however – which is one of his favourites – and will be looking to kick off part two of the year as strongly as possible. Having already taken two incredibly dominant wins this season, Marquez will be shooting straight back for the top.
Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) leads the rookie of the year charge at the halfway point and was on the podium again in Germany. The Italian is even fifth overall in the Championship – just ahead of veteran compatriot and Mugello winner Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team), who is a 250cc podium finisher at Brno. Count in Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), who has previously taken pole position and a podium in the Czech GP, and the start of the second half of the season is sure to be a winner.
There will also be a new face on the grid at Brno – Joe Roberts – as the American moves across from the FIM CEV Repsol to replace Yonny Hernandez at the AGR Team.
The points battle may seem like a Morbidelli vs Lüthi push towards the finale, but anything can happen in motorcycle racing. And the points never tell the whole story – with Moto2™ this season having produced some of the closest and most explosive racing of the year. The curtain goes up on Friday morning for practice, before the race at 12:20 (GMT +2) on Sunday.
The first half of the 2017 Moto3™ season has seen one man rise to the top thus far: Leopard Racing’s Joan Mir. Clear by 37 points at the top of the standings, the Majorcan seems to be holding all the cards as the paddock prepares for the Czech GP – but now the pressure is really on as the marathon season becomes a sprint through nine races.
How Mir will cope with that pressure – or perhaps not feel it at all – will have a big bearing on how the remainder of 2017 plays out, and will depend a lot on his rivals and what they bring. Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) is a key player and will know it’s now or never as he prepares for the final stint, ready to do anything to catch Mir – with tactics often a strong point for the Italian. The man on the receiving end of those tactics in Texas, Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0), will be another gunning for glory and looking to up the ante as the two closest challengers prepare themselves to take the gloves off.
Last year’s winner at Brno, John McPhee (British Talent Team), is another whose sights will be set high. With a win at the track a good confidence boost for the venue specifically, the first half of the season was also largely a good one for McPhee, with a number of podiums and some stunning rides. The Scot can’t be counted out in the fight up top.
Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) – the rider to have taken most of the pole positions so far this year – will be hoping to get back on track to chase Mir, too. The Spaniard was injured in practice for the German GP and is training hard to make a return at Brno, only having missed one race and aware the second half of the season is just as long as the first – as is his teammate, Fabio Di Giannantonio. Taking a little more time to find some traction, the Italian is now in the top five in the title fight and back in the battle. There is time on the clock in 2017; of that there is no doubt.
Local support will be behind Jakub Kornfeil (Peugeot MC Saxoprint) too, as the Moto3™ veteran flies the flag on home turf – where his team won last year.
The same count of races remains, but with a very different ending. Summer break is over, Moto3™ is back in session and now it’s a sprint to the line and the season finale in Valencia. Bikes get back on track at 9:00 (GMT +2) on Friday.