We expected Ducati to do well in Austria and they did; Andrea Dovizioso won in a last-lap, last-corner showdown with Marc Marquez to take his third hard-earned victory of the season. Further, Dovi's teammate Jorge Lorenzo got his normal rocket start and led 11 laps before his tire stepped down. Champagne was seemingly on ice in Bologna...

Why the expectation? Because last year, Dovi finished second to then-Ducati teammate Andrea Iannone, and Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi (then both on Yamaha) were third and fourth, followed by Marquez. Everyone thought Dovi would be the golden child to take Ducati's first victory since Casey Stoner in 2010, not the unpredictable Iannone.

On lap 12 this year, Lorenzo’s soft rear tire let Marquez past until lap 17, when Dovi and Marquez vied for the lead. Dovi then asserted himself and led to the exciting finish.

Dovi said, "It was a very stressful last lap because it’s difficult to manage some riders behind you, especially if it is Marc. He always tries something! The corner before last I braked very, very late and it (the pass) was too difficult for him. But I could hear his engine and he could open the throttle before me on the exit.

andrea dovizioso austrian motogp race action
Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team, Grand Prix of Austria 2017Courtesy of Ducati Team

“Then I knew he would try at the last turn, so I left the door open because if I closed the door he would hit me and then he would win.”

Marquez came in hot, got sideways, and in recovering ran wide, allowing Dovi to make a classic cross-over under him and accelerate to be first to the flag.

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Marquez said, “I arrive on the limit and I try on the last corner, because if not I cannot go to sleep quiet (tonight). I have to try. I tried to manage well but on the last laps I was struggling a lot, especially on the edge part, just leaning the bike a little bit and losing the rear. Anyway I try.”

Last year here Marquez was fifth. A look at the track map shows why the Ducatis are fast here and the Hondas—last year and up to now lacking in acceleration—were not. There are two big straights and two somewhat shorter ones, connected by small corners that are mostly close to right-angle. Acceleration and top speed! The Ducatis have plenty of power for that, and the "pointed" riding style that works best for Ducatis works well on those small corners. In the folded "inner part" of the course are two long left-handers that favor the corner-speed style of the Yamahas (and, incidentally, it was those two lefts that made the hard rear tire difficult; the left side was the cold side, and a cold, hard tire works poorly).

marc marquez austrian motogp race action
Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team, Grand Prix of Austria 2017Courtesy of Repsol Honda

So where did the Hondas come from on Sunday—Marquez and Pedrosa second and third behind Dovizioso? Remember Marquez saying, over the past two years, that he believes the power is there but that somehow, filtered and ‘adjusted’ through the traction control and anti-wheelie systems, much less was getting through?

LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow said, “Marc’s been the king of it this weekend (acceleration). Honestly, how he’s improved since being here last year, in acceleration. He’s riding fantastic in that area. Really, really well. Getting the bike stopped, turned, and getting it out. Normally that’s Dani’s strong point—and he’s murdering Dani.”

Marquez himself said, “Looks like this year I am feeling better with the bike, better acceleration. Of course I’m losing in other points and I’m struggling a little bit but also I tried to adapt my riding style to the bike.”

Dani Pedrosa, third in the race, said, “I had a good strategy, not fast in the beginning but with no mistakes so I could keep the right line and make some passes. I was struggling all weekend with the front locking and with rear spin. Then these two (Dovi and Marquez) started to fight I was closer and closer (remember—cut and thrust costs the duelists time!), but I had no drive to stay in touch after that.”

dani pedrosa austrian motogp race action
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team, Grand Prix of Austria 2017Courtesy of Repsol Honda

Through most of practice, times were very close, but as Sunday drew close the fast people pulled away from those with emerging handling issues—mostly the Yamahas. Maverick Vinales (who would finish sixth) was optimistic on Friday but as is his way, despondency enfolded him as lack of rear grip appeared.

On Friday it was, “Today we did a really good job. I was feeling quite good on the bike.” After qualifying fourth he said, “We need to improve on acceleration in the first and second sectors.”

Then after the race it was, “I suffered from a big drop in grip of the rear tire for almost the entire race. When I went wide as I was fighting with Valentino, I just tried to calm down and make the tire last until the end but it was totally impossible.”

Teammate Rossi (who qualified and finished seventh) said, “I was slow. We have to work because we stress too much the rear tire. Especially Honda and Ducati find something to be fast without using the rear too much. But after, we have to slow down and we lose the fight. In the second half of the race we are not strong enough.”

jorge lorenzo austrian motogp race action
Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team, Grand Prix of Austria 2017Courtesy of Ducati Team

This is an issue that always confronts the corner-speed riders—that the corner speed style is fast until the tire drops, after which it is faster to ride “in the pointed way” of the stop-and-go men, who are less dependent upon extreme edge grip. This has been complicated this year by what seems to be a tricky response of Michelin rubber to temperature. And that word “temperature” means not only the heat of the day but also the work that is required of the tire by the rider.

Here is what Dovi had to say about that; “I had to manage the tire. I couldn’t push at the beginning, so me and Marc saved a lot the tire. When you save the tire you save also the fuel. So I didn’t have any limit and I didn’t change any maps during the race. Every weekend the tire works in a different way. Every team has to understand and analyze every detail.

“It is very difficult because five, six, seven degrees’ difference can make a big difference—like today.” Although he qualified on the medium rear, he (and teammate Lorenzo) ran the soft in the race.

Everything was different for Lorenzo, who identified two problems; “We were very close with the fuel so from lap 3 I needed to put the last switch of the fuel setting, the lowest power one, and my bike was slower than normal.

johann zarco austrian motogp paddock
Johann Zarco, Monster Yamaha Tech3, Grand Prix of Austria 2017Courtesy of Monster Yamaha Tech3

The second problem, “From lap 12-15 I started losing a lot of traction on the right side and I needed to slow down.”

This is very interesting because in the lap times of all the top riders the same tire “step” can be seen taking effect just at lap 12. So it was the differing responses of the riders to this change, and the nature of their set-ups that made the difference. This “step” was not a special Yamaha problem, but for the factory men the response to it was crippling. This is why, at various times over the past 3-4 years, it has looked as though the day of the corner-speed rider is over.

Yet there is Lorenzo, making steady progress in the mutual adaptation of corner-speed man and stop-and-go bike. He led almost half of this race and rather than falling back with permanent grip loss he finished a creditable fourth. He is on a trend of improvement.

Johann Zarco on the Tech3 satellite Yamaha was fifth, on a soft tire. Rossi said of him, “Zarco can use the soft because he’s lighter, shorter, and also have a riding style very, very smooth a lot of the time.”

maverick vinales austrian motogp race action
Maverick Vinales, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, Grand Prix of Austria 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

Zarco said, “When I claimed fifth position the tires dropped a bit so I tried to manage it. I wanted to catch Lorenzo in fourth, however it was not possible; battling with the leading guys is very exciting!”

To sum up, everyone had problems of one kind or another, so the result depended on how each rider compensated. Andrea Dovizioso was his usual analytic and controlled self—but with an edge that Marc Marquez could not overcome. And after 11 nail-biting rounds, Desmo Dovi is running a close second behind Marquez in the championship as the race heads to Silverstone in less than two weeks.

grand prix of austria 2017 podium
Grand Prix of Austria 2017 podium: Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, and Dani PedrosaCourtesy of Ducati Team

Race Results

Pos. Rider Num. Nation Team Time/Gap
1 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA Ducati Team 39'43.323
2 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA Repsol Honda Team 0.176
3 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA Repsol Honda Team 2.661
4 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA Ducati Team 6.663
5 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA Monster Yamaha Tech3 7.262
6 VINALES Maverick 25 SPA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 7.447
7 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 8.995
8 BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA Pull&Bear Aspar Team 14.515
9 BAZ Loris 76 FRA Reale Avintia Racing 19.620
10 KALLIO Mika 36 FIN Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 19.766
11 IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA Team Suzuki Ecstar 20.101
12 REDDING Scott 45 GBR Octo Pramac Racing 25.523
13 ESPARGARO Aleix 41 SPA Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 26.700
14 ABRAHAM Karel 17 CZE Pull&Bear Aspar Team 27.321
15 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR LCR Honda 28.096
16 RINS Alex 42 SPA Team Suzuki Ecstar 32.912
17 BARBERA Hector 8 SPA Reale Avintia Racing 34.112
18 SMITH Bradley 38 GBR Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 36.423
19 RABAT Tito 53 SPA Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 42.404
20 LOWES Sam 22 GBR Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 52.492
21 MILLER Jack 43 AUS Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 9 laps
22 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA Octo Pramac Racing 22 laps
23 FOLGER Jonas 94 GER Monster Yamaha Tech3 25 laps
24 ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 26 laps

Rider Standings

Pos. Rider Num. Nation Points Team
1 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 174 Repsol Honda Team
2 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 158 Ducati Team
3 VINALES Maverick 25 SPA 150 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
4 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 141 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
5 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 139 Repsol Honda Team
6 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 99 Monster Yamaha Tech3
7 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 79 Ducati Team
8 FOLGER Jonas 94 GER 77 Monster Yamaha Tech3
9 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR 76 LCR Honda
10 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 75 Octo Pramac Racing

More Photos From Brno Grand Prix of Austria 2017:

valentino rossi austrian motogp race action
Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, Grand Prix of Austria 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha
alvaro bautista austrian motogp race action
Alvaro Bautista, Pull&Bear Aspar Team, Grand Prix of Austria 2017Courtesy of Pull&Bear Aspar Team
loris baz austrian motogp race action
Loris Baz, Reale Avintia Racing, Grand Prix of Austria 2017Courtesy of Reale Avintia Racing
mika kallio austrian motogp race action
Mika Kallio, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Grand Prix of Austria 2017Courtesy of Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

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