Following a two-week summer break, MotoGP returns to action this weekend for round 10 of the series at Automotodrom Brno in the Czech Republic. Previously known as the Masaryk Circuit or Masarykring, Brno has a long, rich history, its cobblestone-paved public-roads layout dating as far back as 1930.
The current track has 14 turns—six lefts, eight rights—and stretches 3.36 miles through acres of leafy-green woods, making it one of the longest courses on the calendar. Turn 10 is named after 1993 500cc World Champion Kevin Schwantz, who won the 1989 event ahead of fellow Americans Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey.
Few riders have a closer relationship with Brno than Karel Abraham. His father owns the circuit, and Abraham lives three minutes from the front gate. The 28-year-old Ángel Nieto Team rider worked his way through the 125cc and Moto2 classes before joining the top class in 2011. After nine races this season, he is 23rd overall in the point standings.
What are your earliest memories of the Brno track?
We—me, my father, and his friend with his son—were sitting on the other side of the track in the grandstands watching the 500cc race. I remember Mick Doohan on the start straight, passing the checkered flag. That’s one of my first memories of this circuit.
I wasn’t riding yet, but I really loved it. I wanted to be close to motorcycles and try to ride something, but it didn’t work out until I was 9. That was the first time I rode a real bike with a real engine.
Your father owns the circuit, so do you naturally spend a lot of time on the grounds?
I spend quite a lot of time here. There is a minibike circuit—it is very small but better than nothing—and sometimes I ride my supermoto bike. I also come here for some meetings and stuff. I’m here a few days a week.
There is always something happening in the summer. I like to watch bikes going around the circuit. That’s one of the reasons I come here. We are in the middle of the forest, and when it snows in the winter, it’s super quiet. It’s such a big difference.
Riders and spectators often like tracks for different reasons. Why is Brno so popular with people on both sides of pit wall?
This track is not “offensive” to riders. There are no hairpins, tight chicanes, or corners that riders typically dislike—no dangerous points with not enough of a safety zone. Overall, it’s a nice, smooth, safe racetrack. That’s why the riders like it.
Why do the spectators like it? There are quite a few points where you can see the whole circuit. There are hills right next to the track so you can see everything under you. And that is perfect, for sure.
Every single corner is important to make a good lap time. Turn 1 is quite long, so that can make a difference. Out of 4—we call turns 3 and 4 Sector A because there is a Grandstand A—there is a straight going downhill so it’s not as important as if it were going uphill.
The whole turn 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 section… If you screw up the first corner, the others will be quite difficult to get back on the line. The Schwantz corner is definitely difficult and quite long, so it’s also important.
After turns 11 and 12, you’re going up a steep hill so you have to be fast on the exit. Otherwise, you’re going to lose time on that straight. Nowadays, the gap is so little that if you screw up a corner, almost for sure you won’t be able to make a competitive lap time.
Which rider—any season, any class—has impressed you the most at Brno?
I know the riders throughout the season, not what they do specifically here, so it’s difficult to say who is the best rider here or the one who has surprised me the most with his result. Some riders have done really well.
Max Biaggi really liked this racetrack. I remember he was the guy who was winning every race here. But nowadays, let’s say in the last five years, there hasn’t been anyone so special that he really stays in my mind.
How much of a handicap is a two-year-old Ducati?
What do you want me to say? It’s a two-year-old bike. We had a two-year-old bike last year, and it worked perfectly. This year, if you sit on the bike, it’s a really good bike. I can’t say anything bad, but in a field of MotoGP bikes, the others are slightly better.
As I mentioned, the gap is so little that little difference makes a difference for me on the track in the lap time and in the final result. At Sachsenring, it was really important because of the wings and maybe some other things.
Those tenths that you lose out of the corner, those tenths that you lose on the following straight, count, and they can make a big difference at the end of the lap. I think my bike is great, but I wish we had a better one to be more competitive.
Last year, I think we proved that we can make a good result, even on a two-year-old bike. We scored points in almost every GP that we finished, and we had a couple of top 10s, too. And now we are struggling to get a single point.
Why? I don’t know. I think I am still the same rider. It’s not about me being slow in a race. We can’t make a single lap time in a free practice, qualifying, warm-up, whatever. It’s not happening. Something must be… I don’t want to say wrong. It’s not as good as it could be.
Kenny Roberts Jr. once told me, “You can only ride the bike to its limit.”
Exactly. I’m pushing. I’m trying to be on the limit. Often, I feel we are on the limit. The mechanics are trying to change the setup, but it’s not going anywhere. I still love racing and I want to keep doing it, but I wish we were more competitive.
What are your expectations for the second half of the season?
The only thing I can do is to work hard to be prepared for every single GP and try to get that result. I cannot do more. If we are at the limit of the bike, this is something I cannot change. I can only focus on myself and see where that will lead.
Where do you see yourself racing in 2019? Would you consider another series, such as World Superbike or MotoAmerica?
I have gotten some offers from other classes—Moto2 and MotoE, which is coming next season. I don’t really want to go to Moto2 or MotoE. My focus at the moment is purely on MotoGP. If it doesn’t work out then, yeah, I’ve got some other ideas.
One of the options is to stay home, to not compete next year in any championships, but I don’t want to do that because, as I mentioned before, I love racing. Some other things may be possible, but they are unclear at the moment.
I would [consider MotoAmerica]. I’m familiar with the series, and I have ridden quite a few racetracks in the United States—Indianapolis, Laguna Seca, Austin, Willow Springs, Sonoma, and Las Vegas.
Final question: What is the history behind Brno’s green paint?
I don’t know why it is green. When we got involved with the circuit, it already looked like this. If you notice, the steel parts are now gray; they were silver last year. We just painted it a couple of weeks ago. It does look better.
We want to invest and change the buildings, to renew them, and make them look a little more modern, but it is very expensive. So we kept the green, and I think it’s alright. I think this color has been on the buildings since they were built.