Jorge Lorenzo says his bid to win a sixth world title was blunted in the preseason and opening races by "something strange" about the Ducati GP18. Since the fourth round of the championship at Jerez, however, where he led the first seven laps of the race, the 31-year-old Spaniard has run at the front of the field every weekend, winning back-to-back rounds at Mugello and Catalunya and finishing second at Brno.

This dramatic resurrection came as no surprise to Lorenzo. “I needed to solve some things on the new bike to feel as strong or even stronger than I was last year,” he told me at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, round 11 of the series. “That’s why I took so much time to understand the tiny things on the Ducati. I’m still learning a lot; I don’t think I will ever be 100 percent with this bike.”

Lorenzo has found ways to combine his own special strengths with those of the evolving GP18 to achieve the results he seeks. “I understand how to save energy, how to save the tires for the end of the race, how to take profit of all the powers of the bike,” he said. “Until now, I was in a race to gain more experience. If nothing strange happens from here to Valencia—my last race with Ducati—I will keep improving little by little.” Lorenzo is headed to Repsol Honda in 2019.

Jorge Lorenzo
Looking forward to Sunday's race: “Honda has improved so much, especially the engine,” Jorge Lorenzo said. “They have a more powerful bike. It’s also true that we have improved in some weak points that we had last year so, finally, the situation is quite equal."Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

Teammate Andrea Dovizioso has six seasons on various iterations of the Ducati MotoGP bike, an advantage not lost on Lorenzo. “I was with Yamaha for nine years,” he said. “My last two years, I knew everything about the bike—all the small details. My level was very high. It’s the same with Dovi, especially because the Ducati is a very difficult bike compared to the others and you have to ride it in an illogical way. That took me so much time.”

Much has been written about the YZR-M1’s corner-speed genetic makeup sharply contrasting with the point-and-shoot character of the GP18. I asked Lorenzo if a rider’s style is like a fingerprint—part of his own DNA. “No,” he replied. “If you are curious and always think how you can improve, you can do it. If you don’t care, you keep doing the same forever. I have changed my style a lot.

“After the first five years of my career, I became a safe rider; I didn’t want to crash so much. Now if I don’t understand everything or feel under control, I cannot push or risk 100 percent. If I understand everything, I always take it and never lose it. Little by little, I was building the pieces of my puzzle. When I got the final piece, I never went back. You need to have this ambition to always get better.”

Tires are a priority for everyone, regardless of the brand of motorcycle, and riders witness things on track that are not so clear to others. “Honda, now more than ever, makes a more rounded corner style,” Lorenzo said. “Maybe in 2013 and ’14, they were making a vee. Now, I see Marc [Márquez] opens the line a lot. He spends more time on the angle. And his bike this year is very strong midcorner.”

Jorge Lorenzo
What impact could inclement weather have on Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring, which has been criticized for a shortage of runoff in some areas? Lorenzo was clear: “We need to race if it rains. There are lots of interests—money, sponsors, television.”Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

Lorenzo would like Michelin to build more edge grip into its front slick. “The edge of the rear tire is superior to the edge of the front,” he explained. “The rear always wants to turn, but the front doesn’t want to turn. The Bridgestone front tire permitted you to brake even in the middle of the corner. With the Michelin, you brake more in a straight line and then release the brake a little before you start leaning into the corner.”

Fifth in the championship standings heading into the weekend, Lorenzo continued his charge to the front in opening practice on Friday, finishing the dry 45-minute session in second, less than a quarter of a second behind Dovizioso. Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati), Márquez (Repsol Honda), and 2016 Austrian GP winner Andrea Iannone (Suzuki Ecstar) rounded out the top five. Márquez smoked all in rain-delayed FP2, run in wet conditions. Lorenzo was fourth.