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Race to the hills: the MotoGP title fight goes on red alert in Austria


Straight back in action, MotoGP™ is now heading for the NeroGiardini Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich in another spectacular location: the Styrian Alps. This time, the hills will be alive with the sound of horsepower.

The stunning venue is one of the fastest and its intricacies soon seemed to suit a certain manufacturer when the paddock first graced the updated venue last year: Ducati are firmly penciled in as pre-race favourites. After reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) took a dominant flag-to-flag win at Brno and extended his points advantage to 14, the Borgo Panigale factory’s form in Austria is sure to give the standings a shake up once again. Following a P6 finish for Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) in the Czech GP, the timing couldn’t be better.

Last season, ‘DesmoDovi’ took second. Since then, the rider from Forli has won three MotoGP™ races and led the Championship earlier in the year. He surely arrives as favourite if everything plays by the formbook, and the venue should be a positive one for new teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo completed the podium in 2016, and was only beaten then by the Desmosedicis ahead of him. The red machines will be in attack mode.

Looking to defend his position as much as possible is Marquez. Now with the most breathing space of anyone, the rider from Cervera has a 14 point cushion as the paddock arrives at a venue that was more difficult for him last year. Using the post-Czech GP test to prepare for Austria, however, leaves the number 93 more confident of putting up a bigger fight this year. Teammate Dani Pedrosa, who gained on everyone except Marquez by coming second in Brno, will be a key rival, too – with both men firmly pitched against each other as well as the rest of the field. 150 podiums into his career, Pedrosa remains a threat.

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP duo Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi are two more who will want to spring a surprise and take the spoils. Viñales was back on the podium in Brno for the first time since Mugello, with Rossi just off it in fourth and making useful points gains on Dovizioso – not something they’ll want to see eroded only a week later. The Yamahas followed the Ducatis home in 2016, which should hearten both as a good springboard. Viñales came sixth, too.

Octo Pramac Racing fielded the first Independent Team rider in 2016: Scott Redding, and their Ducati machinery will be a threat again. Redding is now on the bike that won last year, and teammate Danilo Petrucci on the GP17 along with Dovizioso and Lorenzo. Having just missed out on victories this season and having often made his name at the front, Petrucci will see a big opportunity at the Red Bull Ring to kickstart the second half of his campaign. Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Team) and teammate Karel Abraham also have Borgo Panigale machinery, as well as Reale Avintia Racing’s Hector Barbera and Loris Baz.

In the green corner, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 squad will want to get in the way as much as possible, with both Jonas Folger and Johann Zarco having had more difficult Czech GPs. Both podium finishers by now, a trip to parc ferme as top Independent Rider will be a serious target – the trip made by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) at Brno. The experienced Brit always has his own designs on the front group.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing are an interesting question at their home race. With good experience at the track and lots of testing – although at various stages of development – the incredible ninth position taken by Pol Espargaro at Brno will have them walking tall on the way to the Red Bull Ring. There will be pressure to perform, of course, but the squad should be well armed as they look to keep ticking off the ‘firsts’ – and test rider Mika Kallio is on track as a wildcard.

Last year, Austria staged its own first: the first premier class victory for Andrea Iannone. Now on Team Suzuki Ecstar machinery, the ‘Maniac’’s expectations will have been adjusted for 2017 – but the memories of the venue will make it a happy hunting ground. The Hamamatsu factory took solid results last year as an added bonus, and made good use of the Brno test.

The showdown at Spielberg is at 14:00 (GMT +2) on Sunday as normal – with headlines to be made, points to be taken and gaps to be closed once again on the incredible rollercoaster of 2017.

MotoGP World Championship Classification

1 – Marc Márquez (SPA – Honda) 154 points
2 – Maverick Viñales (SPA – Yamaha) 140 points
3 – Andrea Dovizioso (ITA – Ducati) 133 points
4 – Valentino Rossi (ITA – Yamaha) 132 points
5 – Dani Pedrosa (SPA – Honda) 123 points

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