This time tomorrow we'll know if Andrea Iannone or Andrea Dovizioso have finally broken Ducati's MotoGP win drought, or if the factory's best chance since 2010 agonisingly slipped away.

The pair, dominant at Austria's Red Bull Ring circuit ever since last month's private test, will start first and third on the grid after an impressive performance by Valentino Rossi separated the pair in qualifying.

But even the Yamaha superstar admits the red machines start as clear favourites.

Pole changed hands eight times during Saturday's 15-minute session, culminating in a 1m 23.142s on Iannone's final lap; handing the Italian his second ever MotoGP pole at an average speed of 186.9km/h, itself a new record for the current calendar.

"It is a very special day for us because I start from pole position and my team-mate Andrea starts from third," said Iannone. "We worked well from the test and in this track our bike has a special feeling."

"I'm satisfied about the weekend. Our speed is incredible and I'm really happy with the feeling I have with the Ducati at this track," said Dovizioso. "So I think we've worked in the right way. We improve a little step-by-step in practice and we are ready for the race."

Both riders are also aware that anything less than victory on Sunday will be seen as a disappointment.

"For sure we have a big responsibility because tomorrow Ducati has a very good chance for a first race win in many years," said Iannone. "It is very important we stay focussed for this goal. I will try my best and I'm sure also Andrea will try his best."

Dovizioso added: "There is big pressure because [a victory] is really important. We can feel the pressure today and tomorrow morning, but in the race I will be concentrating for my goal.

"We are really fast, we can fight for the victory. This is our goal."

Ducati vs Yamaha?

So who stands between Ducati and victory? Rossi's qualifying form means he is the obvious threat, but team-mate Jorge Lorenzo also held provisional pole on several occasions, confirming the M1's pace on new rubber.

Meanwhile a shoulder dislocation for Honda's world championship leader Marc Marquez has lessened - but certainly not extinguished - his victory chances. Lorenzo, Marquez and Suzuki's Maverick Vinales will start on the second row.

"The six strongest riders this season are all starting on the first two rows," Rossi declared.

However Iannone feels victory will come down to a duel between Ducati and Yamaha.

"I think with Andrea, Vale and Jorge it will be a very great battle tomorrow. Because the Yamaha has closed the gap a lot since yesterday and for sure tomorrow is an incredible fight," he said.

"The Yamaha become a little bit closer. Like I thought yesterday, they are not really far. We will see. We have to make a good start and make a strategy in the race," said Dovizioso.

"It will be interesting because the layout of the track is quite strange and I believe if you follow the other riders it is easier to be fast and make a lap time. So anything can happen."

'Ducati has more advantage than disadvantage here'

It's not hard to see why the Red Bull Ring, returning to the motorcycle grand prix calendar for the first time since 1997 and boasting the highest average speed of the season, suits the Desmosedici so well.

"It's a very fast track and I like it a lot, also because it is a very good track for my bike," confessed Iannone. "The Ducati is very fast and has very strong acceleration.

"Always you need both chassis and engine, but the engine at this track helps a lot. At the Sachsenring you use maximum power only for 18% of the lap. Here it is 50%. This is the fastest track [for average speed] in MotoGP and for sure the engine is very important."

Dovizioso however feels Yamaha has an advantage in four of the 10 corners.

"It is a balance between engine and chassis because for example Valentino is in front of me. We have an advantage in acceleration and power in the straight, but in some corners I think we lose. I think minimum four corners: Turns 6-7-9-10 maybe Yamaha is better. But for sure I think we have more advantage than disadvantage at this track."

Tyres, fuel consumption...

During the July test, most riders warned that the rear tyres on offer would not last the 28 lap distance.

Michelin responded with some harder rubber for the race weekend, with both options (medium or hard) now capable of going the distance. But the rate at which the grip decays will be crucial.

"I think Michelin with this summer break worked very well, in a good direction, because the tyre has very good life," said Iannone. "Today I was able to try both tyres and haven't decided which to use in the race. I have a very good feeling with both.

"I agree the tyres are better for the race for everybody. We don't have any problem like in the test," said Dovizioso. "For sure the grip is less so we work about that and we have to ride the bike with different lines from the test, but it is better than having a problem in the race."

The power hungry track character in turn means, due to fuel consumption, riders will not be able to use full power for the full race distance.

"For sure this is a problem I think for everybody, because we use a lot of gasoline. But we worked in FP3 and FP4 for just this problem," said Iannone. "For sure it is not possible to use all the power for all the race, but we can maintain a very good average speed and the bike works very well."

"Yes for sure the consumption will make a difference in the race, but already in FP3 and FP4 we had the power we can use in the race. So what we did in that practice is the reality. Everybody will have to manage the fuel and we work a lot to be fast with the right fuel consumption. I am so happy about how we worked in the weekend because in the pace we are really strong."

Going the distance...

As is often the case, performance on aging tyres during the second half of the grand prix is likely to be where the race is won or lost.

Iannone said: "I hope to have a very good consistency for all the race. We work very good in FP3 and FP4. I tried two long runs, first this morning and second this afternoon. The bike and electronics worked very well. We are very constant. But 28 laps in a long time for everybody"

The #29 will also have some physical pain to contend with, having hurt his ribs in a recent motocross accident.

"The second half will be the key for the race," confirmed Dovizioso. "Because the high speeds in the straight, the slides and wheel spin are really big. Really anything can happen. I'm not relaxed about that, but I think everybody is more-or-less in the same situation.

"We've done everything we could but only the race can show the reality. You can work really hard in practice, but the way to ride in the race is a little different. And when you put continuous laps together the tyre works in a different way.

"Many times this year with Michelin the drop in grip was quite big at the end of the race. So can happen again. I don't know if it will be a bigger limit for us compared to Yamaha, normally it is like this. But like I say we have worked as much as we could for the life of the tyre. Because fortunately we have really good speed."

Dovizioso's only MotoGP win was as a Repsol Honda rider at Donington Park in 2009, while Iannone - who was in his first season of Moto2 when Casey Stoner took Ducati's last win - is yet to stand on the top step in the premier-class.

The younger of the two Italians is making way for Jorge Lorenzo next season, adding extra spice to whether it is Iannone or Dovizioso that can put Ducati back on top.

Since joining Ducati at the start of 2013 Dovizioso has claimed nine podiums, including five second places, the closest of which put him just 0.174s from victory at Qatar last season.

Iannone has also been at Ducati for three and a half seasons, joining the official team at the start of last year. He has taken five podiums, the best of which was a runner-up finish at Mugello in 2015.

Ducati Corse sporting director Paolo Ciabatti recently named Qatar, Mugello, Le Mans and Assen as races the factory was in a position to win at this year.

They will be desperate to avoid adding Austria to that list...

By Peter McLaren


Loading Comments...