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18 days ago
By Matthew Birt

Could the wait be over for Ducati?

MotoGP commentator Matt Birt looks ahead at the Austrian GP

The MotoGP field reconvenes in Austria this weekend relaxed, tanned and wondering if Ducati can finally end its long winless streak that now astonishingly stretches back 100 premier class races.

Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring will be 2128 days since Casey Stoner demolished the field at Phillip Island in 2010 to win Ducati’s last race in MotoGP.

It is such a long time ago that since then Stoner has been a World Champion for Honda, been retired for three-and-a-half years, been a HRC test rider, has a four-year old daughter and returned to Ducati as ambassador and development rider.

Yet if there is one race in which Ducati could return to winning ways then it might well be in MotoGP’s first stop off in Austria since 1997 this weekend.

To say Ducati dominated the recent Red Bull Ring test heading into the summer break would be a gross understatement.

On the opening day of action at a track that is as breathtakingly fast as the spectacular scenery surrounding it, Ducati occupied seven of the top eight places.

At the conclusion of the two-day session, Ducati took a clean sweep of the top four and ended with six bikes in the top 10.

The Bologna factory’s domination was so emphatic that Valentino Rossi was the leading non-Ducati in fifth, but he was almost a second off the best pace set by a supremely confident Andrea Iannone.

The 10-corner Red Bull Ring seems tailor made for the characteristics of the Desmosedici machine.

It’s a layout where braking stability, top speed and low gear acceleration are the key to a fast lap time.

The Ducati’s braking stability has never been an issue. Even in the dreaded days of understeer, the Desmosedici always stopped on a sixpence but just wouldn’t turn.

Iannone set a new top speed record of over 220mph in Mugello earlier this year and Ducati’s grunt makes it a serious weapon when accelerating in first and second gear.

So on a track that is set to take over from Australia’s jaw-dropping Phillip Island as the fastest on the MotoGP calendar, it is easy to see why many think Ducati will never have a better chance of taking its 32nd premier class victory.
I think the pressure on Ducati to end its barren run has been ramped up with some of the near misses of 2016.

This year’s Desmosedici is clearly a very competitive machine and with a bit more luck and composure then it is not pure fantasy to think Ducati might have won more than a single race.

The reality is though that Stoner’s last win casts a big shadow over Borgo Panigale.

Gigi Dall’Igna has transformed Ducati from also-rans to potential race winners.

But for all his renowned and respected engineering expertise, Dall’Igna has not able to engineer a Ducati win.

Ducati missed its target of winning at least one race in 2015 and we are now halfway through 2016 without a win.

Hector Barbera has been a revelation on the ageing GP14.2 machinery and at the halfway stage of the season it is more kudos to the Spaniard that he is the top Ducati rider in the standings.

Iannone is a massive 107-points behind Marquez in the points and Dovizioso a further four adrift, so it easy to see why there is a sense of under achievement at Ducati so far in 2016.

Maybe a win in Austria will open the floodgates to more success and on the evidence of the recent test then Iannone is in the box seat to end the drought.

Iannone was over 0.4s quicker than his teammate Dovizioso and I’m sure he would love nothing more than being the man to return Ducati to the top step of the podium before he heads off to Suzuki.

Iannone will certainly not want to squander winning opportunities that have slipped through his grasp on more than one occasion in 2016 on a track where it appears his machinery has such a performance advantage over the rest.
Many feel Iannone should have won the opening round in Qatar before a damp white line did for his chances.

He certainly had the pace in Le Mans when he was running in a strong second when a mistake ended in a visit to the gravel trap.

And the epic Mugello fight between Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez may well have been a battle for second had Iannone not made a complete hash of the start. He fought back from outside of the top 10 and set the fastest lap of the race on the last lap. And his post race reaction made it clear that he knew a golden chance to win had eluded him.

Danilo Petrucci and Dovizioso have both led the last two races in Assen and Sachsenring and not got the job done. So Ducati has shown plenty of potential in 2016 without capturing that elusive victory.

It is worth sounding a note of caution though before people think it is a formality that Ducati will be untouchable at the Red Bull Ring.

Marc Marquez and Repsol Honda didn’t attend the Red Bull Ring test. And the challenge of winning in MotoGP becomes a completely different task when Marquez is on track.

The fact that the top Honda at the test was Cal Crutchlow in 11th and a whopping 1.2s off Iannone’s best pace won’t have made for pleasant reading by the swimming pool for Marquez in the summer break.

But if anybody can take the fight to Ducati it will be him, with Rossi and Lorenzo conceding Yamaha’s lack of top speed against the Ducati will seriously harm their prospects this weekend.

If Ducati doesn’t grasp a glorious chance to win in Austria then it will only have to wait another seven days to try again in Brno.

And when you’ve already waited over 2100 days to win in MotoGP, what’s another seven?