It’s been quite the start to the 2020 premier class season and a clean sweep for Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) so far, with the Frenchman on a maximum of 50/50 as we return to race in the Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky. His two races in Jerez were pitch perfect and within tenths of each other, his gap at the front comfortable – at least in terms of margin – and he’s most definitely the man to beat as we arrive at Brno. But now it’s a new track and a new challenge and, maybe crucially, a more familiar one. Although everyone knows Jerez, no one knew Jerez in the 40 degree heat of July… but everyone knows Brno in August.
Brno, nostalgia in its purest form
With Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) sidelined, looking at the last few Czech GPs it's the man third overall – Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) – who should allow himself a spring in his step on the return to Brno. A win in 2018 and second place last year speak well of his chances, and something that may well be crucial to the likes of ‘Undaunted Dovi’ is the familiar territory we’re returning to, with plenty of data. The season remains extensive despite the delays and cancellations obliged by the Covid-19 pandemic and there’s definitely time to make up ground on Quartararo and make this a three, four or even more-way fight… with his track record at Brno and the Ducati’s pace at the venue, Dovizioso could be the choice for a few betting men this weekend.
That’s good news for a close title fight over the season after Yamaha bit first in Jerez, as a Ducati fight back now would only tighten up the standings. Yamaha’s last win at Brno came in 2015 as now-test rider Jorge Lorenzo put in a lights-to-flag special as wel. But however much five years seems a long time, it was four in Jerez since Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) took Yamaha’s last win there… and Quartararo felled that with something that looked like ease, twice in a succession that was most definitely quick. Added to the fact that five of the six places on the podiums in Jerez were filled by Iwata marque machinery, and Yamaha were 1-2-3 in the Brno test last year, which is the last time we were on track at the venue. Marc Marquez had also expected them to threaten on race day in 2019, that’s why he said he pushed from the off. But then what about their engines used so far? And top speed deficit to some?
"Does it concern me? Yes!" - Yamaha boss on engine crisis
The battle is far more than just the top three in the standings as it stands though, with a good few more names in the hat in an astonishingly competitive 2020: Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) has serious speed and will want to unleash that after a crash last time out, and his teammate Francesco Bagnaia looked set for a first podium in the Andalucia GP too before seeing it snatched away by a technical problem. They’ll be happy reading though Ducati’s recent record at Brno, as will Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team), who is looking for some form after a tough first two races. In the Yamaha corner, Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) suffered a similar story to Bagnaia and will want to hit back, and Rossi was back on the box and knows a fair few things about Brno. Another man to keep an eye on could be Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), who also had a barnstormer of an Andalucia GP to keep the ‘Doctor’ honest and ended the race fourth and fourth overall in the standings to boot. Brno has seen some good Honda success of late too…
Unseen: Nakagami receives praise from Puig post-race
And what about KTM? The Austrian factory showed awesome speed in Jerez over both race weekends, and although there was some bad luck and trouble for them on Sunday, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is fifth overall. And his rookie teammate, Brad Binder, had stunning pace. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) too. So what can they do in Brno? On the lead up to two home GPs back-to-back at the Red Bull Ring right after this one, they’ll want a few more points in Czechia – and to confirm their speed.
Although Marquez won’t yet return, there are two more riders suffering through the pain barrier, and both managed to finish the Andalucia GP. 2016 Czech GP winner Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), with more recovery time for his scaphoid, will want to be able to go the distance a little better, and Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins, with a dislocated shoulder compounded by a small fracture, will be aiming to take a step forward too. The Spaniard took a hard-grafted tenth place last time out, but after Suzuki’s incredible preseason showing he’ll want to recover more ground and score as quickly as possible. The good news for the Hamamatsu Factory in the second race in Jerez though was Joan Mir, with the number 36 putting a crash in the season opener behind him to take fifth and get some reward for his speed. He’ll be even more keen to conquer Brno too, as the Czech track was the scene of his huge crash in testing last season that sidelined him for two races.
Mir equals best result bringing Suzuki back to the fore
Finally, there’s also the fight for Rookie of the Year to keep an eye on. Quartararo has Independent Team rider standings sewn up so far, but the Rookie fight is closer than the points would have us believe. Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) put in an impressive ride to eighth in the Andalucia GP and has avoided mistakes on race day, but Brad Binder – he of the aforementioned stunning pace – will be looking to fight back after losing out on a bigger points haul. Brno is a good track for Alex Marquez though, so the Spaniard will be keen to keep that nice nine-point cushion accrued on home turf…
Fast, undulating corners cut through the forested hillsides the Automotodrom Brno calls home, and they are ready to host the FIM MotoGP™ World Championship. Tune in for the first of a triple-header blockbuster of race weekends as we head east from Jerez to the hills of Moravia. Can the field start to play catch up on Fast Fabio? Or has he already bolted?
And remember… there are now 12 premier class races left in 2020, not 11...
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