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We've waited, we've reset, we've reloaded... and now MotoGP™ is finally back in business! The Michelin® Grand Prix of Styria is just around the corner and the hills will be alive once again as two back-to-back weekends see the world's fastest motorcycle racing Championship take on the Red Bull Ring. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) arrives in the driving seat, but the venue has more recent glory for a few of his key rivals... so what can we expect in Styria?
Starting with the traditional rulers of the Red Bull Ring, Ducati will expect to be strong. Winning most of the races at the track, and it suiting their bike to a T, means they'll be heading in hoping to make some headway on Quartararo. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) remains second in the standings and will have his eye on that 34-point gap, and Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) isn't far behind either. His teammate Jack Miller has a few more points to make up, but the Australian has podium form at the venue... and plenty of winning form this season. But there was a new kid on the block last season in Styria... so is it still truly Ducati turf?
Welcome to KTM country! MotoGP™ returns to Styria
KTM's 2020 was a near-perfect fairytale at times, but 2021 started a little tougher for the Austrian factory. As we head onto their home turf after summer break though, they've already been back on top and back on the podium. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is leading the charge as arguably the standout performer on the grid since Mugello, and as luck would have it... it's the Portuguese rider who took his first premier class win at the venue last year to end the Ducati run. Can he do it again? And can teammate Brad Binder reset after the break and come out swinging?
Tech3 KTM Factory Racing's Iker Lecuona and Danilo Petrucci will also want to move forward on home turf, and make life difficult for the other factories at least. But the headlines at KTM don't stop and the same four horsemen of the Austrian factory as we've seen so far this year... they also include a MotoGP™ Legend.
One of the most decorated riders in history, Dani Pedrosa made a few headlines when he retired from full-time competition and then headed to KTM to become a test rider. And then a few more as his input was largely lauded across the board. Now, he's back not just at the track but on the track, doing a wildcard with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. He'll be exciting to watch as both a Legend and as a presence for the factory, and he won't be aiming for glory but he'll definitely get plenty of column inches across the weekend.
Meanwhile at Yamaha, eyes will be on Quartararo to see if the Frenchman can do some solid damage limitation in what is traditionally enemy territory, and El Diablo does have a good cushion of points at the top too. Teammate Maverick Viñales will be looking for somewhat of a reset on the other side of the garage, although he did take a podium at Assen. But a lot of attention will also go towards Valentino Rossi as the Doctor looks to get his mojo back, and to the man joining him at Petronas Yamaha SRT for the next few races as Franco Morbidelli recovers from knee surgery: Cal Crutchlow. Multiple Grand Prix winner and now Yamaha test rider, the Brit is back for the two in Austria and Silverstone. What can he do?
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One dark horse - if the reigning Champion can be considered such - could also be Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). Now fourth in the standings after a tougher start, the Red Bull Ring is a special venue for the Spaniard. It's where he took his first Moto3™ win, and then another one, before also proving the place he'd take his first premier class podium. Mir will expect to be strong, and his CV backs that up.
Teammate Alex Rins, meanwhile, will be the man likely most intent on a reset in the summer. His speed this season has been undermined by crashes, but it has been there, and he'll be looking to iron out his second half of the season.
At Honda, meanwhile, there are plenty of questions too. How will Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) do in the latter half of 2021? Can Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) start homing back in on the podium? And likewise Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol)? More than anything though, the headline stealing will once again be Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team).
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His return to the top step in Germany was an impressive and emotional feat, and his comeback ride in Assen was another warning shot. And that was now a while ago, with a good few more weeks of time to recover for the eight-time World Champion. Where will he be once the lights go out again?
Finally, for Aprilia, the mission to finish in the top five continues. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) also continues to impress, with some good consistency and progress. But it won't feel enough, and he'll be pushing again to try and take that best MotoGP™ era result.
The fight for Rookie of the Year, meanwhile, rages on. Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) will be looking to hammer home his advantage at a track suited to his machine, but Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) will have had more time back from injury. Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) will be pushing too, and Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) aiming to add to his points tally. Martin and Marini also have good recent records at the track.
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It's been a long summer break and there's plenty to play for in the Styrian GP. What awaits at the Red Bull Ring? Ducati dominance? KTM home glory? Mir's glorious Austria form? A Marquez feeling ready to head out toe-to-toe with the rest? We'll find out soon enough, with the lights going out for the MotoGP™ race at 14:00 (GMT +2) on Sunday the 8th of August.
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