The pre-event Press Conference got some tongues wagging ahead of the myWorld Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich on Thursday at the Red Bull Ring, with reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) joined by key rival Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Jack Miller (Pramac Racing), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) to talk everything from testing to rumours to races and a couple of things in between.
First to speak was Marquez, the man who has won at every track except this one. The Brno Test was on the agenda first, and then the weekend ahead...
"Yeah of course after Brno we have Monday test and little bit like every Monday test, everything worked well and the grip was amazing at the end of the day. This can be confusing but apart from that, we tried the important things in the morning and it was a good test for us. Now I'm looking forward to this Austrian GP, the Red Bull Ring; a circuit that I like, a layout that I like. It’s the only circuit I haven’t won at in the past, we will try to be ready again to fight for victory. I think all the competitors, not only Ducati but also Yamaha and Suzuki can be very very strong and lets see where we can fight on Sunday."
The stats would suggest for the win. So as the number 93 continues to break records - he recently took his 50th premier class victory - does he look at the numbers?
"Of course the stats are important. Not the most important but for me the Championship is more important than the statistics but if you have good statistics it means you’re working in a good way. You are working, improving and yeah to see your name around or between these legends is amazing so I don’t want to think a lot about it, continue with the same mentally and ambition and enjoy it on track, this is the most important."
Next up was Andrea Dovizioso, who won at the venue in 2017. Ducati have reigned since its return to the calendar and the Italian could be an early solid bet for the win - but Marquez DID finish ahead of him last year. Dovizioso first debriefed Brno, and then looked ahead at Austria.
"I’m happy. From the first practice the speed was there. Me and Marc did a really, really fast race. We pushed really hard for a lot of laps, so it was nice. The test was really good. The feeling with the bike was good. We tried some material which was interesting as it’s important to try new material to understand better the future. In the afternoon the grip increased a lot and there were a lot of fast riders, but we were focused on comparing with the old material. The feeling was good, I’m confident after Brno and we want to continue the victories of Ducati here. But we know how difficult it will be with Marc like he is and already last year he finished ahead of me. It’ll be hard to stop him but it’s our goal, we want to stop him.
"We have more points than last year and we can also have more points with the bad luck of Barcelona. The problem is that Marc has more points, so it’s difficult. We’re not too far away though, like Brno. We couldn’t finish the race with him unfortunately to make a battle, but we had a good pace so I’m happy.
Valentino Rossi, meanwhile, is also positive about Brno, although a little more tempered.
"In Brno was a bit better for me compared to the last races for sure. It’s not fantastic, we aren’t very happy for the sixth place but during the weekend I could ride the bike in a better way and we improved the balance, the setting, this is not so bad."
And the test? "On the Monday we had something interesting to try, we had the first touch with the new prototype of the bike. Doesn’t change a lot, something different especially in the engine, some different settings. But it was good to start the work because it was just the first touch but we need time, it was good to see what was better and what was worse and we can work in a better way. In the end Monday was quite positive."
Jack Miller was next on the mic. The Pramac Racing rider was back on the podium at Brno and it gives him a good springboard to try and move forward at the Red Bull Ring.
"It was nice to be back on the box as it’d been a while since Texas. This one felt a little more special as nobody crashed around us, I had to fight for it right to the end. It was really nice to be back in the company of Marc and Dovi; and especially after Assen and Sachsenring where I struggled a lot. I had a good feeling going into there even though I hadn’t had the best luck there in the past. I’ve had some bad luck here too so I’m looking to turn it around."
And the test? The Australian explains he had an update even before the Monday at Brno. "I feel the bike is in a good place, really comfortable after I had a chassis upgrade for the race in Brno. Did a check in the Test with a heap of tyres. The track is always ten times better on a Monday and there’s always a lot of Monday heroes trying to win the trophy of being top of the timesheets, so it was funny to watch that at the end."
The Australian also addressed some of the rumours heading round about 2020 - explaining the situation from his side. "I thought we were waiting on paperwork but clearly that’s not the case, there might be something else behind it I don’t know yet. We’ll see once Jorge comes back from the Maldives or wherever he is now, and we’ll find out what I’m doing. At the minute, I’m just trying to do the best I can do, I’m not stressed. I feel if I keep riding like I am, I’ll be here next year and we’ll just see where."
Next up was Crutchlow, who wasn't far off the podium in Austria last season, but the Brit first rewound to Czechia.
"We know that starting at the front of the grid is always a lot easier. It was difficult to make up more places at Turn 1 because of the wet patches. I never had the balls of Jack or Marc in the qualifying on Saturday, I did put the slicks in but I couldn’t go any faster, I kept finding myself on the water. I need to qualify better, it’s as simple as that. The front two rows, I probably could have got a good start and been there at the start of the race. But as Valentino said in the last three or four years in Brno we’ve been battling together, I had to try and come across the gap, I never made it and I finished fifth its as simple as that. Hopefully we can have a better result this weekend and try for the rest of the year."
And the test? Crutchlow explained his thoughts on that and his recent feeling with the 2019 Honda.
"First of all I think Honda are doing a good job. They’re bringing stuff for all the riders to try, I think me and Marc seem to be on a similar programme and Stefan maybe riding something else as well which is good because you get the information from all the riders. But in Brno I did try that chassis, I don’t know whether I will use it this weekend or not I’m not too sure, I don’t know of the feeling was good enough to use it or not. Over the last few races I felt better with our own bike, the standard bike we have this year, I see no reason why we can’t continue working with that bike. Even if we don’t feel fantastic with it, it seems I have not too bad pace with it at certain points. As I said I finished fourth last year so there’s no reason why we cant have a good weekend and get to the front."
Finally, it was time for the hometown hero - after a fashion. Pol Espargaro has been a consistent scorer (a perfect record so far this season) for KTM and shown some impressive pace, and now, of course, it's time to do that on the factory's home turf.
"It’s been a great year. From the beginning we aren’t achieving the results of these guys alongside me but we tried to focus on being fast but also consistent. It’s the only way at the moment to be in a good position in the championship. There’s a lot of good riders and good bikes. I’ve been quite consistent, trying to do good sessions and then trying to be consistent in the race. Good starts, our bike is super-fast off the start so it allows us to do good first laps, and then set us up in a good position in the beginning to then fight against the guys trying to overtake me later in the race. Looking forward to this weekend. I’m looking for a little bit more. I couldn’t race here last year so I’m looking forward to it.
"To race here is special. Everyone sees the track and the atmosphere, it’s an incredible circuit. KTM’s base isn’t far from here. I know that all the stands will be full of orange, cheering for us. So, after watching it on TV last year and meeting a lot of people from the factory and to have in the stands people that work on my bike, it will be super nice, so I’m looking forward to it.
Fully fit this season as opposed to the heartbreak of sitting on the sidelines in 2018, he repeated the positivity of how the program is going for KTM, who've made huge leaps forward since their debut.
"We’re looking to have good races in normal conditions where everyone finishes. Where we can be fighting with top guys at the end of the race, which is difficult as the bikes are at very good level. We need to remember sometimes it’s just our second year and a half with a brand new bike. Already what we’re doing is pretty interesting. For sure I’m the first to want to fight for podiums and the championship but at the moment it isn’t possible, so we will continue working like we are because I don’t think we’re doing too bad."
A podium and a front row have now been ticked off for the Austrian factory, but it's the gap to the front they largely focus on...which makes even better reading. How will they fare this weekend on home turf? Find out on Sunday 11th August.
Top photo L-R: Espargaro, Miller, Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi, Crutchlow