Ahead of track action at the first of the four upcoming flyaways, the pre-event Press Conference for the PTT Thailand Grand Prix saw reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) joined by his only remaining title challenger, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), as well as Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) to talk shop – with the weather forecast, the Championship and plenty more on the agenda.
Marquez spoke first, and the first question was – of course – about his title chances this weekend.
“First of all you try to approach the weekend in the normal way, but you understand it could be a big weekend. But on the other hand we know if it’s not possible here, we’ll have another chance in Motegi, Phillip Island, Malaysia, Valencia… I’ll be the same Marc with same strategy to push from beginning to end, to prepare for Sunday’s race, let’s see. We know that Dovi was very fast here last year and Yamaha wasn’t bad, but the goal is to prepare the weekend well and try to fight for the victory on Sunday.”
And Buriram? “It’s a circuit where the layout looks easy on paper but riding it isn’t so easy and you need to manage everything. Last year from the beginning it was a good layout for me but I was losing on the straights, and this year there we have a more powerful engine so it will be better. But we could struggle in other points so let’s see how we start, with good pace and in good shape, and we also must be ready for all conditions because it looks like it could be a wet race on Sunday.”
Dovizioso took to the mic next, and he began with a quick debrief of MotorLand. “The race in Aragon was good because I felt good before the race, but not that good! I found the rhythm and feeling in the race, lap by lap, and I was riding so smooth and well, and was able to be consistent over the last laps which made the difference for finishing second, so I’m happy about it.”
Then it was on to the 2018 Thai GP…the only time so far the Italian has lost out to Marquez in a last corner duel. But he’s more focused on the dynamics of the race, and how they may differ this season.
“Last year at Buriram it was a strange race and we were a big group, anything could happen with five riders on the last three laps, but I expect this year it will be a different situation. I think everyone’s level changed a bit but let’s see the conditions. You never know each year, and the tyres are a bit different, maybe there will be some rain…but I don’t think it’s good to overthink it, we’ll see on the bike.
“Every time you have to try to understand everything and remember everything from last year, the setup of the power, how the tyre works…but as I said before, the tyres are a bit different, the conditions will be different and that will affect everyone, but for sure you start with the base from last year.”
Then it was time to hear from Rossi. 'The Doctor’ again began with Aragon, a tougher race than expected, and then talked a little about his positive Thai GP last season.
“I think that the bigger problem for Yamaha in Aragon, because in practice and time attack we weren’t too bad, but unfortunately for the race with our bike we needed to use the hard rear because we were worried about the soft. And unfortunately, the hard rear in Aragon is difficult to predict and unfortunately in the race all Yamahas had some problem with it. But for me it was difficult because after six or seven laps I was in trouble and quite slow, so we’ll try here.
“Last year here was a good weekend, especially Saturday and Sunday, starting from the front row, and the race was very good for us because me and Maverick could stay very close to Marc and Dovi for the race. Unfortunately, at the end I was the last of the group and didn’t get on the podium! But it was a positive weekend.”
It was around Thailand last year when things started to look up for the Iwata marque, too. Does that give the nine-time World Champion even more confidence heading into the flyaways?
“Last year we arrived here and we changed something in the setting of the bike and from this race to the end it was better; we improved our results, so we’ll see this year…a lot of time it’s the same, other times you arrive after a year and everything is different so we need to wait till tomorrow and see what’s happening. And it looks like the forecast is difficult, whereas last year it was three days of hot and sunny weather. Everyone is hoping for a dry race but we’ll see.”
For Quartararo, Aragon was also a little tougher. The French rookie says he had a similar struggle to that of ‘The Doctor’.
“Aragon was different to Misano and I had the same feeling as Valentino, I struggled after seven or eight laps, the grip dropped a lot and I couldn’t stay with the front group. But arriving here I think we arrive quite good, the Yamaha went well here last year fighting for the podium, so I’m really looking forward to starting the weekend.”
This weekend, of course, the rookie is only missing one race weekend of experience on most of the grid – because we’ve only had one Thai GP. But does he use previous races and sessions for reference? You bet.
“Between Aragon and now, I’ve watched last year’s race and practices at least 20 times and played on the game, I know the tracks well even if not racing in MotoGP the previous year! But it’s not an easy track and we’ll try and adapt quickly because we know the forecast will be tricky this weekend.”
Next up was Miller, who trails Quartararo by just six points in the fight for top Independent Team rider. And for him, Aragon was a contender for his best MotoGP™ race of the season – he explained why.
“I’m feeling good leading into this one, especially after Aragon, it was a polar opposite to Misano so was good to bounce back after tough weekend and take a podium was even more special. I got a lot of compliments after that race, even more than other podiums this season. I had to work for it a bit more and I had to ride a bit smarter; when Dovi came through I was able to learn from him a bit.”
So how is he feeling heading into Buriram?
“I think we can have a similar weekend this weekend. Seeing the race from last year, I was just off that front group. I wasn’t able to keep their pace but coming here on the GP19 this year should give us an extra boost, especially on the straights. I am looking forward to it, it should be a good weekend. It is hot, humid and I just came from Australia and it is similar there, so it should be good.”
Speaking of Down Under, how was it to be able to head home for a bit ahead of the race? A definite and appreciated luxury.
“It’s always nice to get home and switch off a bit. The lifestyle is completely different to Europe, it’s nice to get back on the farm and chill out a bit. Same routine and cycling as always, but during the day I get to play on the farm!”
Finally, Aleix Espargaro was in the Press Conference following his impressive result in Aragon, and he’s feeling positive about the future and coming off the back of the result – although he says Buriram will be a tougher prospect.
“Unfortunately not every race is as fun as Aragon was. I think Aragon suits our bike really well and apart from the race I also enjoyed it a lot during the weekend, I was also fast in qualifying, so it was a good race and I hope that we can bring this positive energy here. We know it’s not an easy track for us, but I try to be positive, I’m going to try to do my best, so let’s see what this track brings.”
Talk also turned to the future for Noale factory Aprilia, and there was more positive energy there too.
“The more bikes and competitive riders you have on the track, the easier it gets. At Aprilia we have just two factory bikes on the track every race, so it’s not that easy to improve. Sometimes you need more time and if your teammate struggles, it’s even more difficult, so Andrea is getting better and better and I hope we’ll be much more competitive in the future and we can help Aprilia to better improve the bike.”
That’s about it from Thursday…scroll down, or for more talk and the Social Media Qs, head to motogp.com. And don’t forget to tune in for another scintillating PTT Thailand Grand Prix on Sunday 6th October at 14:00 (GMT +7)!