2017 is already making history. After nine races, the second half of the season beckons at Brno with the top five riders in the Championship – Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) split by only 26 points. The top four of those are within 10 points of each other, and it has never been closer.
That’s a tantalizing prospect as the second half of the season gets ready to fire up at the Automotodrom Brno for the Monster Energy České republiky, and there’s no sign that the thrilling ups and downs of the first nine races are about to abate. 10 different podium finishers, four different Championship leaders, and five different winners is the count so far. MotoGP™ just keeps getting better, and there’s no better place to get back in gear than the spectacular 5.4km amphitheater of Brno: history, atmosphere and a incredible crowd.
Marquez is the title leader for the first time this season after the German GP, and the man seeking to defend it. He took victory at Brno as a MotoGP™ rookie in 2013, and has since had a number of podium finishes. It makes for good reading, but far from invincible – as teammate Dani Pedrosa can attest, after bringing Marquez’ winning streak at the beginning of 2014 to an end at the venue. Pedrosa has further form, too, including an awesome duel to the finish against former nemesis Jorge Lorenzo in 2012. A track where Honda have the best recent record and have tested in the summer, Brno is a good place for the Repsol liveried machines to launch their assault on the second half of the season.
The man now second in the standings – and who has been first or second since Qatar – is Viñales. His record at the Czech GP glitters a little less than the key rivals he is facing down for the title, but then the rider from Roses has been rewriting his own formbook this year at Movistar Yamaha. He’ll be wanting to stamp the authority he lost ahead of the summer break straight back onto proceedings as the second half gets underway – but the man on the other side of the garage will have a lot to say about that, too.
Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) has a long record of winning and rostrum finishes at Brno, and the venue was the scene of the ‘Doctor’’s first ever GP win in 1996, in the 125 World Championship. Rossi also won the 125cc crown at the Czech GP in 1997, and has both memories and form on his side. Still very much in the title fight at the halfway stage, Rossi has found his way from a challenging preseason to a good number of points by Round 10 – not something he’ll be ready to give up.
Then there are the red machines. Andrea Dovizioso has already won two races this season, and sits a very close third in the standings. ‘DesmoDovi’ knows Brno is another good chance to attack, and will be looking to do just that ahead of the Austrian GP, where the Ducati Team took a 1-2 last year. The momentum at stake is another bonus as well as the points, and that’s something not to be underestimated. Teammate Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) has had a tougher season so far, but the five-time World Champion has taken one podium so far, and has some great results at Brno including a stunning lights-to-flag victory from pole in 2015. A slew of podiums and victories mean the ‘Spartan’ is on good territory and will be looking to begin part two of the year as he means to go on – at the front.
Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins are two more looking to refine the storyline of the season in the second half of it. Iannone has a strong record at the Czech GP stretching back to the lower classes and will want to kick off part two on a high – and Rins will be looking for a reset after a first half tempered by injury.
Then there’s Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, as the Austrian factory hone in on regular points finishes. The big headline for the squad in the German GP was the gap, as a KTM finished the smallest margin yet to the winner. The progress is steady, with a new accomplishment every weekend, and both Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith have scored some good points – and want more.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) was left wanting more after the German GP, but the calendar could not be better for the Brit to begin the second half of the season with a bang. The rider from Coventry took a stunning win last year to become the first Brit to take victory in the premier class for 35 years, and the first since Barry Sheene. The win wasn’t a one-off, either, with the track also having hosted the number 35’s first MotoGP™ podium in 2012. Good memories can make great foundations for more solid results, and Crutchlow will be aiming squarely at the podium – maybe even higher.
Other Independent Team riders could also hold some important cards in the Czech GP. Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is now within reach of teammate Jonas Folger in the standings as the two lead the charge to be Rookie of the Year, and it’s not just each other the incredible Tech 3 duo have been racing. After Zarco’s podium in France, Folger managed the same at home in Germany – and was incredibly close to winner Marquez, who has been undefeated at Sachsenring eight years in a row. There is still plenty to learn for the rookies, and plenty left to achieve – with the bar seemingly raised after every race. Folger also won the Moto2™ race at Brno last year.
Another man to have raised the bar of expectation consistently so far in 2017 is Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing), and the Italian – as well as a key contributor to Press Conferences – is a key figure in the narrative of the year. Now it’s part two, and Petrucci has already had two near misses as he’s honed in on victories. ‘Petrux’ has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) will also be wanting to get back in the fight at the front after some more difficult races, with Jack Miller (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) another of those with big potential. The Aussie has taken a good slew of top ten finishes this year and a best of sixth so far, and will be coming back to Brno bike-fresh after taking part in the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race.
The home hero at Brno is Karel Abraham (Pull&Bear Aspar Team), who has had top ten results at the track in the past and has shown some top form in 2017. The huge local crowd that always line the spectacular venue will doubtless be a big force behind Abraham as he flies the flag.
FP1 on Friday morning (9:55 GMT +2) begins the final countdown: nine races, five contenders and one crown.
Please take your seats; Act 2 is about to begin.
Text courtesy of MotoGP.