Menacing clouds over pitlane and an oddly intense rendition of the Styrian anthem made for a dramatic build-up to the premier class race but nothing could have prepared us for what unfolded over the 28-lap race played in two acts. Ultimately, Ducati had to admit defeat on their favourite playground and the milestone 900th premier class victory was a historic achievement in more ways than one, as the Portuguese anthem played for Miguel Oliveira for the first time in MotoGP and Tech 3 scored their maiden win on KTM’s home soil. At the end of an exhausting final lap, Oliveira gets to drive out of Austria in a brand new BMW, while Jack Miller and Pol Espargaro picked up podium scraps despite grabbing most of the airtime in the second part of the race.
Joan Mir was the main protagonist at the start of proceedings, when he got the holeshot to lead into turn one but went exuberantly wide and had to drop one position. Before the Spaniard even got a glance at his pit board, Miller had made his way into the lead, closely followed by Mir and fellow front row starter Takaaki Nakagami. Pol Espargaro and Alex Rins were in the mix as well, while Andrea Dovizioso, having started on the third row, was leading the charge eight tenths down the road, in a group with the likes of Maverick Vinales, Oliveira, Valentino Rossi and Brad Binder. Last week’s victor promptly brought down that gap and the lead group was of Moto3-like proportions for the next couple of laps.
With Miller pushing at the front, Mir and Nakagami could not decide who to reel him in but Mir settled that by lap four, when he took over the lead at the final turn. Miller and Nakagami did not allow the Spaniard to gain a gap but Espargaro and Rins had lost over a second on the podium battle and were getting chased by the sizeable group led by Dovizioso. While the leaders were keeping calm, most of the action came from the chasing pack, where Binder and Oliveira were swapping paint and teammate Iker Lecuona found himself ahead of the factory Yamahas. The man on a mission was Fabio Quartararo, who overcame some early off track excursions and was soon attacking Rossi and Vinales for a top 10 position.
By lap 10, Mir, Miller and Nakagami had a two second gap at the front, with Espargaro and Rins making little noise behind them, but there was not much threat from behind either. Eventually, Binder had enough of Dovizioso and picked up the chase with one and a half seconds to find on the Spaniards ahead. Dovizioso kept slipping back and lost another place to Oliveira, with Lecuona also waiting to pounce. Almost two seconds down the road, Quartararo showed the way to Rossi and Petrucci, but Vinales seemed to struggle to get his machine to do what it should and dropped to a lonely 13th position. The loneliness did not last very long as the Spaniard was forced to jump off his Yamaha while doing about 200km/h heading into turn 1 and his bike caught fire as it flew into the air fence, prompting a red flag with 12 laps to go.
The restart wiped out Mir’s two second advantage and gave Miller’s achy arm a bit of a rest and the two lined up again on the front row of the grid, with Nakagami in between them. Pol Espargaro, Rins and Binder made up row two ahead of Oliveira, Dovizioso and Lecuona, with Quartararo and Rossi on the fourth row but at least still part of the action, while a lucky Vinales watched unharmed from the garage.
Mir got the holeshot for the 12 lap sprint but Miller was keen to stop his march early on, attacking at turn four to grab the lead. Espargaro was happy to be back in contention ahead of teammates Binder and Oliveira, while Dovizioso was waiting to pounce a couple tenths behind, ahead of a slow starting Nakagami. Meanwhile, Quartararo had dropped to 15th by lap two and found himself behind compatriot Zarco.
Similarly to last weekend, Miller used some fresh soft rubber to attempt an escape at the front, while Mir was on an 18 lap old front tyre but the Spaniard’s real problem soon became KTM, with Pol Espargaro finding a way past on lap five and Oliveira following his colleague’s example one lap later. Dovizioso, Binder and Nakagami were next in line in the lead group, while Rins and Rossi were in the unexpected company of Lecuona another second down the road. If Miller felt any pain in his shoulder, Espargaro did not give him much time to think about it, attacking for the lead at turn 9 with five laps remaining. Miller bided his time to fight back but had Oliveira, Dovizioso, Mir, Nakagami and a resurgent Rins on his tail, while Binder lost touch with the lead group after an off track excursion.
The final couple of laps started with a seven-man group still in contention for the win but no one showed a wheel to the leading KTM until the final lap. Espargaro closing the door at turn three encouraged Miller to attack at turn four, but the KTM fought back at turn nine and it all came down to a thrilling final corner, where Miller’s attempt at a block pass ran both of them wide and like a real predator, Oliveira swept past to take a historic win on his 150th grand prix. Miller had to make do with second, while a somewhat disappointed Espargaro crossed the finish line third. An even more heartbroken Mir was fourth but even on well worn tyres he still found a way past Dovizioso on the final lap. Rins finished a somewhat underwhelming sixth, ahead of Nakagami and Rossi, with Lecuona rounding out the top ten on a fantastic day for KTM.
An anonymous Quartararo took the checkered flag 13th, pouring gas on the championship battle, only 3 points ahead of Dovizioso and bringing a whole bunch of rivals back into contention, beginning with Miller 13 points down. Binder stays fourth, with a deficit of 21 points, while Vinales’ nightmare trip to Austria ends with him fifth, another point down on the KTM man.
Results of Race 2:
|12||Maverick Viñales||Yamaha||0 Lap|