The fifteenth round of the 2019 MotoGP World Championship takes the series to Thailand and Buriram for the second time after the Chang International Circuit was added to the Grand Prix calendar last year.
The Thai track offers a reasonably unique challenge. Unique enough, at least, for Michelin to bring a tyre construction to Buriram that only otherwise sees action in Austria.
Last year, it was this tyre which allowed Yamaha to be competitive, giving them the rear support they require to exit turns with good drive. The same tyre allowed the M1 to finish 3-4-5 in Spielberg earlier this year, and so it is expected that it could see the slowest bike on the grid be strong this weekend as well.
This is counter-intuitive when looking at the layout, which is dominated by long straights and hard braking zones in the first half. The second half lends itself more to the M1, courtesy of an abundance of corners of varying lengths and radii, as well as direction changes where the cornering stability of the Yamaha becomes overtly advantageous.
The divided nature of the Buriram track means that several bikes can find lap time, as we saw last season when the two factory Yamaha riders fought with the factory Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and the factory Honda of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team).
The gains made by Honda in the engine department this season mean that a repeat of last season’s last lap duel is not guaranteed. In 2019, the RC213V can live with the Desmosedici in the straights and, in the hands of Marquez, out-turn it in the corners and in particular the short corners, like turn three in Austria or the final corner in Buriram, something which could prove pivotal for the outcome of the race should it come down to a final lap scrap once again.
All of this is good for Marquez, this weekend perhaps more than any other, as the reigning World Champion needs to out-score Dovizioso by two points on Sunday to win his eighth Grand Prix title and his sixth in the premier class. This year Marquez’ racing philosophy has changed; whereas before he lived for the fight, he now lives for the twenty-five points. Such a change in strategy has seen him produce some devastating performances, for example in Aragon two weeks ago where he won by almost five seconds and at one point led by over seven. In the context of this weekend, his new way of racing could see him make things dull for the viewer, disappearing in the first laps to allow him the option to cruise to the flag and pick up another championship, four races from the end of the season.
There are two people who can stop Marquez from walking away from Buriram with another title: himself and Dovizioso, the Italian being the more likely. In 2018, the Ducati rider took Marquez to the final corner, as he did in Austria in the first race back after the summer break. Such a performance will be required once again from Dovizioso if he is to put off the inevitable until Japan at the beginning of the triple header.
It will not, though, be a case of a duel. At least, that is unlikely. The two Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP riders, Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, should be there in the fight as they were last season. Especially for Rossi, the stiffer casing of the rear tyre should be a benefit this weekend. Additionally, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) should be in the mix as he has so often been in 2019, as well as perhaps the factory Suzuki of Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) who will be keen to respond to his poor race in Aragon. On the contrary, Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) will be looking to continue his form from Aragon, where he was third, and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL) too after he finished sixth in MotorLand and felt he had podium potential.
One thing which could spoil all the plans is the weather. With WorldSBK having a round earlier in the season in Buriram, the MotoGP race is forced to happen later on, in what happens to be the back end of the rainy season in Thailand.
Rain is predicted for the weekend, and a wet race would be a first for the CIC. Furthermore, should practice be compromised by rain, riders will be on the limit to try to make Q2 directly whilst also trying to find a good race set up should Sunday remain dry.
Finally, after his injury in practice at Aragon, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is back in action this weekend aboard his RC16 to partner Mika Kallio (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) in his second race in place of Johann Zarco.
Featured Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol