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February 18, 2018

Austria misery threatens Marquez MotoGP treble

Austria misery threatens Marquez MotoGP treble
'Repsol Honda Team's Spanish rider Marc Marquez goes into Austrian Grand Prix with back-to-back wins in Germany and the Czech Republic and with a 14-point lead ' - By: AFP Michal Cizek

Spielberg (Austria) (AFP) - World champion Marc Marquez looks to wrap up a third successive MotoGP victory on Sunday but is wary of the challenges at the Austrian Grand Prix, where he managed just a fifth-place finish in 2016.

The Spanish rider goes into the 11th round of the championship with back-to-back wins in Germany and the Czech Republic and with a 14-point lead over compatriot Maverick Vinales in the title race.

However, like a host of rivals, the Honda star struggled at the Red Bull Ring 12 months ago when the Austrian leg of the championship returned to the schedule for the first time since 1997.

"The Red Bull Ring is a circuit where we struggled quite a bit last year, but hopefully this year it will be different," said Marquez, whose racing brain both on and off the track was highlighted at Brno last Sunday where he judged the drying track conditions to perfection.

"Brno also used to be a challenging track for us but in the end we got a fantastic result, so we're going to Austria feeling positive."

Last year's Austrian Grand Prix was won by Italy's Andrea Iannone with Italian compatriot and Andrea Dovizioso just behind in a Ducati 1-2.

Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi was fourth 12 months ago in a race rich in symbolic significance -- the legendary Giacomo Agostini won the first ever Austrian GP in 1971 when it was staged at the Salzburgring before the circuit was dropped when it was judged too dangerous.

Yamaha star Rossi, whose only win this season came at Assen in the Netherlands, is fourth in the standings, 22 points behind Marquez and without a podium finish in the last two races.

But Rossi says he is buoyed by testing which followed the Czech Grand Prix, when he and Yamaha teammate Vinales were the two fastest men on the track.

"Going back to the track immediately is very important to us, especially after a test like Monday's in Brno, where we tried so many things," said Rossi.

"During the weekend in the Czech Republic we were fast in every condition and the test helped us to understand a bit more.

"Now we go to the circuit of Austria, that's not very favourable to us, but I hope we can fight for a good result. I'm fine with the YZR-M1 now, I can ride the bike better.

"The championship is still open and it will be important to take as many points as possible."

Vinales, with three wins in 2017 at Qatar, Argentina and France, admits that with the Hondas of Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, who were 1-2 in the Czech Republic, looking increasingly confident, a top-three finish is crucial this weekend.

"We know that we have to be on the podium at the next races if we want to win this championship, and for that we have to continue this good feeling and go for the victory," said the Spaniard.

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