Posts Tagged ‘Circuit of the Americas’

MotoGP COTA Results

April 22, 2018

©Bruce Allen
Viñales Wins Fight for Second as Marquez Romps

The 2018 edition of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas will not be remembered as one of the best tilts of all time. Truthfully, it might not make the Top 100. But for defending world champion Marc Marquez, today’s walk in the park restored some order in the championship and washed away the ashes of Argentina. The series, picking up speed, now heads for Europe with the top five riders separated by eight points. Tight as tree bark.

Practice and Qualifying

On Friday, between the dust and the bumpy racing surface, the Circuit of the Americas resembled The Badlands of South Dakota. How a relatively new, “state of the art” track can require re-paving after five or six years is beyond me. According to the riders interviewed, the massive “diamond grinding” effort during the offseason made several sections bumpier. The ubiquitous dust, according to Jack Miller, was worse than Qatar. Video confirmed his claim; it looked like they were running through clouds of cornstarch.

None of these problems would exist at the real circuit of the Americas—Laguna Seca. Even Indianapolis would be better than this.

Anyway, in FP1 two riders, Marquez, naturally, and Valentino Rossi found their way under 2:06. During FP2, four riders eclipsed 2:05, led not by Marquez for the first time ever, but by the suddenly cuddly Andrea Iannone, whose on-track comportment has improved, at least relative to Marquez and Johann Zarco. Marquez, Maverick Viñales and Rossi were all right there, with Marquez sounding more concerned about Viñales. Marquez ran the hard rear most of the day, while Iannone had the soft mounted when he ran his fast lap. Rain was expected on Saturday; a frog-strangler would wash the track and the air, while anything less would leave a frightening thin layer of mud soup just off a narrow racing line.

Naturally, Saturday, in the premier class, was dry as a bone. KTM pilot Pol Espargaro and Ducati tough guy Danilo Petrucci climbed up from Q1 to Q2, marking KTM’s first Q2 in 2018. Notables who failed to pass out of Q1 include Hafizh Syahrin, stuck in 16th place, and Jack Miller, who qualified on pole in Argentina and 18th here two weeks later. WTF Jack? Can’t always have a rapidly-drying track.

Midway through Q2, Marquez folded the front at Turn 13 while on provisional pole, with Andrea Iannone (Ducati), Maverick Viñales (Yamaha) and Valentino Rossi sharpening their incisors. Once he returned to the track, he laid down another 2:03 lap, apparently sealing his sixth straight pole at COTA. However, #93 found controversy again on Saturday, dawdling around in the racing line late in the session when Viñales suddenly showed up, freaked, and rolled out of his (blistering) lap, raining scads of Spanish invective and gesticulations down on the offending Marquez. British announcer Steve or Matt characterized the obstruction as “a bit cheeky.”

Race Direction thought about this one for a while. After the Argentinian fiasco, when popular opinion was that Marquez got off easy, the stewards decided to penalize the Catalan marvel three grid spots, putting Viñales on pole, joined on the front row by Iannone and—guess who?—Johann Zarco, who struggled on Friday but showed up on Saturday. Ignoring the minor drama, it appeared Marquez had more than enough pace to win on Sunday if he could just manage to keep his nose clean. Heck, with the exceptions of Jorge Lorenzo, Pol Espargaro and the injured Dani Pedrosa, anyone in the first four rows looked capable of making it a Podium Sunday. Marquez starting beside Valentino on the grid put a cherry on it.

It had all the makings of a great race, which is usually a bad sign.

It Was Not a Great Race

Today’s race was riveting until the lead riders made it cleanly through Turn 1. The only hope any of the other contestants had for winning today would have involved Marquez getting skittled out of the race very early. As in Turn 1. Once that failed to materialize, it was pretty much game, set and match. Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and were able to withstand the #93 onslaught for most of half a lap. Once Marquez went through cleanly, the battle for second place officially commenced.

Even the battle for second was, um, second-rate. Iannone held off the factory Yamahas of Viñales and Rossi until Lap 7, when Viñales slipped past him. Rossi, apparently still terrified over the fact that Marc Marquez was on the same track as him, made no impression on Iannone and finally settled for a listless fourth place. Johann Zarco, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso had a pretty engaging battle for fifth place today until Cal crashed out on Lap 8. Dovizioso went through on Zarco on Lap 17 and landed in first place for the season, a single point ahead of Marquez.

Crashing out of the podium is nothing new to Cal Crutchlow; he’s been doing it for years. Crashing his way out of the lead for the world championship is, in fact, new, and unlikely to ever happen again. Just sayin’.

Quick Hitters

Jorge Lorenzo had another miserable day today. Jack Miller made a mess out of qualifying on Saturday but moved up from 18th at the start to 8th at the finish, his sixth consecutive top ten finish. Dani Pedrosa, riding with a freshly fractured right wrist on the most physical circuit on the calendar, managed a semi-miraculous seventh place finish today. Mighty Mite does not lack for courage. Prior to earning his 13 points today, 2018 marked the worst start to a season for Valentino Rossi since 1977. Andrea Dovizioso’s effort at damage limitation in Texas paid off handsomely, as his 11 points were enough to put him on top of the 2018 pile, despite COTA being one of the worst tracks for the Ducati, for whatever reason. And what’s up with Tito Rabat? The dog has finally grown some fangs. Another impressive top ten finish today for the Spaniard. Oh, and another satellite beatdown administered to Jorge Lorenzo. Sweet.

Alex Rins crashed for the second time this year; though he’s sucking in the standings, at least he’s not injured. I’m apparently the last one to learn that Pecco Bagnaia, late of Moto2, has already signed his 2019-2020 contract with Pramac Ducati. He outrode Alex Marquez today for his second win of the young season. And Jorge Martin whipped a couple of young Italian riders today in the Moto3 contest. Dude has Alien written all over him. Speaking of which, my boy Joan Mir got beat up in the opening lap today in the Moto2 race and found himself in 24th position midway through Lap 1. He finished the race fourth. Another Alien-in-Waiting.

Sam Lowes crashed unassisted on Lap 1.

The Big Picture

Now that the exhibition season is over and the series returns to Europe, we’ve learned who the true title contenders are: Marquez, Dovizioso, and Viñales. With Marquez a prohibitive favorite over either of the other two. He lost at Qatar by three feet. He had the pace to dominate Argentina until the wheels fell off. And he punished the field today in Texas, as usual. The bike is significantly improved over last year.

Viñales appears a year or two away. Dovizioso had about as good a year in 2017 as he’s capable of, and he fell short. The old guys—Rossi, Pedrosa, Crutchlow—will win some races. The young guys—Zarco (?), Iannone, Rins, Miller—will podium, but wins will be hard to come by. On the beachhead of the 2018 season, nobody looks capable of handling Marc Marquez on a regular basis.

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Viñales
Tranche 2: Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, Zarco
Tranche 3: Rins, Iannone, Miller, Rabat, Aleix, Petrucci, Syahrin
Tranche 4: Pol, Lorenzo, Nakagami, Morbidelli, Bautista
Tranche 5: Abraham, Simeon, Redding, Smith, Luthi

MotoGP 2016 COTA Results

April 10, 2016

Marc Marquez:  Lone Star in the Lone Star State

 On a nice spring afternoon outside Austin, Texas, Repsol Honda supernova Marc Marquez, looking much the way he did in 2013 and 2014, put on another clinic, winning the Grand Prix of the Americas from pole for the fourth consecutive year.  The win makes Captain America 10 for 10 in premier class tilts run in the United States. 

I used to think that bingo was the only game in which one could be bored and anxious at the same time.  Today’s race—a procession, punctuated by life-threatening crashes—felt like an evening in the church basement.

Yamaha rider and defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo knew, sitting next to Marquez on the front row at the start, that his only chance for a win today would occur on Lap 1, by getting in Marquez’s business, throwing the young Catalan off his rhythm, and trying to get away.  So determined was he to accomplish this that he narrowly avoided running off the track at Turn 1 and again at Turn 11, running ragged with cold tires, too much fuel, and no rhythm of his own.  It didn’t work, and Marquez took the lead he would never relinquish.

The front group included Valentino Rossi, Ducati’s hard luck Andrea Dovizioso and factory Honda afterthought Dani Pedrosa.  Rossi got caught in traffic and fell back to around 6th, where he and Pedrosa jousted for a short while.  At Turn 3 of Lap 3, Rossi lost the front at speed and slid well into the gravel, removing around a dozen sponsor logos from his leathers, his day over.  Our crack research staff tells me this is the first time in the last 25 races that Rossi has finished outside the top five.

While Marquez was disappearing, Lorenzo took firm control of second place, having gone through on Dovizioso on Lap 5.  Lap 6 saw Ducati Maniac Andrea Iannone go through on Suzuki #2 Aleix Espargaro into 5th place.  Pedrosa was dogging Dovizioso in the battle for third place on Lap 6 when the broadcast switched to his front camera.  Seconds later, Dovizioso’s bike filled the frame just in time to get poleaxed by Pedrosa, as the Spaniard lost the front in Turn 1 and his suddenly riderless bike creamed the Ducati.  How Pedrosa’s Honda missed Dovi’s left leg is a mystery.  The Italian’s day was over, but Pedrosa climbed back aboard his RC213V and turned a few more laps before calling it a day.

Everyone Please Take Three Steps Forward

With Dovizioso and Rossi out and Pedrosa trailing the field, the remaining riders behind Lorenzo received promotions of three spots.  Kind of like going from private to lieutenant in ten minutes.  Iannone, running relatively cautiously after the debacle in Argentina when he took out teammate Dovizioso in a painfully stupid move, was, suddenly, contending for a podium.  The two Suzukis, experiencing their own rebirth of sorts, found themselves contesting fourth place in a battle Maverick Vinales would eventually win over Aleix Espargaro.

Octo Pramac Ducati’s Scott Redding was winning The Battle of Britain, enjoying life in 6th place while Cal Crutchlow, on the LCR Honda, and Bradley Smith, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, were slugging it out for seventh.  On Lap 8, Crutchlow, in an unforced error that was undoubtedly somebody else’s fault, slid off the track into the runoff area.  Scant seconds later, with Smith apparently rubbernecking at Crutchlow’s misfortune, the Tech 3 rider fell, his careening bike missing the back of Crutchlow’s ankles by mere inches.  Both men remounted the remnants of their bikes and were the last two riders to see the checkered flag.

A Moment of Reflection

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow are incomprehensibly lucky to be walking around tonight.  This is the second week in a row that Crutchlow narrowly avoided a disaster he didn’t even realize was happening.  Such is the nature of MotoGP, with objects moving at speeds uncontemplated by our Creator or the slow crawl of evolution (take your choice), lives hanging precariously in the balance.  Some riders, like Crutchlow and Dovizioso, may be lucky enough, or blessed enough, to tell stories about these things to their grandchildren one day.  Others, like Marco Simoncelli and Shoya Tomizawa, will never have grandchildren to hear them.  When a Jorge Lorenzo gets irritated by the stupid antics of an Alvaro Bautista and talks about risking his life every time he climbs aboard, he’s not just whistling “Dixie.”

The Big Picture

If you had suggested at Sepang during winter testing, when Marquez was lapping 1.5 seconds behind Lorenzo, that he would be leading the championship by 21 points after three rounds he probably would have suggested that you get your head examined.  Yet here we are.  The other anomalies in the top ten include Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro sitting fourth despite seeming to be having a difficult year, swarthy Ducati pilot and underachiever Hectic Hector Barbera sitting sixth, and Ulsterman Eugene Laverty sitting ninth.  Laverty’s euphoria from last week was short-lived, as he went from a highly fluky fourth place to four points in a week.  Still, not bad for a guy on a two-year-old Ducati.

Okay, so I’ve never been a big fan of Cal Crutchlow, who has always, in my opinion, talked a better race than he rides.  He so rarely mans up and takes the blame when things go wrong.  So I may be forgiven for enjoying seeing him sitting in last place, 0-for-2016 after three rounds.  Looking forward to the article on the MotoGP website—it should appear tomorrow or Tuesday—in which he explains who was to blame for today’s crash and how he skillfully avoided getting shattered by Smith’s unguided missile.  As they say in Coventry, hard cheese old boy.

And another thing.  Jack Miller, the Great Anglo-Saxon Hope, so cool and fast he was allowed to skip second grade, is declared out of today’s race after two more heavy crashes this weekend.  Honda is so anxious to locate the second coming of Casey Stoner, and the kid’s ambition is so large, he’s going to seriously injure himself or someone else out there, generally riding out of control and creating huge piles of brightly painted and utterly trashed carbon fiber.  Dude needs to think about a step back to Moto2.

A Final Thought Before Returning to Europe

Everything’s big in Texas—from the state itself, which takes 24 hours to drive across, to the iniquity of its junior US senator.  COTA maintains the tradition, with the most corners (20) in a MotoGP circuit (Red Bull Ring in Austria has nine), the longest straight on the tour, the steepest hill, seating for 120,000 fans, etc., etc.  But seriously, let’s just get it over with and rename the track the Marc Marquez Circuit.  Better yet, how about the Circuito Marc Marquez, since Texas was originally a northern state of Mexico before Sam Houston and his boys shoved the locals across the Rio Grande way back when.

Round Four touches off in Jerez in two weeks.  In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on the Lorenzo to Ducati and Vinales to Yamaha stories, and will have them for you in full once they’re official.

Marc Marquez remains undefeated in U.S.

April 12, 2015

MotoGP 2015 COTA Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Repsol Honda reigning champion Marc Marquez extended his winning streak in the U.S. to six, taking an easy win at The Circuit of the Americas by a country mile over Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso who had himself fought off several challenges from Yamaha former world champion Valentino Rossi. Confirming that Losail was an outlier, and tightening the standings at the top of the premier class food chain, COTA provided few surprises.

A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and rode quietly into the sunset, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi. Lorenzo launched a late charge to finish fourth, followed by Iannone on the #2 Ducati, Smith and Crutchlow, who was unable to maintain the winning speeds he showed in practice. Suzuki’s Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales claimed 8th and 9th, respectively, and Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci continued to impress in 10th place.

Practice is Occasionally Better than the Race

2015 COTA Q2 Front RowCaptureQ2 was a great example of why the qualifying format of MotoGP is occasionally better than the race. Marquez jumping off his broken bike, the CHECK ENGINE light red, climbing the wall, sprinting 200 yards to his cold #2 bike with the wrong tires, flogging it across the start/finish line seconds before the checkered flag waved, then pushing his RC213V harder on the flying lap to a new track record and his third consecutive pole in Austin. I don’t think any other rider on the grid could manage that.

Add to his natural ability and quality equipment the fact that he’s seeing Austin on the big bike for the third time, and knows exactly where he is on the track. He already knows the correct line here. Now all he has to do is pick the right tires and keep it on the track through turn 1. His lap at the end of qualifying, after an extended sprint, with a big moment, on a #2 bike he described as having “setting not so good,” trashed the previous record by four-tenths. Close to inconceivable.

You get the sense Marc Marquez has GPS in his head and can pretty much go as fast as he wants. He rides a million dollar bike like it was a miniature BMX in the schoolyard in 5th grade. Marquez in Sepang 2013

Jorge Lorenzo Prays for No Rain

Weather was iffy all weekend, at a track that is rapidly gaining a reputation as the most demanding on the 18-round calendar. It is, likewise, becoming increasingly clear that Jorge Lorenzo cannot compete in the rain.

The consecutive crashes at Assen and the Sachsenring in 2013 involved wet weather, and it appears he’s lost his ability to push in the wet. His FP2 in the wet was another example. There was a race or two last year where he failed to post due to the wet. And although the weather ended up not being a factor during the race today… There’s still the damnable Catalan.

Hail Brittaniaprintable-union-jack-color

The Brits seem to be getting it together. Both Crutchlow on the CWMLCRAMF, etc. Honda and Scott Redding on the EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda made appearances in the top three during practice sessions, with CC 2nd in both FP2 in the wet and FP3 in the dry. Redding ran 3rd in FP1 before qualifying 6th. Not to mention young Danny Kent, the great hope of soccer hooligans everywhere, dominating the Moto3 race. Dominating at a track like Austin says you’re good at everything. Sam Lowes’ first win in Moto2 was even sweeter. Could Crutchlow or Redding break into the top three?

Whatareya, nuts?

MotoGP Life Away from the Spotlight

One looks at the bottom four qualifiers and cannot help but ponder how far the mighty have fallen:
• Nicky Hayden, the 2006 World Champion, qualifying 22nd for Honda in his 200th grand prix start.
• Alvaro Bautista, sporting a 125cc world championship in 2006 and a second place finish in the Moto2 class in 2008, in 23rd for a thoroughly grateful Aprilia Racing Gresini team.
• Alex de Angelis, with 3rd place finishes in the 250cc class in 2006 and 2007 and an 8th place finish in MotoGP in 2009 sitting 24th for Octo IodaRacing.
• And, finally, unwilling and unmotivated, Marco Melandri, the #2 Aprilia rider on loan from WSBK, lollygagging in 25th place. His credentials include a world championship in the 250cc class in 2002, and second overall in MotoGP 2005 aboard the factory Honda. In case you’re thinking it’s obvious that Melandri is washed up, he spent the last four seasons in WSBK finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 4th, the last aboard the Aprilia

Happenings in Moto2 and Moto 3

The Moto2 race was led by Kent going away, but the fight for second place was ferocious. The racing surface appeared to be “dirty.” Kent’s margin the largest in Moto3 history. Whoda thunk? The residual battle for second place, won by 15-year old rising star Fabio Quaternaro, was high quality stuff.

Almost as riveting as the MotoGP Q2.

The French teenager Quaternero has it going on in Moto3. 15 years old. His star is, as they say, ascendant. The fact that rookie Alex Rins leads the series indicates the depth of talent at the top of the Moto2 food chain, although something’s up with Tito Rabat.

Danny Kent is a certified winner in Moto3 and needs to move up to Moto2 to determine if he’s the real deal or what. His team earned a 1st and a 3rd at COTA. Not a bad weekend. See what happens in Argentina and Jerez first.

Sam Lowes ran a great race for his first win in Moto2. The sun seems to be rising on The British Empire. Completive at all three levels. Hard to visualize Cal Crutchlow on the podium. But I can’t remember the last time I heard the British national anthem during a podium celebration either.

A Small Confession

Having grown up as a committed Washington Redskins fan I developed an intense dislike of all things remotely related to the state of Texas, from the state flag to the aw-shucks attitude of the coach of the Dallas Cowboys coach may he ever rot in… I digress. But I must admit that the Circuit of The Americas is well-designed and deserves its reputation as the most challenging circuit on the tour. I thought COTA was going to take the place of my home track in Indianapolis. As it turned out, Laguna Seca lost. But this place seems built for motorcycles, and the riders spend an enormous amount of time in turns. Great changes in elevation. Better than Indianapolis. Way better.

Fast Turnaround to Argentina

The crews are working frantically to get the grid packed up, stuffed into the three 747’s Dorna keeps for this purpose, and head off for South America, a nine hour flight, then cutting their way through triple canopy jungle to reach the garage area, portaging their trailers through snake-infested rivers, in time for practice on Friday. It’s no picnic being on one of these crews. And Rio Honda is a little off the beaten path.

We’ll bring you the race preview on Wednesday, with results and analysis on Sunday evening.

Marc Marquez seeking a return to normalcy, deep in the heart

April 8, 2015

MotoGP 2015 COTA Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

For the second year in a row, The Grand Prix of Qatar delivered a riveting race with unexpected results. The 2014 edition saw putative race favorite Jorge Lorenzo dump his Yamaha M1 on the first lap, paving the way for a cage match between teammate Valentino Rossi and defending Repsol Honda world champion Marc Marquez in which Marquez prevailed by a quarter second. A year later, it was the favorite Marquez going walkabout on Lap 1, setting up a night-long rumble between the factory Yamahas and the factory Ducatis (what?) in which Rossi eventually pipped Andrea Dovizioso at the flag.

2015 Losail PodiumThe podium celebration, an all Italian lovefest, included third place finisher Andrea Iannone on the second factory Ducati. No Spaniards. No Hondas. The result from Losail thus fits the definition of the term “outlier”: An element of a data set that distinctly stands out from the rest of the data. Those of you who expect to see a similar result this week in Austin please raise your hands.

Before turning our attention to The Lone Star State, let’s review what we learned from Round 1:
• The Ducati GP15 is the real deal, having more in common with the Yamaha M1 than the Honda RC213V. There is no truth to the rumor that the factory team is adopting the name Team Lazarus, but the Italian bike is once again competitive, a relief to everyone at Dorna and MotoGP fans around the world. It will do well at the tracks where the Yamahas excel, places such as Losail, Mugello and Brno. Having placed four bikes in the top 12 in the desert, with two on the podium, one can expect those numbers to be halved in Austin, a track seemingly custom-designed for the Honda.
• Dani Pedrosa’s 2015 campaign is screwed, blued and tattooed. How he managed to enter the season incapable of riding staggers the imagination. He is projected to miss from two to four of the next races. And the circumstances which led HRC to name Hiro Aoyama as his replacement rather than Casey Stoner must have been complicated to the extreme. Aoyama will do well to score points, while Stoner could probably climb aboard and challenge for the podium. Is Stoner ready? Possibly. Able? Probably. Willing? No. The choice of Aoyama tells me we are unlikely ever again to see Casey Stoner throw his leg over a MotoGP bike.
• Jorge Lorenzo’s team obviously forgot to pack the duct tape before leaving for Qatar. He told reporters after the race that it was his helmet liner, rather than tires or fatigue, which cause him to fade from 1st to 4th place late in the race, the liner (apparently on Lap 18) having slipped down to where it impaired his peripheral vision. Having led for most of the race, Lorenzo appears ready to contend for the title again in 2015.
• Valentino Rossi continues to defy the laws of nature, appearing as strong and skilled at age 36 as he was at 26. His post-race complaints about the concessions Ducati continues to receive were undignified for a future hall of famer. Having qualified 8th and won the race, he shouldn’t concern himself with Ducati having an advantage in qualifying with their soft rear tire. Vale needs to let the politicians worry about the regulations and focus on what former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis preached to his team for decades—“Just win, baby.”
• The underpowered Team Suzuki Ecstar will not be competitive at Yamaha-friendly tracks like Losail. I expect them to improve upon their results this week at COTA and to have their best outings at places like Assen, the Sachsenring and Indianapolis.
• The underpowered, underfinanced and undermanned Aprilia Racing Team Gresini is going to endure a long, painful season. A Paul Byrd Motorsports-type of season. The sole consolation for Fausto Gresini is that it is Aprilia’s money being flushed down the toilet rather than his own.

Recent History at COTA

pedrosa-marquezThe inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas (apparently Grand Prix of the Western World was already taken, presumably by F-1) in 2013 announced the arrival of Marc Marquez as a legitimate title contender. He and Repsol Honda teammate Pedrosa dominated the timesheets in practice, qualified 1-2 on Saturday, and jumped out to the early lead on Lap 1 of the race. Pedrosa led the rookie for 12 laps before Marquez went through effortlessly on Lap 13 and brought it home by a second and a half with Yamaha’s Lorenzo, pedaling as hard as possible, finishing third, six seconds in front of Cal Crutchlow, then on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha. The win elevated young Marquez into a tie with Lorenzo for the 2013 championship lead, sent his confidence soaring, and paved the way for his first premier class title that fall.

Last year’s race was, as expected, another Repsol Honda clambake. Once again, the two Honda pilots finished in the top three during every free practice session. Once again they qualified 1-2. This time around, Marquez led from start to finish. Pedrosa trailed at the flag by some four seconds, with surprise third place finisher Andrea Dovizioso wrestling his Ducati Desmosedici to a miracle third place finish, albeit 17 seconds behind Pedrosa. This, you may recall, was the race in which Jorge Lorenzo comically jumped the start by 20 feet in a completely uncharacteristic loss of poise that, in combination with his DNF at Losail, brought his 2014 campaign crashing down around his ears.

Saluting Nicky Hayden

Sunday’s race will mark the 200th career start for Team Aspar’s Nicky Hayden, the sole American rider in MotoGP. At age 2015 Drive M7 Aspar .002 Test MotoGP Sepang 133 and clearly on the back nine of his career, Nicky still gets juiced for race days. With his wrist injury mostly healed, and a more competitive Honda RC213V-RS under him, he may yet have opportunities to finish in the top ten, but these will be few and far between.

One gets the sense that at some point Grand Prix racing becomes a way of life that riders, clearly past their prime, are either unwilling or unable to let go of until management comes along and thanks them for their years of service. Why else would Hayden, or anyone for that matter, elect to compete for 15th place in MotoGP when they could be fighting for podium spots in World Super Bike?

Your Weekend Weather Forecast

Before delving into the weather, let me remind you that Marc Marquez is, after five races in the U.S., undefeated on American soil, with a win at Laguna Seca, two in Indianapolis and two here to his credit. With an 80% chance of rain all three days, this streak could be in jeopardy. While he is virtually unstoppable on dry tracks, his record in the wet, and especially flag-to-flag affairs (see Phillip Island 2014) is less impressive. Ducati bikes have enjoyed positive results on wet tracks in recent years; how the GP15 performs in the rain has yet to be seen.

The lights go out for the big bikes at 3 pm EDT with the broadcast carried on Fox Sports 1. We’ll have race results here later in the day.

MotoGP 2014 COTA Preview

April 9, 2014

Visit Motorcycle.com for an edited version of this, complete with un-stolen photos.  Until then, please enjoy the raw copy.

Marquez at Aragon

Marquez, HRC look to dominate, deep in the heart 

When last we saw our helmeted heroes in action—it seems like months ago—Honda’s brilliant Marc Marquez out-raced grizzled Yamaha veteran Valentino Rossi to the flag in a riveting season opener in Qatar.  Rossi’s teammate and two time world champion Jorge Lorenzo lost his marbles on Lap One, ending up in the kitty litter, any chance he might have had for a third premier class title vanishing in a puff of smoke and a shower of sparks. 

Things in the Movistar Yamaha garage are unlikely to improve this weekend, as The Circuit of the Americas—COTA to those in the know—appears to have been custom- built for the Honda RC213V.  With but one long straight and a mess of first-gear corners, COTA places a premium on rapid acceleration, where the Honda has, in recent years, enjoyed a clear advantage over the Yamaha YZR-M1.  Some will point out that Yamaha installed its own “magic box” transmission in the M1 in the midst of last season, leveling the playing field to a degree.  But only the wildest of Yamaha devotees would suggest that HRC will not enjoy a productive outing in Austin this weekend.

Recent History at COTA 

MotoGP history at COTA defines “recent”, as last year’s race marked the circuit’s premier bash.  Marquez and Pedrosa dominated the timesheets during practice, with Lorenzo pressing to keep up and Rossi having all kinds of problems, ranging from smoke and water damage to his bike (from a fire in the Tech 3 garage on Thursday night) to braking issues that would plague him for most of the year.

LCR Honda handfeste Stefan Bradl and then-Yamaha Tech 3 Brit Cal Crutchlow had a few shining moments leading up to the race, but ultimately it was Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Lorenzo starting and finishing one-two-three.  In the process, Marquez became the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race, an accomplishment that launched him on the way to becoming the youngest rider ever to win a premier class world championship.

Marc Marquez does love himself some COTA.

Jorge Lorenzo—Fearing Marquez, Blaming Bridgestone

Q:  From a distance, how can you tell when a MotoGP rider is complaining about Bridgestone tires?

A:  His lips are moving.

Generally, MotoGP riders, at least those not winning championship trophies, blame a lot of their problems on tires.  The four current pilots who have won premier class titles—Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and Nicky Hayden—generally have fewer, if any, complaints about rubber.  (This calls to mind the old expression that a poor carpenter blames his tools.)  I’ve made my position on this topic clear in the past: in the absence of a grid-wide tire failure (such as NASCAR/Goodyear experienced in Indianapolis in 2008), when tires become an issue, either the team selected the wrong compound or the rider doesn’t know how to manage them properly during the race itself.

Which is why I find it so surprising that Jorge Lorenzo, of all people, should have spent so much time this winter and spring complaining about the new heat-resistant slicks that Bridgestone developed specifically to mitigate tire degradation under race conditions.  At Losail in March, it became a veritable chant—no rear grip, no rear grip—despite which he managed to qualify 16/100ths of a second behind polesitter Marquez.  His inglorious exit late on Lap One did nothing to confirm his complaints, for two reasons: first, he blamed himself for having been too aggressive on cold tires (doing a reasonable impression of Alvaro Bautista in the process) and second, Valentino Rossi spent the day on Marquez’ pipes running the same tires on the same bike.  Tires weren’t an issue for The Doctor.

I believe Jorge Lorenzo spent much of the offseason contemplating another year of chasing Marc Marquez around the globe and that Marquez is now firmly planted inside his head.  I believe Lorenzo was shocked and appalled when Marquez took the pole in Qatar, on a Yamaha track and with a broken leg.  I believe Lorenzo believes he is incapable of beating Marquez’ Honda on his own Yamaha.  Which is why I believe Lorenzo may consider switching teams—perhaps with Dani Pedrosa—during the silly season that commences in the early fall.  Life is short, and no one more competitive than Lorenzo; if you can’t beat ‘em, it might just be best to join ‘em.

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HD

An Open Class Rider on the Podium?  It Could Happen.

Austin is one of those tight layouts were Forward Racing’s Aleix Espargaro, he of the Yamaha power, soft tires, plentiful fuel load and unbridled optimism, should have his first real chance to podium on one of the new Open class machines.  He was highly competitive at Losail despite trashing both of his bikes in practice—channeling Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy”—thus starting ninth, and ultimately finishing fourth.  He has been legitimately fast all winter and topped the timesheets during the first three practice sessions in Qatar, on a track not particularly well-suited to his strengths.  If he can manage a front row start in Texas, I expect him to joust with Rossi in a tooth and nail battle to join Marquez and Pedrosa on the podium.

The other pleasant surprises at Losail—Andrea Iannone on the satellite Ducati, Hayden and Scott Redding on Honda Production Racers and the factory Ducati pair of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow—will have their work cut out for themselves in Texas.  Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha, Bautista on the Gresini Honda and LCR’s Bradl were fast, too, for awhile. Should any of these guys finish on the podium, in my late dad’s words, I’ll buy you a good cigar.

The mental condition of Jorge Lorenzo, facing what amounts to his season opener 25 points in arrears of Marquez, remains to be seen.  Suffice it to say that if he crashes out again this week, some serious questions will arise in the factory Yamaha garage and above. (The possibility exists that Marquez crashes out and Lorenzo wins in Texas, putting my first month’s worth of work here squarely in the hopper.)

Your Weekend Weather Forecast 

Conditions in the greater Austin area for Friday through Sunday are expected to be sunny and quite warm, with the possibility of Sunday turning cloudy and slightly cooler.  Curiously, Bridgestone has announced that it is unable to supply the new heat-resistant slicks this weekend and that the 2013 tires will be the only choices on offer.  Based upon his litany of woe these past few months, this should be seen as good news for Jorge Lorenzo.  The bad news?  He and Rossi got spanked pretty good last year, the Repsol Hondas outscoring the factory Yamahas 45-26.

One more example of how you need to be careful what you wish for.

We’ll have race results and analysis right here for you on Sunday evening.

MotoGP Circuit of the Americas 2013 Results

April 25, 2013

This article appears in its entirety at Motorcycle.com.  Photos by GEPA Pictures and respective teams.

Most MotoGP fans are likely to remember where they were during the inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas in 2013, where Repsol Honda rookie phenom Marc Marquez became the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race. Not content with being the youngest pole-sitter in MotoGP history, the charismatic Catalan stalked teammate Dani Pedrosa for 13 laps before going through effortlessly into a tie for the world title with defending champion Jorge Lorenzo. The new kid in town has arrived.

Suddenly, everyone else on the grid looks old, slow and uptight. Each time he’s interviewed, Marquez comes across as a happy, humble, regular kind of guy. Watching him come up through the 125s and Moto2, like a hot knife through butter, you got the clear impression he was going to be successful one day in the premier class.

Marc Marquez

In only his second race onboard the Honda RC213V, he has now come of age, at a track he is liable to dominate for the next decade. In so doing, he has become my favorite to win the 2013 world championship. Not to mention having eclipsed a record which had stood since 1982, when then Honda rookie Freddie Spencer won the Belgian Grand Prix at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

For Honda, a Weekend to Remember

All weekend, the Hondas took to the COTA circuit like ducks to water. Similar to the rather clubby testing back in March, at which only five anointed riders participated, the Hondas eat up tracks like this, where riders spending roughly 25% of their lap times in first gear. (Too bad Casey Stoner isn’t here to slam it for being slow and boring.) People in the know refer to these circuits as “technical”, compared to the flowing layouts found at places like Mugello and Aragon, which are referred to as “fast.”

Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez

Marquez and Pedrosa dominated the timesheets all weekend, with Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo laboring to keep up, and his teammate Valentino Rossi having all kinds of problems, ranging from smoke and water damage to the bike (from a fire in the Tech 3 Yamaha garage on Thursday night) to braking issues. The two top non-factory riders, Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda and Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 Yamaha, battled to stay in the conversation in practice knowing they would not make it to the podium on Sunday.

With Marquez, Pedrosa and Lorenzo starting on the front row, everyone made it safely through the slightly crazy Turn 1. Pedrosa and Marquez emerged in the lead, but Lorenzo, having tried to go airborne at the start, got bogged down and fell back to around fifth place. He got things squared away quickly, and went through on Bradl into third place at turn 19. Crutchlow, also starting poorly, went through on Bradl on Lap 9 into fourth place.

Jorge Lorenzo

Rossi, starting in the eight hole, would bring it back as far as sixth, in what must have been a painful flashback to last year. Meanwhile, Pedrosa and Marquez ran away from the field for their own intra-team battle. At turn seven on Lap 13, Marquez went through cleanly on Pedrosa and into the history books.

For Yamaha, a Weekend to Forget

So there was this little fire on Thursday night, which left the bikes of four teams covered in fire suppression foam and thoroughly watered down, to the detriment of everyone’s computers and electronics. (Were it not for the suppression system and quick response from Austin area firefighters, the factory Yamaha team might have lost six bikes worth $12 million; things could have been worse.)

Neither Lorenzo nor Rossi was able to do anything about the Repsol Hondas. Both were probably thinking about Jerez as they crossed the finish line, wishing to put this round behind them.

Cal Crutchlow

Cal Crutchlow had another superb weekend, after having told the press he would be happy finishing in the top six. His teammate and fellow Brit Bradley Smith announced that his goal for the weekend was to, ahem, finish the race, which would have been MY goal had they allowed fat old non-riders to compete. Smith drove his Yamaha into a barely-respectable 12th place finish, just behind the Power Electronics CRT bike piloted by Aleix Espargaro, clearly the cream of the current CRT crop.

For Ducati, Just Another Weekend

The race ended with the four Ducati entries occupying 7th (Andrea Dovizioso), 9th (Nicky Hayden), 10th (Andrea Iannone) and 12th (Ben Spies). Not quite as exhilarating as Qatar, when they finished 7-8-9-10. The Bologna factory has exactly one chance to put a rider on the podium this year, which would occur if a hurricane were to strike Mugello on race Sunday and red flag the race after, say, three laps.

Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso

Dovizioso or Hayden could conceivably parlay a fast lap in qualifying into a second row start and, if some seriously bad luck or lightning struck an alien or two, slip one of the red bikes into the money before their tires started to go. Otherwise, fuggedaboutit.

All Dressed Up, Nowhere to Go

At the start of practice on Friday, 26 bikes graced the track, including the two wildcards, Attack Performance’s Blake  Young and GPTech’s Michael Barnes, but only 24 would actually start the race. Barnes failed to break the 107% threshold necessary to qualify, while Cardion AB Motoracing’s Karel Abraham sustained a broken right collarbone following a collision with Gresini’s Bryan Staring in Q1. With a titanium plate and seven screws in place, Abraham is questionable for Jerez. Young managed 21st place, which sounds a lot better than “finished last, a lap down.”

Aleix Espargaro

By the way, the best quote of the weekend came from Crutchlow, who observed, “If you mess up on Turn 2, you’ve messed up for (the next) nine corners.”

The Big Picture

While the season is still young, it looks as if young Marquez and veteran Lorenzo will be the primary combatants for the 2013 title. Rossi is again relevant, but cannot afford too many outings like today. And Dani Pedrosa must be sick to his stomach facing the possibility that he has missed his last best chance for a championship. He is in danger of becoming that most pitiable of athletes, the guy who dominated his sport but never earned a ring. Think Karl Malone, John Stockton and Charles Barkley of the NBA. Think Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson of the NFL. Or Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski of MLB. Plenty of fame and fortune, all of which they might have gladly traded for a championship.

Marc Marquez
2013 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After Two Rounds
Pos. Rider Team Points
1 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda 41
2 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha Factory 41
3 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 33
4 Valentino Rossi Yamaha Factory 30
5 Cal Crutchlow Monster Tech3 Yamaha 24
6 Alvaro Bautista Gresini Honda 18
7 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Factory 18
8 Nicky Hayden Ducati Factory 15
9 Andrea Iannone Pramac Ducati 13
10 Stefan Bradl LCR Honda 11

Next Up: The Road to Jerez

MotoGP next heads to Europe for the first time this season, for the first of four grands prix in Spain. Given the fact that Honda, Yamaha and even Ducati have all enjoyed recent success in southern Spain, we are reluctant to characterize Jerez as “technical” or “fast.” Let’s split the difference, and just call it “awesome.”

Yamaha Girls