As the dust settles after the Argentina GP, the paddock begins the journey north to the USA and the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX. One of the most beautiful purpose-built racetracks in the world in one of the jewels of the central US, COTA is a unique venue both in location and layout – as well as its MotoGP™ history, with a full house for Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). COTA has only ever had one star performer – from his first win in his second ever premier class race to every single season since.
In 2017, however, the pack has shuffled as the paddock touches down on American land. After a difficult weekend with the weather in Qatar, it was Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) who made good on his preseason promise – and the Yamaha man did it again in Argentina, where Marquez fell from a lead of almost two seconds. In terms of points, the pressure is on for the rider from Cervera to hit back – and it seems there could be no better stage than Marquez’ hunting ground. That also means that a Viñales win this weekend would be more than simply another 25 points.
Last year it was the number 93 with the best hand early on. With a combination of aces, holds and jokers, Marquez took back a crown he has won 75% of the time he’s raced for it – and he was the man making the decisions and reading those around him. Viñales is now the man with the poker face, and his record at the track also makes for ominous reading.
A podium in Moto3™ on his way to the crown in 2013 prefaced his first Moto2™ victory as a rookie the following year – something Viñales pointed out at the time as having been one race earlier than the number 93 managed in his explosive rookie season in the intermediate class. 2014 saw Viñales take his first top ten as a MotoGP™ rookie, before last year he completed the top four – a good omen ahead of the weekend if he is to challenge Marquez.
Behind the reigning Champion, the man with the best previous form is his teammate Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa took second in 2013, second in 2014, missed 2015 through injury and was again fighting for the podium last year before a mistake saw him crash out of contention – as it did for Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), who could be the wildcard of the weekend once again. Despite struggles in practice and testing, the ‘Doctor’ has now made it two podiums out of two – and says his pace before his mistake last year at COTA makes him believe he could have challenged for the win. It was a difficult first two outings at the track for the number 46, but 2015 saw a leap forward in position and 2016 another in pace – so Rossi could prove one to watch once again, with a little more luck than last year.
The Ducati Team of Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo will also be looking for more luck in Texas. ‘DesmoDovi’ saw his Argentina GP cut short after being collected by Aleix Espargaró (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and at COTA last year the Italian’s luck wasn’t much better – getting taken down as Pedrosa crashed. Key on the agenda for Dovizioso will be a solid finish with no drama, which will also be a priority for new teammate Jorge Lorenzo. After a run off early on in Qatar and then a first lap crash in Argentina, the ‘Spartan’ hasn’t yet played a full hand in red. COTA will be a good chance to really open his account, as the venue has previously seen him on solid podium form.
Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is also looking for a turnaround. After a crash in Qatar and getting caught in a first lap incident with Lorenzo in Argentina – as well as then being penalized for a jump start – the ‘Maniac’ wants to convert his speed into points this time round. Rookie teammate Alex Rins should also have a slightly less challenging weekend, having won at the venue in Moto2™ and had more time for his ankle fracture to recover following a motocross accident before the Argentina GP. Rins will be looking to take back the honour of top rookie after ruling in Qatar, but there will surely be stiff competition from Monster Yamaha Tech 3 duo Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger.
Zarco, who stunned to lead his first ever race in Qatar, had another incredible outing in Argentina as the reigning Moto2™ Champion dueled it out with some of the best of the best. Crossing the line to complete the top five, the Frenchman’s confidence will be even higher at COTA – as will that of his teammate, who was only one place behind Zarco in Argentina.
With such incredible performances so far throughout the field, it could be anyone’s game. Aleix Espargaró was stunning in Qatar, Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing) is fourth in the standings, Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) has made the top ten home, Alvaro Bautista bounced back to P4 last time out for the Pull&Bear Aspar Team – and Argentina also saw Red Bull KTM Factory racing score their first points with Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith. That could be more difficult over the technical 22-corners of COTA, but the Austrian factory are on the board and here to stay, ready to race at another new track.
There’s a campaign in Austin to keep the city weird. As MotoGP™ rolls into town for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, Marquez’ mission is to keep Austin red.
That begins at 9:55 on Friday (GMT -5) for FP1, before the lights go out for Sunday’s race at 14:00.
It was a teammate tango to remember at Termas de Rio Hondo, as Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS riders Franco Morbidelli and Alex Marquez disappeared into the distance before some last lap drama saw Marquez highside out on the chase – and now motivation will be even higher for both riders, as one seeks to keep his stranglehold on the standings and the other looks to reload.
Miguel Oliveira was the closest challenger to the two on pace in Argentina, and the Portuguese rider gave the new KTM intermediate class chassis its first podium finish – also his first in Moto2™ – as he hunted the lead duo down. With pace from Qatar confirmed at Termas de Rio Hondo, now the target moves forward again to become a first win for man and machine.
Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) called his rostrum finish in Argentina lucky, but the Swiss rider knows consistency is key and has so far had exactly that. That’s less true of key rival Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) after the Japanese rider suffered a difficult qualifying and then DNF in Argentina, but the season is only just beginning – and there are many kilometers left to run even before the paddock returns to Europe.
There’s also previous good form in Texas from Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) and Speed Up to contend with – as previous winner Sam Lowes graduates, veteran Simone Corsi remains and will fight it out in signature style.
So with all the 2016 podium finishers at the Circuit of the Americas having moved to MotoGP™, the story in 2017 will certainly have a different ending – what remains to be seen is whether Morbidelli can author another masterclass, or someone else can turn over a new page.
Moto2™ head out of pitlane for FP1 at 10:55am (GMT -5) on Friday.
Two races into the Moto3™ World Championship there’s a clear leader as we head for round three: Leopard Racing’s Joan Mir. A full fifty points on the board after a win and another win, not even a P16 grid position in Argentina could keep the Mallorcan down – so the target for the grid is clear: catch Mir if you can.
So far the closest challenges have come from British Talent Team rider John McPhee and Del Conca Gresini Moto3’s Jorge Martin, as the two riders completed an identical podium in Argentina to that of Qatar. McPhee has been there or close in both, but Martin believes he was lacking a little to be able to move up the rostrum. Now, will be on it from FP1 in Texas as motivation gets higher and higher.
The field is far from a three-horse race, however. A combination of bad luck, trouble and circumstance has hit many of those sure to soon get back to making big impressions on the fight at the front – Martin’s teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio, Niccolo Antonelli and Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KT Ajo), Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0), Philipp Oettl (Südmetall Schedl GP Racing) – all riders with previous podium form, and Oettl on pole last year. And then there’s last year’s winner Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers)…
There are also two riders who haven’t yet found their expected form in the season, and will be hoping to start reappearing on the rostrum sooner than soon: last year’s runner up Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and 2015 FIM CEV Repsol Moto3™ Junior World Champion Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) – both in the top ten last year at the Circuit of the Americas.
It’s time to find some traction in Texas, with FP1 setting the weekend in motion from 9:00am local time (GMT -5) on Friday.
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