The VROOM Blog #AmericasGP – Marquez makes it a magnificent seven in Texas

 In MotoGP, News

For the first time in what seems like forever, the MotoGP paddock headed across the Atlantic and we had to adjust to having MotoGP on our telly boxes in the afternoon and evening – I didn’t know what to do with myself in the mornings! (Well, that’s not entirely true – I watched the British and World Superbikes, but it still felt strange to have MotoGP later in the day!)

Having been another of the tracks missing from the calendar last season due to the pandemic, the Circuit of the Americas welcomed the MotoGP stars back with open arms.

One rider who would be missing the stateside action would be Aprilia’s Maverick Viñales. Maverick’s young cousin Dean Berta Viñales lost his life following a multi-rider accident during the Supersport 300 race during the World Superbike weekend at Jerez last week. At just 15 years old, Dean had been on a run of good form claiming 4th and 6th places in recent races in what was his rookie season in the championship.

Following Dean’s death, Aprilia issued a statement which said that Maverick would sit out this weekend. I have been critical of how Aprilia have handled their riders in the past, but I was very impressed with the compassion they have shown in this situation – they stated that Maverick would miss the weekend with the “full and unconditional support of Aprilia” and that he has decided to “take a break on his journey of getting to know the bike and the team”. Maverick himself posted on his social media that while he wanted to race in honour of his young cousin, he didn’t feel that he was emotionally ready to do so.

I have massive respect for Maverick in making this decision, and Aprilia in supporting it, which is possibly why I couldn’t understand and was quite angered to see people online saying that he should be racing. Quite frankly, it is no-one’s business whether Maverick (or anyone in this situation) choses to race or not. Only Maverick can know what is best for him and he should be respected for making the best decision for himself and his family.

I cannot believe that for the 3rd time in 5 months, I am writing about the loss of a young racer. Actually, I say I can’t believe it, but sadly I think I can. This season has been hellish in terms of loss, and I think it seems even worse because the two more recent losses – Millan and Viñales – have been children at 14 and 15 years old respectively.

Jason Dupasquier was still only a teenager at 19 too, and I have really struggled to get my head around how this keeps happening. I know that this sport is dangerous, and that sometimes we are forced to face the stark reality of that fact, but there must be something that can be done to try and prevent these accidents where riders are so packed together that if they crash, chances are high that they will be hit by following rider(s).

The paddock gathered on Thursday to pay tribute to Viñales with a minute of silence, and Jack Miller didn’t mince his words when asked about the situation, saying that he was “sick and tired of going to minutes of silence for kids who are just so, so young. Its not on, and it needs to change.”

I don’t pretend to know what the answer is, but I do know that having 40+ relatively inexperienced CHILDREN on these machines isn’t helping the situation. I really hope that those who have the power to make chances do so.

The return to the Circuit of the Americas was a source of much excitement, with many riders revealing special helmets to mark the occasion. Marc Marquez – who had won 6 of the last 7 races at COTA – once again revealed a rodeo theme to his helmet, gloves and boots for this weekend. Alex Rins, who became a father last week, had his son’s name – Lucas – on his leathers in place of his own, and also unveiled an American Football themed helmet with a lovely tribute to Nicky Hayden, who was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America this week. Team mate Joan Mir paid tribute to Suzuki legend Kevin Schwantz with a one-off helmet design as well as running his number 36 in the font used for Schwantz’ 34.

Johann Zarco returns to action following the arm pump surgery which saw him miss the second day of the Misano test, and he will be hoping that he can return to the form he showed earlier in the season.

The first MotoGP session of the weekend was a wet one – the rain had stopped falling by the time the riders went out, but the track was still wet for the whole session, which was topped by Marc Marquez from Jack Miller and Johann Zarco.

By the time FP2 started the track had dried, but with more rain forecast for Saturday morning, this could be the session that would determine progression straight through to Q2, so we saw lots of ‘time attacks’ towards the end of the session. It was Marc Marquez who led the way at the end of the day, with Jack Miller and Fabio Quartararo rounding out the top 3. FP2 though did feature crashes for Iker Lecuona, Miguel Oliveira and Aleix Espargaro, with many riders complaining about the condition of the track. The riders were so concerned about the state of the track that the Friday evening Safety Commission meeting was much more heated than usual, with many riders calling the circuit dangerous.

The main issue for the riders is the bumps that have formed on the track – with the worst of them being between turns 2 and 11. Aleix Espargaro – who crashed at total of 5 times over the course of the weekend – was one of the more vocal riders on the state of the track, and even went as far as saying that he didn’t think they should race. Championship leader Fabio Quartararo branded the circuit unsafe and a joke, while Pecco Bagnaia also said that he felt the track was unsafe for racing, but added that as long as one rider says its ridable, they would have to ride.

Following the Safety Commission meeting on Friday, many riders explained that they had essentially issued an ultimatum – fix the track, or they won’t come back next year. Joan Mir, Taka Nakagami and Aleix Espargaro were among those who confirmed to the media that there has been an agreement made that unless sectors 1, 2 and part of 3 are resurfaced then the championship will not return to COTA next season.

On Saturday morning the forecast rain didn’t arrive, meaning that those who hadn’t made it into the top 10 on Friday had another chance to do so. Crashes for Alex Marquez, Aleix Espargaro and Luca Marini impacted their chances of making it straight through to Q2, and it was Jack Miller who topped the times from Taka Nakagami, Alex Rins, Marc Marquez and Johann Zarco, with Brad Binder – usually more of a Sunday man – securing a Q2 slot with 8th on the timesheets.

FP4 saw Ducati team mates Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia head out on track together, with Miller leading Pecco around for several laps in an attempt to help the Italian improve his lap times ahead of Q2 and the race. Pol and Aleix both crashed unhurt during the session which was topped by Jack Miller, with Joan Mir and Pecco Bagnaia in the top 3.

Q1 was another session which saw multiple crashes, with Aleix Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira and Valentino Rossi all hitting the deck. By the mid-point of the session, it was Joan Mir and Franky Morbidelli who held the top two positions, but a late charge from Luca Marini saw him and Joan Mir progress to Q2.

In Q2, all eyes were on Marc Marquez – could he take an 8th successive COTA pole position? After the first runs, it was beginning to look as though he might, but that pesky Pecco was able to put into action what he had learned from Miller in FP4 to set the fastest time of the session and become the only rider other than Marc to take pole position at COTA. Joining Pecco on the front row would be Fabio Quartararo – making this the 7th successive MotoGP race where the top two in the championship have been on the front row of the grid together – and Marc Marquez who lines up on the front row for the first time since his return from injury.

After becoming the first Italian to take 3 consecutive premier class pole positions since a certain Valentino Rossi back in 2009, Pecco made sure to thank his team mate for the assistance in improving his lap time, while Jack himself was only able to qualify 10th on the grid due to suspected tyre issues.

Sunday morning’s warm up session was topped by Taka Nakagami from Marc Marquez and Alex Rins.

I don’t usually talk much about Moto3, and last week I did stop myself from going off on a rant about Deniz Öncü being allowed to race at Misano despite the fact that he had stated that he had been unconscious for around 30 minutes following a crash on the Saturday, but this week, something needs to be said.

Following a crash for Filip Salac, the Moto3 race was red-flagged before being re-started for a 5-lap sprint race. On the second lap, Deniz Öncü cut across the front of Jeremy Alcoba which caused Alcoba to crash. I’m very aware that I have been highly critical of Alcoba this season, but on this occasion, I don’t think he did anything wrong.

What happened next was absolutely terrifying, especially given the level of tragedy we have seen this season. Alcoba was on the ground in front of his bike, and the following riders had nowhere to go. Migno and Acosta both hit Alcoba’s bike and were sent skywards as their fellow riders tried to take evasive action. Thankfully, all 3 riders were able to stand up and walk away from the accident – I have never in my life been so happy to see 3 riders standing at the side of the track.

I said at the time that Öncü needed to be penalised for his part in the crash, and what followed was not the punishment I was expecting. He has been banned from participating in the next 2 GPs. The penalty is harsh, but I do agree with it. I think that Deniz is perhaps being made an example of in an attempt to scare the others into behaving on track, but it shouldn’t have got to this point. It shouldn’t have taken what could very easily have been another fatal accident for the stewards to severely punish those guilty of riding irresponsibly, because this isn’t the first time we have seen riders behaving like this.

Öncü was punished for causing a crash “by swerving into the line of another rider” which “contravenes the specific instructions given to all teams / competitors by email”, and is considered “irresponsible riding causing danger” to other competitors, which is all fair – that is what happened, but we have seen far worse examples of weaving from riders who have just been lucky enough not to cause a massive accident.

I don’t believe Deniz intended to cause and accident – no one would go out with the intention of doing that – but these riders need to be taught that there are consequences for the way they ride, and unfortunately for Deniz he is the one that caused a big accident and has been hung out to dry as an example to his fellow competitors. I sincerely hope that they all learn from this.

The Moto2 title race was blown wide open this weekend, with championship leader Remy Gardner having a very uncharacteristic crash as team mate and title rival Raul Fernandez took his 7th win of the season and closed the gap at the top of the table to just 9 points with 3 rounds (and 75 points) remaining. Raul’s 7th win of the season sees him equal the record of 7 wins in a season for a Moto2 rookie – the record is held by Marc Marquez and I wouldn’t bet against Raul breaking that record before the end of the season.

Finally, it was MotoGP time and the riders lined up on the grid before being treated to a rousing rendition of the national anthem.

It was Marc Marquez who got the best start from the front row and led into turn 1 ahead of Fabio, Pecco and Jack. The first lap saw lots of movement, with Alex Rins passing both Jack and Pecco to get himself up to 3rd place, Taka Nakagami moved ahead of Joan Mir for 6th and Jack Miller somehow found himself back in 9th after a strong start.

Lap 2 saw Jorge Martin pass Pecco for 4th, before Taka also made his way through on Pecco only for Pecco to take the place straight back. Taka crashed at turn 12 but he was able to remount, albeit much further back than he had been. Jorge Martin meanwhile was all over the back of Alex Rins, and Jack Miller made a stunning pass to take both Binder and Mir in one fell swoop!

By lap 4 Jorge Martin had had a little back and forth with Alex Rins before he made the move stick and set his sights on Fabio in 2nd. Martin’s team mate, Johann Zarco’s race ended with a crash at turn 1 on the 5th lap of the race. As Marc extended his lead at the front to 0.9 seconds, Jorge Martin tried to pass Fabio only for Fabio to deny him, as further back Miller made his way up to 4th with passes on Pecco and Alex Rins.

Aleix Espargaro, who has been much stronger this season, notched up his 5th crash of the weekend and ending what has been a terrible weekend by his current standards at turn 13. Out front, Marc was looking like the Marc of old – extending his lead to over 3 seconds over Fabio Quartararo, who in turn was 1.2 seconds ahead of Jorge Martin.

Pecco had made his way past Alex Rins and was catching up with team mate Miller. Jack did seem to be struggling to maintain his pace, and when he realised it was Pecco behind him, he waved him through. Jack said after the race that he let Pecco through as he was struggling and didn’t want to hold him up, and Pecco thanked him for that. It was clear that Pecco had more pace as he quickly began to pull away from Jack, and Mir was closing in behind the Australian.

As Marc Marquez extended his lead to more than 4 seconds, Jorge Martin found himself unable to make the corner and cutting across the run-off between turns 4 and 5 resulting in a long lap penalty being issued to the rookie. Pecco was able to pass Martin before he took his penalty.

The final lap of the race saw more contact between Miller and Mir, with Mir hitting the side of Miller as he tried to pass him. The contact allowed a lurking Enea Bastianini to take advantage and pass the pair of them to secure himself another 6th place finish. Marc Marquez had such a lead at the end of the race that he was able to wheelie across the line to celebrate his 7th race win at COTA, with Fabio and Pecco rounding out the top 3.

Marc stopped on his in-lap to pick up a Nicky Hayden flag, while Jack Miller had some words for reigning champion Mir, even grabbing his helmet as they discussed the final lap contact. The incident between Mir and Miller was investigated and Mir was penalised, having to drop a position for ‘irresponsible riding’.

Marc’s victory was also the Repsol Honda Team’s 450th premier class podium. Marc said after the race that he had executed his race plan perfectly – to take the lead early, “take the first few laps a bit easy and then when the tyres start to drop a little bit – that’s when I would start to push.” He added that the last few laps were difficult as he was tired, but that he knew that Fabio was quite far behind and wouldn’t be doing anything too risky.

Fabio himself said that this second place was even better than a victory given how hard the race was. He also admitted that he is suffering with nerves and “belly ache” before the races now that he is getting closer to the end of the championship.

Talking of the championship – Fabio Quartararo now heads to the next race at Misano with his first opportunity to clinch the title. He currently leads the championship and has 52 points in hand over second placed Pecco Bagnaia, who is now the only person that can stop Fabio from taking the title.

In Moto3, Pedro Acosta is currently 30 points ahead of Dennis Foggia, with Sergio Garcia a further 20 points back, meaning that Acosta will also have a chance to secure the Moto3 title in Misano, although his challenge will be greater than Fabio’s in terms of the number of points required over his rivals.

We now have two weekends off before the paddock returns to Misano towards the end of the month, but I’m really looking forward to seeing if Fabio can clinch the title there!

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