Round Three – COTA
MotoGP makes its annual pilgrimage from South America to North America for the Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas this weekend.
A technical challenge and one of the longest laps of the year, Austin is a different beast to Argentina, but in six visits to the venue since its debut, there’s only ever been a lone star: Marquez. Will this year be any different?
Riders will do battle on a 5,513m long track that is renowned for its abrasive and bumpy surface. This season the track has undergone similar work to that which met the teams in 2018, when heavy machinery was brought in to plane down the top layers of the surface and remove some of the bumps, this means that Michelin and the teams will be heading to the circuit unsure of what condition the asphalt will be in.
Situated on the outskirts of Austin in Texas, the Circuit of The Americas is one of the newest tracks on the MotoGP calendar and this season will see the seventh staging of the event at the modern facility and Michelin’s fourth appearance since its return to the premier class of motorcycle racing.
There are two self-explanatory ways that Marquez could lose his grip the top step: someone else could beat him, or he could make a mistake.
The first has seen many try and fail, but the likes of Valentino Rossi, teammate Maverick Viñales and Jorge Lorenzo have all been on the podium at COTA.
Viñales also took his first Moto2 win there and has shown good pace, most notably in 2017 when it looked to be headed for a Viñales-Marquez showdown before the former crashed, and last year when he took second.
Then there’s Cal Crutchlow and although the Brit hasn’t been on the podium in Austin yet, and he’ll be on the war path to bounce back after his ride through penalty and jump start in Argentina. He’s still top Independent Team rider in the standings too, ahead of teammate Takaaki Nakagami and fourth-placed Termas finisher Jack Miller.
Suzuki factory man Alex Rins, meanwhile, is the only man on the grid with a win at COTA in both of the smaller classes, so he only needs a MotoGP victory at the venue to complete the hat trick – and there was a Hamamatsu factory machine on the podium last year…
There is another name who stands out as having visited the rostrum a couple of times in the premier class though: key title challenger Andrea Dovizioso and the controversial Ducati.
Bad luck and trouble have struck ‘DesmoDovi’ in Texas more than once, but the number 04 has also shown some good speed there.
Argentina also served to highlight once again the progress made by Ducati, with the Italian taking his first podium at Termas de Rio Hondo and significantly further up the mix than in the last couple of seasons. A good omen for this race? Time will tell, but with only four points between him and Marquez in the Championship – now in favour of the Argentina GP winner – he’ll want to do some more damage limitation at the very least before we head to tracks traditionally more suited to the Italian machine.
So what of the second option? Marquez has oft seemed nigh on infallible and his records at COTA and the Sachsenring – the two venues where he has never been beaten in the premier class – show that side of the coin.
But crashes and mistakes at tracks where he has had the pace – Argentina, Aragon, Phillip Island – show the other; it’s never an easy task to convert that speed into a victory. The question is, then, can that perfect record last forever in Texas? Over 20 laps of 20 corners an awful lot can happen.
That’s true throughout the field, and in the battle for Rookie of the Year, it’s Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who leads the way, albeit equal on points with Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar).
The Frenchman took the honour of top rookie in Argentina and the Spaniard in Qatar, and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) scored his first points at Termas de Rio Hondo with an incredibly impressive 11th – just a couple of tenths off top KTM Pol Espargaro, who got the marque’s first top ten at the venue and their first of the year.
But his fellow rookies’ speed leaves the second fastest man at the Sepang Test, Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing), currently trailing the trio and he’ll be looking to hit back in Texas. MotoGP is a story far more intricate that just who stands on the top step.
When the lights go out to signal the start of the 20-lap race at 0500 AEST early on Monday the 15th April, it will herald the final episode in a trio of fly-away races to start the season, before the championship heads to Europe and Jerez.
MotoGP weekend schedule
Times in AEST
MotoGP World Championship Standings
|1.||Marquez Marc||Repsol Honda Team||45|
|2.||Dovizioso Andrea||Ducati Team||41|
|3.||Rossi Valentino||Movistar Yamaha MotoGP||31|
|4.||Rins Alex||Team Suzuki Ecstar||24|
|5.||Petrucci Danilo||Ducati Team||20|
|6.||Crutchlow Cal||LCR Honda||19|
|7.||Nakagami Takaaki||LCR Honda||16|
|8.||Miller Jack||Alma Pramac Racing||13|
|9.||Espargaro Aleix||Aprilia Racing Team Gresini||13|
|10.||Espargaro Pol||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||10|
|11.||Vinales Maverick||Movistar Yamaha MotoGP||9|
|12.||Quartararo Fabio||Petronas Yamaha SRT||8|
|13.||Mir Joan||Team Suzuki Ecstar||8|
|14.||Lorenzo Jorge||Repsol Honda Team||7|
|15.||Oliveira Miguel||KTM Tech3 Racing||5|
|16.||Morbidelli Franco||Petronas Yamaha SRT||5|
|17.||Iannone Andrea||Aprilia Racing Team Gresini||2|
|18.||Bagnaia Francesco||Alma Pramac Racing||2|
|19.||Zarco Johann||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||2|
|20.||Syahrin Hafizh||KTM Tech3 Racing||0|
|21.||Abraham Karel||Reale Avintia Racing||0|
|22.||Rabat Tito||Reale Avintia Racing||0|
|23.||Smith Bradley||Aprilia Racing Team Gresini||0|
50 points, a 100% win rate and a top job on tactics has seen Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) take an early hold on the 2019 Moto2 World Championship but next up it’s a venue that hasn’t seen the Italian enjoy much success: the Circuit of the Americas. His only result inside the top twenty at the track came last season as he took tenth, but that was then and this is now. Pace and confidence are nine-tenths of the victory, so can Baldassarri finally take on Texas and win in 2019?
With a cast of potential and proven rivals, it’s going to be more mountain than molehill. Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is a former polesitter, took second last year after challenging eventual winner Francesco Bagnaia and bothered the podium battle the year before.
That battle was one that saw Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) play a big role as he took second in it, making it one apiece for two of the biggest names in the field. Dominique Aegerter (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward), who makes his 200th start this weekend, is the other rider who’s previously been on the podium at COTA – albeit on different machinery.
There’s only one man still on the Moto2 grid who has a race win in Austin to his name: Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2). Lowes crashed out in Argentina after showing good pace – just like and just next to Lüthi – but the Brit was almost two seconds clear when he took victory in the Americas GP in 2015. 2016 saw Lowes take another podium, too, so the form book says he’ll be one to watch.
Can new frontrunner on the block Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team), keep his pace rolling?
Moto2 World Championship Standings
|1||Baldassarri Lorenzo||Pons HP40||50|
|2||Gardner Remy||SAG Team||33|
|3||Schrotter Marcel||Dynavolt Intact GP||26|
|4||Marquez Alex||Estrella Galicia Marc VDS Team Moto2||25|
|5||Luthi Thomas||Dynavolt Intact GP||20|
|6||Marini Luca||Sky Racing Team VR46||17|
|7||Binder Brad||Red Bull KTM Ajo||15|
|8||Bastianini Enea||Italtrans Racing Team||14|
|9||Lecuona Iker||Swiss Innovative Investors||13|
|10||Fernandez Augusto||Pons HP40||11|
|11||Lowes Sam||Federal Oil Gresini Moto2||10|
|12||Navarro Jorge||+Ego Speed Up||8|
|13||Locatelli Andrea||Italtrans Racing Team||8|
|14||Vierge Xavi||Estrella Galicia Marc VDS Team Moto2||6|
|15||Chantra Somkiat||Idemitsu Honda Team Asia||6|
|16||Di Giannantonio Fabio||+Ego Speed Up||5|
|17||Nagashima Tetsuta||SAG Team||4|
|18||Pawi Khairul Idham||Petronas Sprinta Racing||3|
|19||Raffin Jesko||NTS RW Racing GP||3|
|20||Bendsneyder Bo||NTS RW Racing GP||2|
|21||Martin Jorge||Red Bull KTM Ajo||1|
|22||Bezzecchi Marco||Red Bull KTM Tech3||0|
|23||Dixon Jake||Angel Nieto Team||0|
|24||Aegerter Dominique||Forward Racing Team||0|
|25||Tulovic Lukas||Kiefer Racing||0|
|26||Oettl Philipp||Red Bull KTM Tech3||0|
|27||Corsi Simone||Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2||0|
|28||Manzi Stefano||Forward Racing Team||0|
|29||Cardelus Xavi||Angel Nieto Team||0|
|30||Roberts Joe||Swiss Innovative Investors||0|
|31||Pratama Dimas Ekky||Idemitsu Honda Team Asia||0|
|32||Bulega Nicolo||Sky Racing Team VR46||0|
In Qatar it was Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) who took his first Grand Prix win and in Argentina the pattern became such with Jaume Masia’s (Bester Capital Dubai) impressive victory – adding to Can Öncü’s (Red Bull KTM Ajo) victory in Valencia last year. It’s the first time first timers have taken three wins in a row since Moto3 began, so there’s an obvious question as we head north to the USA: will it be four first time winners in a row?
There are plenty of candidates on a grid stacked with quality, but there are two more veteran names who’ve shone in Austin before: Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers Team) and Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team).
The expansive Circuit of the Americas is certainly one behemoth of a track to tame. The two long straights often make a spectacular scene in Moto3, but the technical and challenging remainder of the lap has meant we’ve seen riders break away from the pack before.
In 2016, Fenati was the man to manage it and won by over six-seconds, and in 2017 the win was his with a margin of more than four-seconds despite a shortened race. That year, however, someone else had outpaced the Italian for much of the weekend: Canet.
The Spaniard broke the lap record and looked certain for a charge at the win, but Fenati outduelled him and forced an error. Could we see a repeat head to head two years on? Or has the chasing pack more than caught the two in the interim?
The likes of recent frontrunners Masia, Toba, Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3), Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers Team), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing), Darryn Binder (Bester Capital Dubai) and Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) will be hoping so – and a good few of them have yet to take a podium or win so there’s plenty on the line.
Moto3 World Championship Standings
|1||Toba Kaito||Castrol Honda Team Asia||31|
|2||Dalla Porta Lorenzo||Leopard Racing||29|
|3||Masia Jaume||Bester Capital Dubai||25|
|4||Antonelli Niccolo||SIC58 Squadra Corse||21|
|5||Binder Darryn||CIP Green Power||20|
|6||Canet Aron||Max Racing Team||20|
|7||Ramirez Marcos||Leopard Racing||20|
|8||Arbolino Tony||Snipers Team||16|
|9||Vietti Celestino||Sky Racing Team VR46||13|
|10||Sasaki Ayumu||Petronas Sprinta Racing||11|
|11||Rodrigo Gabriel||Kommerling Gresini Moto3||11|
|12||Arenas Albert||Angel Nieto Team Moto3||10|
|13||Fernandez Raul||Angel Nieto Team Moto3||10|
|14||Foggia Dennis||Sky Racing Team VR46||8|
|15||Fenati Romano||Snipers Team||7|
|16||Migno Andrea||Bester Capital Dubai||7|
|17||Kornfeil Jakub||Redox PruestelGP||6|
|18||Ogura Ai||Castrol Honda Team Asia||5|
|19||Lopez Alonso||Estrella Galicia 0,0||4|
|20||Mcphee John||Petronas Sprinta Racing||3|
|21||Suzuki Tatsuki||SIC58 Squadra Corse||3|
|22||Perez Vicente||Reale Avintia Academy||0|
|23||Booth-Amos Tom||CIP Green Power||0|
|24||Oncu Can||Red Bull KTM Ajo||0|
|25||Masaki Kazuki||BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race||0|
|26||Viu Aleix||Angel Nieto Team Moto3||0|
|27||Yurchenko Makar||BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race||0|
|28||Yamanaka Ryusei||Estrella Galicia 0,0||0|
|29||Salac Filip||Redox PruestelGP||0|
|30||Rossi Riccardo||Kommerling Gresini Moto3||0|