Two Wheel Tuesday: Americas MotoGP

Marc Marquez paying tribute to the late Nicky Hayden:

If you cast your minds back to 2016, the two were teammates for Hayden’s last MotoGP race at Phillip Island, when the Kentucky Kid was a substitute for Dani Pedrosa.

All MotoGP GIFs/Images belong to Dorna Sports

Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas

Circuit of the Americas (aka COTA), Austin, Texas

Graphic by the Honda Racing Corporation

True fact, a lap of the Circuit of the Americas is, on average, the longest of the entire MotoGP calendar, and just to prove it, the race lap record for Silverstone is Marc Marquez’ 1.59.936 from 2019, while the COTA lap record is Marc’s 2.03.575 from 2014.

Unfortunately, the big story of this year’s visit to COTA, which seems to be a recurring theme no matter which category races in Texas, was the enormous amount of bumps in the asphalt between Turns 2 to 12, which has been blamed on the fact that the circuit was built on top of clay, which has a habit of shifting, and there was apparently water in the sub-base due to flooding in 2015, which was when the track surface really went south after having no issues since it opened in 2012, although as to what the actual cause is will hopefully be determined, and for the sake of the Texans, sooner rather than later.

Following Friday practice, Fabio Quartararo openly described the track as “a joke” and “dangerous”, Marc Marquez and Aleix Espargaro agreed, with Aleix going to the extreme and saying it wasn’t safe enough to race on Sunday, and Pecco Bagnaia described it as being worse than Silverstone in 2018, when a somewhat botched track resurfacing led to the race being cancelled due to the track being unrideable in wet conditions.

So that was one of the overriding themes of this visit to Austin…. That and the 30+ degree Celsius & humid temperatures.

Journey of the Jackass 2021, Chapter 15: Marquez, it’s a town in Texas

After racing exclusively in the Middle East and Europe since 2020 due to the pandemic, Dorna decided it was safe enough to travel across the Atlantic Ocean and revive the Grand Prix of the Americas for the first time since 2019, even as Texas teeters on the brink of anarchy, and it was music to the ears of Marc Marquez, who has ruled Texas with a bigger iron fist than George W. Bush, because in the 7 previous visits to COTA, Marquez had started on pole position every single time, and he won the first 6 editions of the race (The first being his maiden MotoGP win in 2013), before crashing out from a 3.6 second lead in 2019, handing the win to Alex Rins on the Suzuki, who also seems to love Austin, given he’s won in all three classes at the track.

Sadly, the first running of the Americas GP in 2 years would be without Maverick Vinales, who withdrew from the weekend due to the death of his 15-year-old cousin Dean Berta Vinales last weekend, following an accident in the World Supersport 300 round (Which is part of the World Superbike Championship) at Jerez.

The added layer of sadness for Maverick is that Dean rode for the Vinales Racing Team, which is run by Maverick’s father Angel.

The loss of Dean Vinales just adds to what has already been an awful year for junior riders…. Jason Dupasquier died aged 19 after being struck by another bike in Moto3 qualifying at Mugello in May, and 14-year-old Hugo Millan died in a European Talent Cup race at Aragon in July, the common theme being that all 3 riders fell and were hit by other riders.

Motorcycle racing is an inherently dangerous sport, but there comes a point where the FIM are going to have to come together and do something about the junior categories, be it harsher penalties, cutting down on the number of bikes racing at one time, or changing the engine displacement levels, because this close pack racing + slipstreaming (Which leads to swerving on the straight) that you get in categories like Moto3 is creating more trouble than it’s worth…..

As was demonstrated in Moto3 again this weekend, as the race was shortened to a 5-lap dash, only to have this happen:

Deniz Oncu received a 2-race suspension for this

How nobody died in that is extraordinary.

Practice & Qualifying

After the weather cleared up following a wet run in FP1, Jack Miller was comfortably the fastest rider in Combined Practice by over 6 tenths to Taka Nakagami, Rins, Marc Marquez, Quartararo, Zarco.

Maneuverability used to absolutely kill the Desmosedici of previous years, but this time around Miller on the GP21 was comfortably the fastest rider through the twisting Sector 1 (0.196s), which goes to show the serious improvement the team from Bologna have made in improving what has long been their greatest weakness; Cornering, specifically high speed corners.

As luck would have it, a factory Ducati would start on pole for the race, but it wouldn’t be our Jackass it would be Pecco Bagnaia bringing up a hat-trick of pole positions in his fading bid to stop Fabio Quartararo from winning the World Championship, but he’d need a bit more luck, because Quartararo started on the front row for the 14th time in 15 races, and for the first time in MotoGP history, Marc Marquez didn’t start on pole position in Austin, but he did start on the front row for the first time since last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, the very same race in which he broke his humerus.

Completing the grid, Jorge Martin, Takaaki Nakagami and Johann Zarco made up the 2nd Row, the Suzuki of Alex Rins (Your 2019 race winner in Austin) and Joan Mir, plus Luca Marini, made up the 3rd Row, with Marini and Mir both progressing to Q2 via Q1, and after his Practice pace, Miller could only manage 10th on the grid after a botched end to his session, with his rear tyre not being good enough, and an out-lap that was 20 seconds slower than usual due to checking on Marc Marquez trying to get a tow…..

Which led to him missing the chequered flag by 10 seconds.

A massive error from Jackass when he had front row pace, and joining him on the 4th Row was Brad Binder and Pol Espargaro, and the Q1 castoffs were Franco Morbidelli, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Marquez, Enea Bastianini, Iker Lecuona, Miguel Oliveira, the lone Aprilia of Aleix Espargaro fell in Q1 and ultimately started 19th, with Valentino Rossi and Danilo Petrucci, in their last MotoGP visits to the United States, completing the grid.

Race (20 Laps)

Thanks to the bumpy motocross ride around COTA, in hot and humid conditions, every rider went for the Michelin Hard Front tyre just to try and survive 20 laps of physical and mental torture, with the Soft rear being the consensus pick of the field, with just 3 riders deviating – Rossi and Marini, who went on the Medium rear, while Jack Miller, for the first time all year, went the Hard-Hard combination.

At the start, Marquez went straight to the lead up the inside on the uphill run to Turn 1, with Quartararo maintaining 2nd after the Turn 1 squeeze, and the big mover was Alex Rins, up from 7th to 3rd after passing Bagnaia through Sector 1, and Miller was very lucky to get through Turn 1 after running a tight line up the inside, which resulted in him being boxed in, and Alex Marquez did very well not to run into the Ducati.

Outside of Rins, Brad Binder had moved up from 11th to 8th after the opening lap, while Zarco lost 4 places down to 10th, and Marini had fallen from 9th to 14th.

On Lap 2, Martin passed Bagania for 4th, then Nakagami tried a move for 5th at Turn 11 that didn’t stick, and once the riders crossed the back straight down to Turn 12, Nakagami lost the front and fell out of contention!

The fastest rider in the Warm Up, with nothing to show for it, even as he remounted.

Out in front, the Top 4 had dropped Bagnaia halfway through Lap 3, while Miller’s Hard tyres had warmed up after a few laps, and he killed two birds with one stone by passing Binder and Mir into Turn 12 to take 6th place.

Ending the 3rd Lap, Martin lined up a pass on Rins down the pit straight, but Rins cut back up the inside at Turn 1 to start Lap 4, but Martin stuck with Rins down the back straight and comfortably passed him under brakes at Turn 12 to move into 3rd place.

Starting Lap 5, Zarco’s forgettable 2nd Half to the season continued when he slid out at Turn 1, becoming the first permanent retirement of the race, extending his drought to just 9 points from the last 5 races….. He was 2nd in the Championship for most of the year.

Quartararo kept Marquez honest through the first 5 laps, but Lap 6 seemed to be the moment when the 8-time World Champion broke away from the Championship leader, who came under attack from Martin down the pit straight on Lap 6, but Quartararo would hold 2nd, as Miller passed Bagnaia for 5th place at Turn 1, and Pecco’s chances of a winning hat-trick went up in flames on a propane-powered barbeque.

After staring the 6th lap half a second in front, Marc’s lead was out beyond 1 second by the time they hit the back straight, and assuming there was no funny buggers with Marquez’ arm, this race was over, as Miller’s race was opening up when he passed Rins for 4th place at Turn 12, and Miller and Marquez were the only riders able to lap under 2m05s.

If you ask me, Fabio played the situation really well – He seemed to accept Marquez was much quicker, to the tune of well over half a second per lap, but crucially for his title hunt, Bagnaia was losing ground in 6th, so he focused more on holding off Martin and just banking the 20 points.

Further down the field, Binder was now up to 7th after passing Mir, closing to within a few bike lengths of Pecco, while Bastianini was making another big move, moving up into 9th place (From 16th) after passing Pol Espargaro on Lap 8, while brother Aleix ended his and Aprilia’s weekend by crashing out at Turn 13 on Lap 9.

By half race distance, Marquez’ lead had blown out to 2.3 seconds over Quartararo, who now had a comfortable gap to Martin and Miller, with Rins and Pecco a second further back, and the two Lap 1 combatants would change places into Turn 12 after Bagnaia used the Ducati’s straight line speed to take 4th place.

That move coincided with Miller starting to drop back from Martin, with that gap increasing from 3 tenths to a second within a lap, and Jack kindly played the team game (Like he said he would back in Misano) and let Bagnaia through on Lap 13, but Pecco now had to reel back 2 seconds to Martin if he wanted a podium.

Matt Birt and Steve Day noted that moment in commentary as being the first time all season we’d seen something resembling team orders in MotoGP.

Rins also ranged up to Miller, who was definitely fading late in the race, and Rins first tried a pass at Turn 11, but Miller got back ahead on his Red Rocket, before the Suzuki made the pass for 5th stick at Turn 15.

With the Top 2 places settled with 5 laps to go, the closing laps were when the fight for 3rd heated up, because Bagnaia was finally staring to catch Martin and cut the gap down to 1.4 seconds, while Bastianini’s latest sensastional charge continued when he moved up to 8th place with a pass on Binder.

On Lap 17, Martin showed cracks big enough that Tony Greig would’ve stuck his keys in them, because he became perilously unsettled after hitting the kerb at Turn 4, resulting in him shortcutting Turn 5, and Bagnaia had cut the gap down to just 2 tenths by the end of the lap, and it looked like the rookie Martin, who still isn’t 100% fit after that horror crash at Portimao, was physically knackered after 17 laps on the Austin motocross track.

The inevitable pass for 3rd came on Lap 18, right as Martin copped the double whammy of a Long Lap penalty for shortcutting Turn 5, and now not only was the Spaniard not going to finish 3rd, he wouldn’t even get 4th because Rins was within 3 seconds of him, and there was half a chance he could lose more places to Miller, Mir and Bastianini, with the Ducatis and Suzukis all closing up to each other with just 1 lap to go….

While that fight resolved itself, the story of the day was that the King of COTA had regained his throne, as Marc Marquez won in Austin for the seventh time!!

A bung shoulder, a right arm that isn’t fully healed, riding a Honda that wants to murder anyone that sits their arse on it…. It’s good to see the Marquez exhibition return every now and then, and the wins also brought up Repsol Honda’s 450th podium finish since 1995.

In a performance as good as a win, Quartararo took 2nd place and gained a crucial 4 points on Pecco Bagnaia in 3rd, which leaves Quartararo, now with a title lead of 52 points, in position to win the championship at Misano if he simply finishes ahead of Bagnaia in a few weeks, while Martin waited until the last lap to take his penalty, promoting Rins up to 4th and demoting the Pramac Ducati down to 5th, while there was yet another final lap incident involving Miller and Mir…

Coming into Turn 15, Miller was holding 6th place, but Mir made yet another desperate divebomb, resulting in his Suzuki spearing into Miller’s Ducati and sending them both wide, and just as Marc Marquez made two places in one go at Misano, this time around, Enea Bastianini made up 2 places without raising a finger and finished 6th after starting 16th!

Mir and Miller did finish 7th and 8th on the road, but the stewards enforced a position swap as Mir was penalised for irresponsible riding, and on the evidence there’s no defending it, as Joan also learned once again that you don’t make a Jackass angry:

It’s a good thing Mir had his helmet on, because the track marshalls would be spending the next week looking for his teeth otherwise.

Marquez celebrated by paying tribute to the late Nicky Hayden in front of the American fans, and on the podium he fulfilled a promise he made with Australian AMA motocross champion Jett Lawrence by eating a doughnut on the rostrum, not before performing a nice old doughnut in front of the fans.

On a similar note about tributes to Hayden, America’s last World Champion, Alex Rins had a No.69 decal on his helmet all weekend, and that can’t be forgotten.

Completing the results, Binder was once again the leading KTM in 9th, Pol Espargaro completed the Top 10 for Honda, Miguel Oliveira was 11th, still without a Top 10 since Assen, Alex Marquez was 12th, Dovi finished in 13th for his first points since his comeback, Luca Marini couldn’t make the most of a Top 10 start and finished 14th, and his elder half-brother Valentino Rossi rounded out the points positions in his final jaunt across the Atlantic Ocean.

You’ll notice on the timesheets that Franco Morbidelli finished stone motherless last on the road and some 49 seconds off the race winner, despite riding a factory Yamaha, the reason being that ‘Frankie’ lost strength in his legs before the halfway mark, a direct result of his knee injury & surgery, which was a 6 month recovery period.


Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster


Anyway, I could sum up this weekend in two words.

Raul ****in’ Fernandez!

Next Up: The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, aka Misano II, on October 24, on what will be the 10th anniversary since we lost Marco Simoncelli….

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