Sunday Summary at Austin: Of Record Breakers, Deserved and Undeserved Attention, & Banquo’s Ghost

04/22/2013 @ 12:50 am, by David Emmett16 COMMENTS

Sunday Summary at Austin: Of Record Breakers, Deserved and Undeserved Attention, & Banquos Ghost Sunday COTA MotoGP Scott Jones 01 635x422

Another day, another record. Marc Marquez now takes the place of Freddie Spencer as both the youngest rider ever to take a premier class pole, and the youngest rider ever to win a premier class Grand Prix.

If you had any doubt that Marquez is something special, then the inaugural round of MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas should have removed it.

Marquez is on the path which all great riders take, scoring a podium in his first race, pole and a win in his second. This is what preternaturally talented riders do: learn fast, race fast, and win soon.

The manner of Marquez’ win was what was most impressive. Together with his team, the Spaniard elected to run the harder rear tire, holding station when everyone else (except for fellow Honda rider Stefan Bradl) chose the softer of the two options.

After overshooting the start, he slotted in behind his Repsol Honda teammate – a rider in his 8th season of MotoGP – evaluated how wear was affecting his rear tire, then pushed hard to pass Pedrosa in a strong and gutsy move through turns 5 and 6.

He then nursed a front tire that had developed a minor problem home to take his maiden win in MotoGP, and take two of Spencer’s records, both of which had stood since 1982. His win was not just a matter of talent, but also of great maturity, and of having the backing of arguably the strongest crew in the paddock.

Both Marc Marquez and his father Julian were keen to put his victory into perspective. “People remember the records as they are today, now,” Julian Marquez told me, when I asked about it. “What you have to remember is that one day, a rider will come along and beat Marc’s record. And from that day on, nobody will remember it was Marc who once held the record,” he said, before adding rather ominously “what they will remember is who won the championship.”

Marc’s father also pointed out that his son had had plenty of time to break the record, as he was still 133 days younger than Freddie Spencer. And here he touches upon an interesting point: Marquez won at Austin because he is an exceptional talent, of course, but also because the Austin circuit clearly favored the Hondas.

The Repsol Honda man had dominated the tests here last month, and pretty much dominated all of practice and qualifying. This was clearly a track that suited both him and his bike, given the strength of the Hondas at the test and the weekend.

This points to the dangers of putting too much stock in records: if the Austin race had taken place in October or November, Marquez may have had to wait for much longer for his first win. From Qatar to Jerez to, say, Laguna Seca, the first half of the MotoGP season is at tracks which favor the Yamaha, by and large (though Hondas have won a fair few races at those circuits).

Had Austin been later in the year, Spencer’s race win record may have endured, though his pole record was always like to fall early. Records are susceptible to the hands of fate; they are ephemeral. World championships are set in stone, and last forever.

Though Marquez finished ahead of his teammate, Dani Pedrosa was sanguine after the race. Qatar had been a major worry, not being able to be competitive all weekend, so to come to Texas and be in with a shot of the win was a giant confidence builder.

Taking nothing away from his teammate – “Marc was super today,” Pedrosa said at the press conference – Pedrosa said he had struggled with a fatigue cramp in his left triceps, making turning from right to left a problem.

It was a fitness problem he needed to work on, he conceded, as other tracks with a lot of strong left-handed braking zones were coming up later in the season.

Where Jorge Lorenzo should have been elated, he ended the race with a sense of frustration. He had not expected to be so close to the front runners, after struggling with grip all weekend.

To get within a couple of seconds of Marquez and Honda was more painful than being beaten by over ten seconds, when there is nothing you can do about it, Lorenzo’s team manager Wilco Zeelenberg explained.

Maybe, with another day at the track, Lorenzo could have run the pace of the two Hondas, and challenged for 2nd, or maybe even 1st. Knowing that a much better result was possible made things worse.

The change in competitiveness had come when Lorenzo’s team decided to gamble on a revised gearbox strategy, shortening second gear on his factory Yamaha M1 so that he could use second to get around the hairpins and get better drive out of them.

It had been a gamble during warm up which had paid off – “you’ve normally tried all the variations of set up, so in the warm up you try something a bit more off the wall,” Zeelenberg explained. It paid off, getting Lorenzo much closer than he had expected to be. But not quite close enough.

Three seconds behind Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow crossed the line in what he regarded as possibly his best race in MotoGP. He had been fast, consistent and made only one mistake, running wide when he attempted to pass Stefan Bradl.

But even that had been forgivable: better to run wide when trying to pass, than not to try to pass at all. Once past the German, Crutchlow ramped up his rhythm, and for much of the second half of the race, he was the fastest man on the track.

What is remarkable about Crutchlow’s achievement is that he did it without any testing – he finished ahead of both Stefan Bradl and Valentino Rossi, who had both tested at the track previously, and after a fire caused massive problems for the Tech 3 squad on Thursday, including damaging a set of tire warmers so they only worked on one side of the tire, not both, a difficulty spotted in time by the Bridgestone technicians. Crutchlow started the race at Austin with a minimum of preparation. Yet he still ended up fourth in the race.

Crutchlow’s enjoyment was dampened by the fact that no one came to his press debrief after the race. A combination of an overly long press conference, and a timing clash with Valentino Rossi, whose debrief had been hastily rescheduled with complete disregard to the previously agreed order of things, drawn up so that as many journalists as possible got to speak to as many riders as possible.

A group of journalists gathered to hear the man who came 6th, ten seconds behind Crutchlow, but no one came to see Crutchlow, who had just ridden one of the best races of his career. The media are a fickle mistress, more interested in fame than in actual achievement.

What the journalists who went to speak to Rossi did learn is that the reason he finished so far down the field was in part a brake problem, where a chip from one of his disks had come off, causing a vibration under braking.

The other part – and perhaps at least as significant – was that they had tried a radically revised weight distribution during the warm up, which had turned out to work quite well. So in the race they went even further, but that proved to be a step too far.

Rossi was simply never in contention this weekend. He will be hoping for better at Jerez, a track he likes and a track where he is fast. Though not as fast as Crutchlow in the test.

Three more performances are worthy of mention. Firstly, Aleix Espargaro, who is getting in among the tail enders of the satellite bikes on his CRT machine. Espargaro took eleventh spot, ahead of Bradley Smith and Ben Spies, and not that far off the time of the tenth place man Nicky Hayden.

Secondly, Nico Terol. Terol has shown promise, but never really delivered, especially since joining the Moto2 class. But the confidence boost of a podium at Valencia last year came at exactly the right time, giving Terol the willpower to trust his machinery more, and push harder. That has so far paid off, bringing him his first win in the intermediate class.

And finally, Alex Rins. The young Spaniard certainly has the right bike – the factory KTMs are almost unbeatable – but he still has Maverick Viñales and Luis Salom to contend with. Rins disposed of them as if they were not there, leading the first, interrupted race with ease, holding Viñales off without too much difficulty.

In the restarted 5 lap race, Rins this time kept Luis Salom at bay, Salom running wide in a final do-or-die attempt to get past Rins. This is Rins’ second season of Moto3, and his already a title contender. The young Spaniard is definitely someone to keep your eye on.

And finally, the question of “absent friends.” The Circuit of the Americas is exactly 5,513 meters long or 3.426 miles. That it is 3.4 miles should come as no surprise, the #34 helped to design the track. Like Banquo’s ghost, Kevin Schwantz haunted the proceedings at COTA, his absence more keenly felt than his presence would have been.

Whatever the wrongs and rights of the case, we can only hope for a speedy resolution to the situation. It leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, that much is for sure.

Photo: © 2013 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

Comment:

  1. paulus - Thailand says:

    Well done Kal Crutchlow!
    you deserve some respect for that great performance.

  2. smiler says:

    Well done Merguez and Crutchlow, 2 best rides of the weekend.

  3. David says:

    Bummer…I guess what your saying is that we are destined for 10 or more years of watching MM ride off into the sunset. We should all be content watching the race for second and third.

    Cool.

  4. Chaz Michael Michaels says:

    The saddest part and maybe the greatest part of motorsports is how time waits for no one and disposes of former champions (and aliens). Don’t get too comfortable adoring riders from years gone by because better ones are on the way.

    It’s looks like Rossi really is past it and Crutchlow really did have good reason to complain for not getting a factory ride. Espargaro is obviously one of the best riders on the motogp grid. Why in the world is he frittering away time on a CRT bike?

    I thought COTA was only ok from a race fan’s perspective. It has a lot of potential. There’s plenty of room for gear/swag vendors and entertainment but that was totally lacking…yet there were beer vendors galore. They seemed a day-late-dollar-too-much all weekend…culminating in the oddest thing: races over everybody leaving the beer vendors are trying to sell us beer. Odd.

  5. Faust says:

    @Chaz

    I also thought there was a lack of vendor support at COTA. $9.50 for a canned beer? $14 for a burger? Also, did you make it over to the Honda tent? Pretty lame. I asked them why they didn’t have any HRC/Repsol shirts in medium or large (they ranged from small, to XL-3XL) and they said they sold out. So I mentioned that I was there first thing in the morning all three days and they never had any to begin with and they responded with “we’ll have some at Laguna”….. wtf is that? Service at the Ducati tent was much better. As for Espargaro, I think he’ll get his shot but his record isn’t too hot. He came in 14th in the points the last time he was on a prototype bike in GP, went to Moto2 where he had zero wins in 17 races. Not hard to figure out why he didn’t get offered a factory ride.

  6. Westward says:

    If Marquez can continues to perform well on the circuits that benefit the Yamaha’s, as well as continue to upstage Pedrosa on the circuits that suit the Honda, then we could very well see a new champion.

    I still think the champion this year will either be Marquez or Rossi. I can accept Rossi’s explanation for why he did I not place better. But if these untested radical revisions persist, they could gradually slide away from contention…

    Team Yamaha had excuses that could be understood somewhat. However, Pedrosa’s sounds more like denial…

    Great racing by Marquez and Crutchlow. Cal deserves a factory M1…

  7. Norm G. says:

    re: “Cal deserves a factory M1…”

    crickets…

  8. Norm G. says:

    re: “He then nursed a front tire that had developed a minor problem home to take his maiden win”

    if i could, i would buy that tyre a $9.50 beer.

  9. Faust says:

    I also think that Cal deserves a factory ride, but remember when Rossi left Yamaha their title sponsor dropped out immediately. I think bringing Rossi back was a business decision as much as anything else. On a side note, it blows my mind that anyone would count Lorenzo out of a title this year. Lorenzo has been on the podium in how many races straight? Like 19 or something? He’s been the most consistent performer over the past couple of years. Consistency wins titles.

  10. SBPilot says:

    And what David doesn’t mention is that Rossi was riding with a chunk of his front disc missing, hence he couldn’t push. People are so quick to jump to conclusions from one race. “I guess Rossi is finished”.

    Hello everyone, it’s the second bloody race..it’s a long season. Cal deserves a factory bike, but honestly, the Tech 3 bikes ARE factory bikes. The Factory team is still using 2012 chassis because they haven’t decided if the 2013 is that advantageous yet. Lin Jarvis said himself Cal is using the exact same engine as the factory. So what that means is, it’s a factory bike not in the factory team. So if Cal is that good, then he should be battling it with Lorenzo. Also, he needs to stop running hot into corners and making mistakes. Sure he has the outright speed, sorta of…but he makes mistakes and that’s what separate the best from the rest. His excuses on the TV don’t fly with the people that matter, engineers, team managers, cause they know. Fact is, Cal needs to learn how to pass, learn how to be consistent, and he still needs the outright speed to stay with Lorenzo.

    What’s really pathetic is Bradley Smith. He’s on a factory spec M1. If he had an ounce of talent he’d be at least able to beat ESP on the CRT. These are the best riders in the world, they should learn and adapt to a bike in 50-100 laps. And like MM said, having practice at a new track doesn’t give THAT much of an advantage. Pros can learn tracks in 30-40 laps and Pros should be able to learn bikes similarly as quick. Depending on how good you are.

  11. L2C says:

    @David Emmett

    “The media are a fickle mistress, more interested in fame than in actual achievement.”

    Well, you know what, David? The media only has itself to blame for the situation. It exists because of the media in the first place. Don’t blame Rossi for it. He’s a media darling for many reasons, but most have to do with his accomplishments – his successes and his failures. To say Rossi is undeserving just because Crutchlow hasn’t yet earned that level of clout is a little disingenuous. By your reasoning, Márquez is hogging up whatever Rossi can’t get and Crutchlow is also suffering because of that. Yet the media is clearly interested in Márquez’s achievements. Indeed they are rare achievements, actual newsworthy items.

    As much attention that Crutchlow gets from the UK press, I’d hardly say that he’s limelight-starved. And I won’t even get started on the hype surrounding Bradley Smith.

  12. Moto GP certainly isn’t about equal bikes and equal teams shooting it out with one another on a level playing field. Like F1, it’s about money, organization and support, only in Moto GP at 1/100 the scale. So what you’re left with are groups of riders, and who is ahead in those groups.

    Honda puts in the most money, so they should be winning. Yamaha has always been a few steps behind in development, that’s why they got Rossi and Lorenzo to make up for that deficiency. It certainly isn’t Honda’s fault Yamaha’s bikes won’t transition and turn properly. How long have they had that problem, seems like forever.

    It certainly is all relative, I’d like to put Crutchlow on a Rep Honda, and see how he does against Márquez. I’d bet that he loses, and by significantly more than Pedrosa.

    If you really want to find out who the best rider is, have a rider series, much the way they do in autos, put everybody on uniformly built CBR 600s, on a tight little track, then maybe a medium-size track with Ducatis, and finally a big open high-speed track with Aprilias. Just for fun start em the way they do dirt bike races, with everyone lined up in a row, and then we’ll see who really is the best, or least the most psycho. lol

    But at the moment it is Márquez, who is sliding on his knees, elbows, next he’ll put a puck on his hand, maybe one on his helmet, and dismount the bike completely through every corner. :-)

  13. JW says:

    Whew, a harsh bunch. As for me I enjoyed the race and look forward to each race this season. Considering past seasons, this has been a great start. My hat is off to you Cal. I hope you will soon get a factory ride.

  14. rt says:

    lol@westward

  15. iscameron says:

    @ JW, I agree with you 100%! This season could be one for the ages and each race has the potential for special performances.

    Worrying about who gets the most media attention and how much beer costs at the races takes away from what Moto GP (and F1) are all about. These races are the ultimate in competition and the ultimate in spectacle. All of that costs tons of money to present. If you are fortunate enough to attend these events and the beer is expensive, don’t drink beer!

    I traveled from California to Austin to see Moto GP and it was worth all the time and money spent. I sat there in awe at what Austin had accomplished. I also sat there in awe at the sound of the bikes bouncing off the grandstands and the paddock building. I also stood there in awe at the start line during FP4 as bikes went by faster than anything I have ever seen. My only hope is I’m not let down when I go to Laguna this year. My only hope is another Rossi victory there!! Come on VR46!!

  16. Westward says:

    Laguna is already a let down by not having Moto2 & Moto3…