Friday MotoGP Summary at Austin: Marquez’s New Style, Viñales’ Bright Future, & Smith’s Personal Revolution
After the drama of Argentina, the first day of practice at the Circuit of the Americas was pleasingly normal. The track was not perfect, but it was the normal kind of not perfect, Friday-green-track-not-perfect.
A week ago, a filthy unused track left everyone struggling for grip and worried faces. On Friday, there were a few concerns over tire wear, especially on the right-hand side, but they were minor compared to Argentina. It was just another Friday in Texas.
And just like any other Friday in Texas, Marc Márquez was slaying the field. The Repsol Honda rider was fastest both in the morning and in the afternoon, and though Jorge Lorenzo kept Márquez honest in FP1, FP2 saw him go seven tenths of a second quicker than anyone else.
His gap over the rest made the gaps look massive, just six riders within a second. Take Márquez out of the equation, and a second separates places two and fourteen. The field is actually quite close, as long as you disregard the man out in front.
It was a particularly tetchy press conference at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin on Thursday.
That may have come from the travel – team staff trickled in throughout the day, as the final stage of their epic journey from Termas de Rio Hondo to Austin came to an end – but more likely it was the questions about the future of Jorge Lorenzo, in particular, which generated a sense of real irritation.
Little was said directly by Lorenzo, by Rossi, or by Márquez, but it was clear that the mutual antipathy between the Italian and the Spaniards is reaching new heights. There is a storm coming, and it will break some time this year. When it does, things are going to get very ugly indeed.
First, though, about that journey. Reconstructing the tales of those who arrived in good time after an uneventful voyage, and those who were only just traipsing in towards the end of Thursday afternoon, it was clear that the weather had been the deciding factor.
Those who had left on Sunday night and Monday morning had made it to Austin without incident. In the afternoon, though, the clouds rolled down the mountains and into Tucuman, where charters were flying in and out of the regional airport.
Flights were canceled, and teams were sent off, first towards Cordoba, then back to Tucuman, then off to Buenos Aires, then finally to Cordoba once again.
From there, they flew to Buenos Aires, then dispersed over half the globe. Sometimes almost literally – one Dorna staff member flew all the way back to Barcelona, then back across the Atlantic to Houston. The MotoGP paddock is much richer in air miles after Argentina, but much poorer in sleep.
Argentina left us with an awful lot to talk about. So much, that most of the discussion focused on just a few points: the problems with Michelin tires; the chaotic process by which Race Direction arrived at a race with compulsory pit stops, and the effect it had on the outcome of the race; and the various ways in which riders found to crash out of the race, and how it affected the championship.
That overshadowed several aspects which will affect the championship down the line. Time to take a look back at what we missed. It was a surprise podium, not least to those who actually ended up in second and third spot.
Valentino Rossi had resigned himself to another fourth place until Andrea Iannone made what Race Direction colorfully described as an “overly optimistic pass” on his teammate Andrea Dovizioso, and robbed Ducati of an outstanding double podium.
He was not surprised when it happened – Rossi criticized Iannone’s earlier pass as being too aggressive, saying it lost him two places – but he had not expected to be on the podium. Ducati’s strong showing at Termas de Rio Hondo bodes well for Austin, but more of that later.
Marc Marquez has already lost one of his engines from his allocation of five for the season. The engine in the bike Marquez was forced to park against pit wall during qualifying at Austin can no longer be used, Marquez admitted to us.
The engine problem occurred during Marquez’s qualifying run at the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin. As Marquez was about to start a hot lap, he saw a warning light come on on the dashboard of his Honda RC213V.
The world champion had been told by his HRC engineers that if he saw that light, he was to stop as quickly as possible, which he duly did. The problem forced him to sprint back to his pit box, leap on his spare bike, and race out of the pits for a last-gasp dash for pole.
It resulted in a spectacular lap, which gave him pole position, from which he went on to take a convincing win.
Data – the reams of information logged by a vast array of sensors on a racing motorcycle – is a contentious issue in MotoGP. Riders differ in their approach to it.
Mika Kallio, for example, has a reputation for being a demon for data, wading through his own data after every session. Other riders pay less attention, preferring to let their data engineers, sort the data out from them, and examine their data together.
Sam Lowes is one of the latter. In the long conversation which we had with him at Austin – see yesterday’s installment on the 2015 Speed Up here – Lowes discussed the role of data, and his use of it, at length.
I might be in France right now, but everyone is talking about Austin, Texas. They’re talking about that lap, you know the one I’m talking about…
In case you’re drawing a blank, it’s the one where Marc Marquez’s Honda RC213V throws a warning light and gets abandoned on the front straight as Marquez jumps the pit lane wall, runs back to his #2 bike, and put on a two-lap show for fans.
He was on the wrong bike, with the wrong setup, and the wrong tires. It was not his best lap ever, but it might be his most memorable though.
It shows that you never say die. It shows that the truly great riders overcome the adversity in front of them. It shows that luck is when opportunity meets preparation. As much as Marquez down-played his qualifying result in Austin, it showed the Spaniard’s true grit. I ask the question: are you not entertained?
The above photo is 2000 pixels wide, if you click on it. Feel free to use it as your computer desktop background.
At last weekend’s Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin I achieved a landmark moment in my fledgling MotoGP career. Thanks to Melanie at Asphalt & Rubber, I was the proud recipient of a Honda Ruckus scooter and what a revelation it was!
The ability to get from point to point with ease was a joy although I did have one small mishap, of sorts. On race day I had decided to photograph the MotoGP race from the outside of the track.
I started at Turn 1 and worked my round to Turn 10. After spending a couple of laps at Turn 10, I returned to my scooter and realised I was missing one of my cameras.