Does Marc Márquez still own the Circuit of the Americas? So far, there has been just one session of practice which the Repsol Honda rider did not head. But as that was Q1, a session he had managed to bypass by heading up every other session of practice, it seems fair to say he does still own the place.
How does he do it? By the simple procedure of being faster than everyone else everywhere: braking later, carrying more speed, changing direction faster through the switchback section, losing out only slightly in acceleration and top speed.
Every rider you ask about him says the same: Márquez has some special magic around COTA, using lines that only he can manage. He is just about unstoppable here.
That doesn’t mean he can’t be beaten. “Nobody is unbeatable,” Jorge Lorenzo said in the press conference. “You have to make a race, and finish a race. Anything can happen with these new tires. You can have some engine failure, or crash, or make a mistake.” If there were a year where Márquez could be beaten, Lorenzo intimated, this is it.
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.
As a motorcycle racing journalist, I think Americans sometimes forget about P.J. Jacobsen (Facebook & Twitter). That’s a shame, because the 22-year-old finished second in last year’s World Supersport Championship, and again is a top contender for the title in this year’s WSS Championship.
Despite successfully making the jump from the US national racing scene to the race tracks of Europe, it seems Americans have a hard time remembering that they have a fellow countryman rising up the ranks of motorcycle racing’s elite.
Americans are obsessed about asking who will be the next great American champion, and when they do so, they talk about riders still in the AMA/MotoAmerica paddock, or talk nostalgically of GP riders of old, like Colin Edwards, Ben Spies, or Nicky Hayden.
While there is certainly cause for excitement about Nicky Hayden’s entry into the World Superbike paddock, the reality is that P.J. Jacobsen has quietly been climbing the ranks of motorcycle racing at the international level without anyone noticing. He might be America’s next World Champion, yet only diehard race fans know his name.
In the hopes of changing this situation, we plan to bring you a few stories about P.J. over the course this season. Our first opportunity so far was to sit down with him at the Aragon World Supersport round this past weekend.