For this year’s Americas GP, I made a conscious effort to get out of the confines of the media center, and to watch the on-track sessions for the MotoGP riders.
Part of this was because of all the talk about the track conditions, but the other reason is due to the fact that you can pick up on a great deal from seeing the bikes circulate in person, which is lost from the media feed.
Who is pushing hard every lap? Who is waiting for a tow, and from whom? Who looks comfortable through a particularly difficult section of the track? How do the bikes and riders compare on approach, apex, and exit? And so on.
For bonus points, I brought my camera long with me as well.
Turns 1 & 2
On Friday, I worked from two locations. The first was the top of the hill at Turn 1, and the working my way along the outside of the track down past Turn 2.
This is one of my favorite spots to take photos, if for no other reason than it is an easy place to get a wheelie shot.
What was interesting though was to see the approach into the bumpy parts of Turn 2. “Bumps” is perhaps a soft word, as it looked more like a drop-off of pavement as the riders turned into the long downhill right-hand turn.
The biggest drop seemed to be right at the turn-in point, which upset virtually every chassis that rolled over it. From there, you could watch the bikes pump over the undulations from the circuit, all the way to the curbs along Turn 2. I’m truly surprised that I didn’t see someone unload the front, and take a tumble into the gravel pit.
This is a fast and challenging turn by itself, so I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be with the asphalt now moving out of line and creating a bumpy surface.
When you hear the riders complain about the track conditions, Turn 2 really frames the argument for them.
Turns 16, 17, & 18
For FP2, I took to a vantage point that I hadn’t been to in a while, the COTA Tower (or the COTA Cobra, as I like to call it).
200 feet above the surface of the track, and complete with a glass floor in some sections, the tower is not for those who have a strong survival instinct (I should note too, the tower sways a little in the wind).
The view though is easily worth the price of admission. Not to mention, the tower provides the best vantage point to watch the riders go through the carousel of Turns 16, 17, and 18.
What is interesting here is to see the lines that riders take through this three-part right-hand complex. Do they apex 16, or stay wider on the track, hitting the apex on 17? How far out to the curb do they drift before cutting back in for 18? And how does that related to the previous question?
You can easily spend more than the 15-allotted minutes you have on the tower exploring these questions, so it is thankful that the COTA employees are quite liberal with that time limit.
Talking to my colleague Rennie Scaysbrook, who was doing laps the Monday after the GP at COTA, this portion of the track has its fair share of bumps as well, and you can sight them while you are leaned over with the bike on your knee.
Perhaps this too plays a role in the different lines one takes through this complex of turns, and helps account for the different approaches.
Turns 12 & 13
The rain obviously came on a Saturday…along with the lightning…so naturally I took cover inside during the monsoon rains and electrical strikes. But on Sunday, I was back on track for the warm-up session, shooting from Turn 13 and then working backwards towards Turn 12, which is the corner at the end of the back straight.
Turn 12 this year was very interesting, as you could watch the riders cresting down the back straight, hitting all the bumps along the way at over 200 mph, and then braking hard into one of the slowest places on the Circuit of the Americas.
Legs come off the bike, suspension pieces are slammed to their lowest points, but oddly enough I didn’t see any MotoGP riders getting their rear wheel off the ground this year.
Progress in braking technique? A byproduct from the bumps on the race course? Just not pushing that hard during the WUP session? I’m not sure, but it was something of note.
What was interesting to see was how uncomfortable each rider looked going through the apex of Turn 12, especially when contrasted with the confidence they showed in Turn 13.
The slow left-hand turn is pretty straight forward on its own, provided you hit your braking point correctly, which isn’t the easiest task on the best of days, let alone with the wind and bumps that were at play.
Looking through the gallery below, you can pick out some of the things I have described here in this story. Or if you want, you can just peruse them for your next computer background. I’ve tried to leave them in the highest resolution possible.
Photos: © 2019 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved