Tag

Americas GP

Browsing

Episode 13 of the Brap Talk podcast is now out for your two-wheeled audio pleasure, and it comes to you right after the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Shahin and I greatly enjoyed seeing and talking to so many fans of the podcast at the MotoGP race, Handbuilt Motorcycle Show, and the general Austin city limits. It really means a lot to us that you all enjoy the show so much.

As such, this show discusses the weekend for us, in particular what happened on and off the track. We gush about the MotoGP race, debate the bikes seen at the show, and generally plan where our next calories are going to come from.

There are only three certainties in life: Death, taxes, and Marc Márquez winning any MotoGP race organized in the United States of America. That has been true since the Spaniard moved up to MotoGP, and for both years he spent in Moto2 as well.

There is something about America which makes Márquez nigh on invincible. Is it the anticlockwise tracks? Is it the low grip and tricky surfaces found at the circuits? Or is high fructose corn syrup Márquez’ equivalent of Popeye’s spinach?

MotoGP went to Austin hoping this might be the year when things changed. With good reason: the racing in the series has been getting closer and closer almost on a race-by-race basis. Valentino Rossi finished just 0.6 seconds behind race winner Andrea Dovizioso at Qatar, but he crossed the line in fifth place.

In Argentina, the seven riders fighting for second place were separated by 3 seconds on the penultimate lap. The Ducati Desmosedici GP19 is faster and better than ever, the Yamaha M1 has made a huge step forward since 2018, and the Suzuki has consistently been in the hunt for podiums since the middle of last year.

That is all very well and good, but the margin of Marc Márquez’ victory in Termas de Rio Hondo suggested that ending Márquez’ reign in the US would require something extraordinary to happen. The Repsol Honda rider had a 12 second lead going into the last lap in Argentina.

The Honda RC213V had the highest top speed in both Qatar and Argentina, the bike having both more horsepower and better acceleration. Then, during qualifying, Márquez took pole – his seventh in a row at the Circuit of the Americas – with an advantage of more than a quarter of a second over Valentino Rossi. Normal service had been resumed.

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.

It never rains, but it pours. Especially around Austin, where warm damp air blows in from the Gulf of Mexico, and the rising terrain of the start of Hill Country generates turbulence which causes the towering clouds to dump their burden of moisture onto the earth below.

That happened early on Saturday morning, when the heavens opened and a torrential rain drenched the ground, causing deep puddles and running streams throughout the area east of Austin that houses the Circuit of the Americas. And it happened again in the late morning, a brief but enormously intense storm dumped another centimeter or so of rain onto the track in the space of a quarter of an hour.

Both rainstorms were accompanied by thunder and lightning, which caused the most problems for the organizers. Lightning poses a significant danger, not just to anyone foolish enough to try to race a motorcycle in a thunderstorm, but to corner workers, the fans and the staff who work around the track. Lightning strikes regularly claim lives in Texas, so when a thunderstorm hits, it gets taken very seriously indeed.

It never rains but it pours in the metaphorical sense as well. After Friday’s raft of complaints aimed at the bumpiness of the Austin track, Saturday started off with track action being first delayed, and then canceled, and fans being locked out of the circuit for safety reasons. It was very much an inauspicious start to the weekend.

It is becoming a familiar refrain. At the end of each day at the Circuit of the Americas, the riders express their admiration for the event, for the setting, for the venue. And they express their dismay at the state of the asphalt, at the bumps in the track – the most common comparison was with speed bumps put in to slow traffic – and at the danger that entails.

The Grand Prix of the Americas is one of the paddock’s favorite events at one of their favorite venues, at one of their favorite track layouts. It is also the race with the worst asphalt.

Despite this, opinions are split, though not diametrically opposed. There are those who think the track is dangerous now, and who fear we will not be able to return if the track is not resurfaced, and there are those who feel that the track is fixable, and not quite as bad as the more apocalyptic predictions suggest.

It was a somber occasion in Austin on Friday, as members of the grand prix paddock gathered in the press conference room to witness the announcement that the number 69 was going to be retired from use in the MotoGP Championship.

The event at the Hayden Hill later that day, just overlooking Turn 18 was a little bit more cheerful though, as friends, family, and well-wishers gathered for a photo around the emblazoned logo of the Kentucky Kid.

There was also the Repsol Honda RC211V race bike on display in the paddock – the machine that Hayden used to win the 2006 MotoGP Championship – along with no shortage of fans sporting Nicky’s apparel, number, and infectious smile.

However you spent the day at the Circuit of the Americas on Friday, thoughts of Nicky Hayden were surely nearby.

For the past couple years at the Americas GP, Alpinestars has brought out a limited edition boot to celebrate the riders that are in the Italian brand’s family.

The first year was with Marc Marquez, and for the 2019 edition, we see Alpinestars paying tribute to Kenny Roberts Sr.

The Godfather of American road racing, Roberts sees his famous yellow, black, and white livery recreated for the racing  boot, complete with the silhouette of an eagle. A replica signature is also featured on the boot.

The Grand Prix of the Americas is one of the MotoGP paddock’s favorite races, because of the setting, the atmosphere, and the city of Austin. The layout of the Circuit of the Americas is beloved by many a rider.

They love the challenge of threading the needle of Turns 2 through 10, the braking for Turn 11, Turn 12, Turn 1. They love the run up the hill to Turn 1, the sweep down through Turn 2, the fact that the back straight is not straight, but meanders like the straights at many great tracks.

The front straight at Mugello wanders, the Veenslang at Assen is anything but straight, that adds an element of challenge to a straight.

What the riders don’t love are the bumps. The bumps turn the Austin racetrack into a rodeo, the MotoGP bikes into bucking broncos. At close to 350 km/h along the back straight, the bikes become very difficult to control.

The bumps turn into whoops, a motocross track taken at light speed, and almost impossible to ride safely. Turn 2, that glorious sweeping downhill right hander has a bump in it which threatens to unseat anyone who takes it at the speed it begs of a rider.

Whether the work undertaken to try to address the problem will be sufficient remains to be seen. “I check a little bit and I know that they did a few modifications,” Marc Márquez said. “They didn’t do what we asked in the Safety Commission. But we will see in FP1 what is going on, how is the track.” Past experience holds out little hope.

The area around Turn 10 has been resurfaced, and the top of some of the larger bumps has once again been shaved off. That didn’t make a great deal of difference last year, but we will have to wait until Friday to see if it has been effective for the 2019 race.

After a display of utter domination by Marc Márquez in Argentina, MotoGP heads 7000km north to Austin where if history is to be the judge, we are in for a repeat performance. Marc Márquez has never been beaten at Austin, and indeed, has not been beaten on US soil since he moved up to Moto2 in 2011. It seems foolish to bet against him at the Circuit of the Americas.

Yet the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit and the Circuit of the Americas are two very different beasts indeed. Termas flows, with only a couple of points where the brakes are challenged, and is a track where corner speed and the ability to ride the bike on the rear is paramount. COTA is more a collection of corners than a flowing race track.

Three tight corners where the brakes are taken to the limit – Turn 12 being the toughest, braking from nearly 340 km/h to just under 65 km/h – a dizzying extended esses section from Turn 2 to Turn 9, a tight infield section and a big sweeping right hander.

If there is a section where the track sort of flows, it is from the top of the hill. The first corner is one of the most difficult on the calendar. The riders charge uphill hard on the gas, then slam on the brakes compressing the suspension harder than at any point on the calendar.

At the top of the hill they release the brakes and try to turn in, managing rebounding suspension with a corner which rises, crests, and then falls away down towards Turn 2.

Regular Asphalt & Rubber readers will know that we love to support the Two Wheels for Life charity, which helps bring medical resources and healthcare by motorcycle to remote areas in Africa. This is literally a cause that sees motorcycles making the world a better place.

The official charity of the MotoGP Championship, Two Wheels for Life has created an awesome opportunity for race fans at this year’s American GP, and we are pretty stoked to share it with you.

Basically, the whole package includes the opportunity to ride an Energica Ego Corsa MotoE race bike in front of the crowd at the Grand Prix of the Americas, along with paddock passes, grid access, pit lane access, and hospitality for two people for the race weekend.

And of course, the proceeds go to helping fund the vital work that Two Wheels for Life does in Africa.