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Circuit of The Americas

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The day did not start well. It was not just the high winds and the rain which created problems at the Circuit of the Americas.

An absence of track staff – apparently, a lack of medical marshals when the first session of the day was due to start – meant that FP1 for the Moto3 class was delayed by three quarters of an hour.

Conditions were pretty miserable once they got underway, but, it turned out, things could be worse. That became apparent when the MotoGP session was red flagged, after a stray dog ran onto the track – that’s on the track, not along the side, but actually on it.

It took a good fifteen minutes to chase the dog off the track and towards safety, making the old cliché about herding cats seem strangely inappropriate.

By the time practice resumed, the original schedule had gone to hell. The qualifying session for the MotoAmerica Superbike class was rapidly dropped, and the lunch break dispensed with, getting the event quickly back on track.

I’ve arrived in Austin and settled into my digs ahead of Round 2 of the 2015 MotoGP World Championship.

As I sat down to write ahead of the coming weekend, I thought back to one of my favorites times from last year.

I’d had a great holiday with my partner Clare prior to coming to the 2014 race and really enjoyed the Austin experience.

While thinking about the weekend I wondered as to what, if any, images still stood in my memory from last year. One I immediately thought of was the MotoGP podium selfie of Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, and Andrea Dovizioso.

The eyes of two-wheeled fans may be honed in on Qatar right now, but our mind is already thinking of MotoGP’s first stop in the USA this season, at The Circuit of the Americas. Helping whet our appetite for the Texan race is local boy himself, Kevin Schwantz.

Now that COTA and Schwantz have settled their differences, the former-World Champion is passing his time as an ambassador for the Americas GP. As such, we have a video of #34 going around the 3.4-mile GP circuit, explaining the course’s various aspects while aboard the 2015 Suzuki GSX-R1000.

In a report commissioned and released by the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), and prepared by the Greyhill Advisors, it would seem that hosting MotoGP and other events at the newly built track was a benefit to the local Austin economy this year, to the tune of $897 million.

The Greyhill’s analysis covers all of the events held at COTA, such as Formula One, MotoGP, and the ESPN X-Games, and it also includes all track rentals, concerts, and other events at the track as well.

Through these events, 1.1 million people attended COTA, whose operations directly account for $166 million of the $897 million brought to the area. The remaining $731 million comes from money spent by attendees outside of the track.

There is positive momentum around America’s new MotoAmerica series, which will takeover duties from DMG and AMA Pro Road Racing, starting next season. We have already seen the series’ new class structure, which makes significant steps to parallel what’s going on in the World Superbike Championship.

Today, we see MotoAmerica’s efforts on its racing schedule, a hot-ticket item after DMG’s five, then six, race schedule this season. American fans should rejoice, as eight races are on the calendar, which reads like a greatest hits album of American race tracks.

Supporting both American grand prix at COTA and Indy, as well as the WSBK round at Laguna Seca, the provisional MotoAmerica calendar includes, Road Atlanta, VIR, Road America, Barber, and NJMP. West Coast racing fans are still S.O.L. though, with only one race west of The Rockies on the docket thus far.

As a fifth-generation Californian,  I am obliged to lament the decision to drop Laguna Seca, and to focus American MotoGP racing efforts on solely Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Circuit of the Americas. That being said, while the California track is a superb race course to ride, the facilities and general location are no where close to the level that is provided by Indy and COTA.

Nothing illustrates this better than the Grand Prix of the Americas that Austin, Texas just hosted. The track is simply a spectacle, and if a certain Marc Marquez wasn’t such a child prodigy, the MotoGP race would have been just as exciting at the ones seen in Moto2 and Moto3.

Standing 251 feet above Turns 16, 17, & 18, the COTA observation tower provides a bird’s eye view of just about every tun on the circuit, if you can stomach its subtle sway in the wind and clear-glass floor at the precipice. Officially called by COTA as the “Observation Tower” (note the “recommended for editors” capitalization), the tower really needs a better name for casual conversation.

We’ve heard COTA Cobra used a few times with some lovely alliteration, but the structure has always struck us as less snake-like, and more like a big dinosaur — we’re going to use the name “Petrolsaurus Rex” until I hear something better, or COTA sends me a cease and desist order.

Nomenclature aside, the view from the Petrolsaurus Rex platform highlights the great attention to detail that COTA went to for Formula 1 and MotoGP viewing. Drawing big red, white, and blue lines along the course, a quick straw poll from photographers sees COTA being one of the more photogenic race courses (something one could not say about Laguna Seca).

I climbed to the top of Petrolsaurus Rex (read: took the elevator) during the MotoGP Warm-Up session, and snapped a few photos in the process. Enjoy the hi-res photos after the jump. There’s a certain minimalist quality to having GP bikes next to long contrasting lines.

Suzuki’s MotoGP test team took advantage of the presence of the MotoGP paddock at Austin to plan a test directly after the Grand Prix of the Americas.

Under the watchful eye of team manager Davide Brivio, the team planned to have test rider Randy De Puniet put in three days of testing at a circuit, as the team had not yet tested the Suzuki XRH-1 at COTA, in a bid to gather more data ahead of their return to the series in 2015.

Unfortunately for Suzuki, very heavy hail and thunderstorms made testing extremely difficult on Monday, leaving the track very dirty and much slower than it had been for Sunday’s race. But testing resumed in earnest on Tuesday, with Randy De Puniet running through testing electronics and another back-to-back test of the two chassis options Suzuki has been working on.

When I give a talk about my work, one of the things I most often hear is how much people enjoy the behind the scenes details of what it’s like to work as a photographer in MotoGP.

Trying something a bit different for this week’s Trackside Tuesday, I’m going to tell you some of the things that happened while I was photographing last weekend’s MotoGP in Austin, Texas. First, some background facts to set the stage.

How do you solve a problem like Marc Marquez? The short answer is you don’t. You can push as hard as you like, beat everyone else on the grid, but try as you might, you still find yourself a second or more behind the reigning world champion. Marquez came to Texas, he saw, and he conquered. Just like last year. And nobody seems capable of stopping him.

Valentino Rossi could only shake his head in dismay. “Today he was very strong. He is on another level,” Rossi said. Was it down to the bike, was it Marquez? Sure, Austin is a Honda track – first-gear corners are still where the Honda has the advantage – but the bike wasn’t really the issue.

“He makes the difference,” Rossi said. Sure, the bike was good, but it was mostly down to Marquez’s riding. Speaking to the Italian press, Rossi had a single word to describe Marquez’s riding: “bellissima”. Beautiful.