Grand Prix of The Americas: Preview – MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
It was a dramatic weekend at the Termas de Rio Hondo, safety concerns forcing riders in the MotoGP™ World Championship to pit mid-race for their second bikes. Contrast and surprise were the themes of the race; those who dominated in Qatar struggled in Argentina while other riders made their first major impact on the world stage.
The two-part race in Argentina saw Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) back at his best, the Spaniard untouchable during the second half of the race. After a torturous off-season, Marquez has been the only rider in the premier class to finish on the podium in both races. Thanks to third in Qatar and first in Argentina, the Repsol Honda man has a comfortable eight-point cushion at the top of the championship table. Both Argentina and Austin are circuits which suit Marquez’s style, the Spaniard winning at the Termas de Rio Hondo for the second time and aiming to take his fourth straight win in Austin.
Since joining the MotoGP™ class in 2013, Marquez has never lost on US soil. His record at COTA is even more impressive than that, not only has he won every edition of the race but he has also started all three from pole position. All signs point to an ominous weekend at round three for Marquez, but his rivals are ready.
Second in Argentina and the championship, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) was unable to match his opening pace with his second M1. His podium chances appeared gone as the final lap of the race began but an incident involving both the factory Ducati Team riders would see him promoted back to second once more. Rossi now looks to keep his momentum going at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, a track where he has only once finished on the podium. With Marquez’s history at the Texan track, Rossi will be up against the odds in America.
But his teammate, Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), will face an even more critical weekend after the Majorcan failed to finish in Argentina. After a steady start to the race, Lorenzo began to up his pace but soon fell at Turn 1, extensive damage to his M1 ending his race. From the highs of Qatar, the defending World Champion was forced to suffer the lows of his first DNF since the 2015 San Marino GP.
Due to the unpredictable nature of the first two rounds, Lorenzo still holds fourth in the championship with 25 points, only two behind Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team). After the first two races in 2015, Lorenzo headed into the third round of the year with 26 points but down in fifth, eventually recovering to take the championship. His defence is by no means over.
Like Rossi, luck played a role in Pedrosa’s Argentina GP podium finish, as he too was able benefit from Ducati’s misfortune. On his two previous visits to Austin, Pedrosa finished in second behind his Repsol Honda teammate, the COTA track certainly suiting the RC213V.
Ducati had been set to take a brilliant double podium finish in Argentina, until Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) attempted an overly ambitious overtake on his teammate Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). Both riders would fall, Dovizioso pushing his bike across the line for 13th. Iannone was awarded a three-place grid penalty for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas and a penalty point for the move. Were it not for Iannone’s mistake, the factory Ducati team looked set to take their first double podium finish since the Qatar GP in 2015.
Dovizioso has classically gone well in Texas, taking two podium finishes on Ducati machinery and will be hoping for a slightly less eventful race. Meanwhile Iannone will be out to simply score points, ‘The Maniac’ yet to finish in 2016 and in the midst of a four-race DNF streak.
Iannone wasn’t the only rider left thinking ‘What if?’ in Argentina, Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) distraught as he returned to the pits after crashing from the race while pushing Rossi for the podium. It wasn’t all bad news for Viñales, the Argentina GP proof that he and Suzuki can battle the likes of Ducati and Yamaha for podiums.
One of the stand out performers of the weekend was Eugene Laverty (Aspar Team MotoGP) who achieved his best ever MotoGP™ finish. With initial teething problems solved, Laverty has steadily pushed his way forward in each session aboard the Ducati, no longer lamenting a lack of power as he did on the Open Honda. The battle for top Independent Team rider remains tight, Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) leading the battle with 19 points, Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing) second on 18 and Laverty third with 17 points. After their thrilling battle in Argentina, the trio are ready to do it all again in America.
Aprilia Racing Team Gresini produced an incredible double top ten finish in Argentina, by far their best result since embarking on the Aprilia project. Stefan Bradl led the charge with a seventh place finish, Alvaro Bautista in tenth. With another race worth of experience under their belt, Aprilia aim to continue making rapid improvements to the RS-GP and stop treating race weekends as extended test sessions.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Yonny Hernandez (Aspar MotoGP Team) and Loris Baz (Avintia Racing) all experienced a rough start to the season. None of the three have been able to finish in the first two rounds as unfortunate crashes ended their races prematurely.
The MotoGP™ class hit the track in Austin at 09:55 Local Time for Free Practice 1 on the eighth of April.
The pre-season title favourites were back to their best in Argentina as they produced a thrilling four-rider battle for victory. Defending Moto2™ World Champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) mastered the sub-prime conditions to take the tenth win of his career and get his title defence back on track. His victory promoted him to second in the championship, five points shy of the top. The Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas in 2015 saw Zarco secure second in the race, the first podium of 14 top three finishes on his way to the title.
Thomas Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) is the man who heads Zarco in the championship. Thanks to a seventh place finish in Argentina, Luthi retains the early championship lead with a total of 34 points and is aiming to return to the podium in Austin. In his two previous visits to COTA, Luthi has produced a sixth and 12th place finish.
The 2015 Americas GP winner, Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), will no doubt be a favourite come race day in Austin. Since joining the Gresini squad, the Brit has discovered an incredible level of consistency aboard the Kalex and missed victory in Argentina by just over a second. Small issues and misfortune have so far seen a second career victory evade him, but in both Qatar and Argentina he demonstrated he has the pace to challenge for victory.
Few would have expected Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) to sit fourth in the championship after the opening two rounds of 2016, but he has quietly gone about his World Championship apprenticeship and is starting to deliver consistent results. Both 2014 and 2015 saw ‘The Fish’ show flashes of brilliance, particularly in the wet, and establish himself as a regular point scorer. In 2015 the Americas GP saw Syahrin take his best dry result of the year, sixth place. One to watch.
Of all the riders on the grid, Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) will be perhaps the most eager to find his 2015 form. Many had expected the talented Spaniard to blitz the field in 2016 but he has so far failed to finish on the podium. While his pace was impressive and often faster than the pace of the leaders in Argentina, a poor start saw him spend the race attempting to close down an impossible seven-second gap.
Rins will have the full attention of the Paginas Amarillas HP 40 team behind him, his teammate Edgar Pons forced to miss the race due to Hepatitis A.
Bitter disappointment awaited Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) in Qatar as second place finish was ripped from his hands due to a 20-second penalty. The race in Argentina proved to be yet more disappointing as he slid off while fighting for the podium towards the end of the race. As such the Italian sits 11th in the championship with just nine points, a full race win worth of points behind Luthi.
There’s no rest for the wicked as action starts at 10:55 Local Time on Friday the eighth of April as Moto2™ begin their Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas weekend with Free Practice 1.
While the Qatar GP was a classic Moto3™ nail bitter, the victor 0.007s ahead of second, the Argentina GP saw a single rider walk the field and win by over 25 seconds. Before the weekend almost no one would have expected Malaysian rookie Khairul Idham Pawi (Honda Team Asia) to take such a crushing victory with such relative ease. As experienced riders such as Romano Fenati (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3) floundered in the mixed conditions and failed to score points, Pawi produced perfection to claim his first Grand Prix win in just his third start. In total five different riders have stood on the podium so far in the lightweight class.
Pawi took to the top step of the podium, but it was the man in third, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), who stepped to the top of the championship table. Binder is so far the only rider to take podium finishes in both Moto3™ races; 36 points and the championship lead his reward. In 2015, the South African finished fifth at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, Bastianini and Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) the only two riders still in the class to finish ahead of him.
Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold) was unable to repeat his Qatar GP victory in Argentina, the Italian settling for tenth and slipping to second in the standings, five points behind Binder. On all three of his previous visits to the Circuit of the Americas, Antonelli has failed to score points and has only once finished the race.
Battling with Adam Norrodin (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) throughout the Argentina GP, Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) was able to fend off the Malaysian rookie to take second in the race. With over a year’s World Championship experience under his belt, Navarro will be aiming to convert the potential he showed at the end of 2015 into repeat podiums. The Spaniard is just two points shy of Antonelli in the standings and only seven points back on Binder, the top three still wide open.
Not only did the Argentina GP see Pawi take his first win, but also score his first points on the world stage and immediately rocket to fourth in the standings. The 17-year old still remains a largely unknown quantity, but will remain one to watch closely throughout the Austin weekend and the season as a whole.
The 2015 race saw eventual champion Danny Kent sprint ahead and clear off to claim victory by eight and a half seconds. If conditions stay dry, the 2016 edition of the race looks set to be a much closer affair as no clear favourite has emerged for the title. Both Fabio Quartararo and the Leopard Racing team will be eager to replicate the domination of their former rider Danny Kent. The change of team and machinery has not been easy for Quartararo, the French double CEV Champion scoring just six points in the opening two rounds. 2015 saw the French rider enter with the world’s expectations upon his shoulder but he has so far struggled to consistently deliver. He now returns to America, the site of his first World Championship podium, with the hope of a repeat performance.
Action commences at 09:00 Local Time on Friday the eighth of April as Moto3™ begin the weekend with Free Practice 1.