The VROOM Blog: #AmericasGP – An American Beauty as the Beast dethrones the King in Texas
In the words of Jack Miller “anything can happen in MotoGP 2022” – well technically he said 2021, but we can forgive him that given he had just come away from a 20-lap thriller at the Circuit of The Americas. He may have got the year wrong, but he wasn’t mistaken about the ‘anything can happen’ part – MotoGP 2022 has been a rollercoaster over these first 4 rounds – we have now had 10 different podium finishers in 4 races, and not one of the top 7 in the 2021 championship have won a race yet!
This weekend marked the 500th GP since the FIM, IRTA, the MSMA and Dorna came together to form The Grand Prix Commission under the banner ‘Racing Together’. The Grand Prix Commission regards itself as the driving force behind creating the sport that we know and love today.
Although it technically isn’t MotoGP news, the MotoAmerica championship got underway this weekend, running alongside MotoGP at COTA. There were two superbike races over the weekend, and they were both won by the delightful Danilo Petrucci. I’m looking forward to following his progress across the season – he is off to a great start and it will be interesting to see if he continues this form, or if it was down to COTA being a familiar track for the Italian.
There have been a few bits and pieces of contract talk going on this week. Firstly, Fermin Aldeguer’s manager Hector Faubel confirmed following intense speculation that the 17-year-old history maker has two official offers on the table from MotoGP factories for 2024. The offers being for 2024 make much more sense than those who are suggesting he head straight to MotoGP next year. For starters, he only turned 17 last week which means he would likely miss a few rounds at the beginning of 2023 as the age limit in the premier class sits at 18. Secondly, a further year in Moto2 would undoubtably give him valuable experience on the world stage before stepping up.
Speculation is also rising that World Champion Fabio Quartararo may be racing in different colours for 2023, and his manager, Eric Mahe, confirmed over the weekend that there are ongoing talks with other factories, but that they are not yet at the stage of any offers being made. Mahe explained that they are “trying to best understand what the best for Fabio could be” but that they are not in any rush to make a decision.
As we headed into the Grand Prix of the Americas, for the first time ever, the full grid of MotoGP riders comprised of riders who have all won at least one GP. There were only two riders on that grid though that have previously won at COTA in the premier class – Marc Marquez and Alex Rins. Alex Rins is also the only rider to have taken race wins in every class at COTA.
Marc Marquez returned to the paddock this weekend with the news that this latest case of diplopia was healed, but that it would always be at risk of returning with a bang to the head. A risk that he says he is willing to take – it may never happen, or it may happen every time he bangs his head, and he loves to race so he will continue to do so. As he usually does, Marc unveiled special kit for the COTA weekend, with his helmet, gloves and boots all featuring the stars and stripes for the weekend.
The classes were out in a different order this weekend, with Moto2 heading out first before MotoGP and then Moto3 the last class of the day.
FP1 on Friday morning saw an early crash for Pol Espargaro – who struggled all weekend with food poisoning – before the session was eventually topped by Alex Rins, from Maverick Viñales and Jack Miller. Miller’s Taxi services were called upon at the end of the session as Jack helped Zarco make his way back round to the pits.
FP2 was topped by Johann Zarco ahead of Miller, Fabio Quartararo and Enea Bastianini, with some riders having their final attempt at a fast lap thwarted by yellow flags brought out for a crash by Darryn Binder.
On Saturday morning, FP3 once again saw an early crasher – this time it was Alex Marquez and he was able to remount and carry on with the session. By the mid-point of the session, there had been no changes to the list of riders holding the precious top 10 slots ahead of qualifying, and we had to wait until the time attacks began to see any changes. There was a mass exodus from pit lane with just 5 minutes remaining on the clock, and Quartararo slowed and pulled to the edge of the track to allow those trying to follow him to go past.
Darryn Binder again crashed at the end of the session, bringing out yellow flags and disrupting fast laps of others. There were also late crashes for Zarco and Brad Binder, and it was Fabio Quartararo who led the way into Q2. He would be joined in going directly to Q2 by Bastianini, Miller, Marc Marquez, Zarco, Bagnaia, Pol Espargaro, Mir, Nakagami and Marini, while the others would be heading for Q1.
Before qualifying of course, there was FP4 which saw many riders concentrating on race runs and set up rather than fast laps. It was Pecco Bagnaia who ended the session at the top of the timesheets, with Marc, Enea, Fabio and Aleix making up the rest of the top 5.
Q1 was once again stacked with names that you would expect to see in Q2, including Alex Rins, Aleix Espargaro and Jorge Martin. Maverick Viñales had also been looking good so far this weekend – would he be able to make it through to Q2?
The Q1 session was, quite frankly, a disgrace. There were riders looking for a tow everywhere you looked, and towards the end of the session there was a group of riders including Dovizioso – who should definitely know better – Di Giannantonio and Bezzecchi cruising while waiting for a faster rider to come through. I say it was a disgrace because not only is it dangerous, but these riders are at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing. They are an example to every other racer not just in this paddock but in others around the world, and this kind of riding is a massive problem – particularly in Moto3.
This weekend Moto3 qualifying came directly after MotoGP and once again there were many riders cruising while looking for tows and disrupting the laps of others, and honestly, I watched and wasn’t surprised. They’ve just watched their heroes behave in the same way without any penalty, so why shouldn’t they? As it was, there was only one penalty handed out in Moto3 – this is something that they really need to start clamping down on in my opinion.
Anyway, back to MotoGP Q1 – it was last weekend’s podium finishers who finished in the top 3 places, with Martin and Rins securing progression to Q2, while Aleix Espargaro finished in 3rd, meaning he would start the race from 13th on the grid, one place ahead of his Aprilia team mate Maverick Viñales.
While both Aprilia riders failed to make it through to Q2, qualifying hadn’t gone well at all for KTM – Brad Binder was their highest ranked rider in 17th.
Q2 got underway and Enea Bastianini crashed and remounted before Fabio Quartararo crashed out of a fast lap. Fabio leapt to his feet and set about getting himself back to pit lane to get out on his second bike. He returned around the same time that his competitors were returning to pit lane after their first runs. Pecco Bagnaia headed out much before his rivals and was already on his first flying lap by the time they were leaving pit lane. With 2 minutes remaining, Pecco set the fastest lap so far, only for Miller and then Martin to set even faster times.
Jorge Martin secured his second pole position of the season, ahead of a barrage of fellow Ducati riders. Martin would be joined on the front row by Miller and Bagnaia, while Zarco and Bastianini would be 4th and 5th ahead of the Yamaha of Quartararo.
This is the first time ever that Ducati have locked out the top 5 places on the grid, and Ducati is the first manufacturer to do so since Honda at Motegi in 2003. The riders in question that day were Biaggi, Tamara, Rossi, Gibernau and Hayden.
Jorge Martin is no stranger to pole position, and I thought it was lovely to see him hold a raffle in the garage to give his Tissot pole position watch to a member of his team on Saturday.
Warm up on Sunday morning wasn’t ideal for Franky Morbidelli, who only managed two laps due to a bike issue. Raul Fernandez had a crash late on, and the session was topped by Maverick Viñales from Enea and Taka.
After the national anthem and a fly past, the lights went out and we were racing. It was Jack Miller who made the best start and led into the first corner with Jorge, Pecco, Enea, Fabio and Zarco hot on his heels. Marc Marquez – the King of COTA – was somehow last into the first turn. He said after the race that there was an alarm on his dash and the bike wouldn’t work properly – he was unsure what the issue was but did say that Honda are investigating it.
The Suzuki duo of Rins and Mir were battling for 7th place, and for now Mir held it, while out front Jorge moved past Jack into turn 19, but the Australian took the lead straight back into turn 20. Lap 2 saw Rins pass Mir, while Brad Binder had made up 5 places and was running in 15th, two places ahead of Marc Marquez who was making his way through the pack after that terrible start to his race.
Marco Bezzecchi crashed out of lap 2 and was able to remount only to be ‘meatball’ flagged a lap later as his bike appeared to be smoking. Zarco and Pecco spent the next few laps battling over 4th place, with the French rider eventually able to see Pecco off on lap 5.
The Suzuki boys were on the move, and as Rins took 5th from Pecco, Mir took 6th from Quartararo before Alex Marquez crashed out at turn 11. Meanwhile, Marc Marquez was up to 10th at the expense of team mate Pol Espargaro, and was lapping faster than race leader Miller. Within a few more laps, Marc had passed Aleix for 9th, as out front Enea Bastianini took 2nd place from Jorge Martin. Martin soon lost another position to Rins, and as Zarco tried and failed to pass Pecco, he lost a place to Mir.
On lap 14 Quartararo pushed Zarco wide as he passed him, and Marc Marquez didn’t need to be asked twice to make his move on Zarco too. Jorge Martin also lost two places on this lap, with both Mir and Pecco passing the Pramac rider, while Marc made his way through on Fabio for 7th.
A few laps later, Enea Bastianini made his move and took the lead of the race from Jack Miller before Marc took 6th from Martin into turn 1 on lap 17, with Fabio quickly demoting Martin another place. Further back, Aleix Espargaro had dropped behind Brad Binder and Maverick Viñales and was now in 12th place just ahead of his brother.
Marc spent the last two laps battling back and forth with Fabio, and was eventually able to hold the world champion off for a 6th place finish. Enea Bastianini took the win at COTA, and became the first rider this season to win more than one race. He was joined on the podium by Rins and Miller, with Rins having made a late move to take 2nd from Miller on the last lap. Mir, Pecco, Marquez, Quartararo, Martin, Zarco and Viñales rounded out the top ten as Viñales finished ahead of his Aprilia team mate for the first time since the Algarve GP last year.
There were several flags on display on the cool down laps, with Jack Miller and Alex Rins having collected a Nicky Hayden flag and Ukrainian flag respectively. Rins also dedicated his race to those suffering in Ukraine once he was back in parc ferme.
Rins’ podium finish marked 500 podiums for Suzuki in all classes of GP racing. Jack Miller did one of the most Jack Miller things I’ve seen in a while and used a pair of pliers to remove a stuck ear plug after the race, before joining Bastianini and Rins on the podium.
I do love that Michelin provide the podium finishers with Stetsons for the podium, and I really loved the respect that Bastianini showed to ‘King’ Kenny Roberts as he handed him the race winning trophy – Enea removed his hat before taking the trophy.
While Enea’s performance was superb, and he deserves the COTA crown, you cannot help but wonder if Marc would’ve held on to it had he not had those issues at the start of the race – he made it up to 6th place from last on the first lap! For this year anyway, Marc has been de-throned and Enea reigned supreme in Texas.
Next up is a weekend off before the paddock returns to Europe – Portimão in Portugal to be exact – where many suggest that things will ‘settle down’ and return to some kind of ‘normal’ service with the more established names at the front of the field. I wouldn’t be betting on that though!