The VROOM Blog #AmericasGP – Alex Rins triumphs in Texas

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

Okay, hands up – who had Alex Rins winning on a Honda three rounds into the season on their MotoGP 2023 bingo card? Certainly not me – and that’s nothing against Alex Rins, but that Honda has proved to be a nightmare for some riders to get the hang of, never mind get any sort of performance from. Unless of course your name is Marc Marquez, but even he has struggled with it in recent times.

I’m certainly not saying that I think Rins has mastered the Honda – you have to take into account that he is something of a COTA specialist – but it is good to see him and the LCR team having success together, and I look forward to seeing where they go from here.

Talking of Marc Marquez, he was absent again this weekend due to the hand injury sustained in Portugal. We learned this week that the MotoGP Court of Appeal have granted a stay of execution of Marc’s long lap penalty until such a time as the ruling can be reached on the appeal made by Marc and Honda. Which basically means that Marc can continue racing without having to take the penalty until the Court of Appeal meets and decides whether the Stewards were right to amend the initial penalty. Six pages – it took them six pages to explain that!

In place of Marc this weekend as MotoGP arrived in Austin for the Americas GP, would be Stefan Bradl, who at this point has raced nearly as many times as Marc has over the last few years. Also still out with injury are Enea Bastianini and Pol Espargaro, with Michele Pirro and Jonas Folger stepping in at Ducati and GASGAS Tech 3 respectively. While Ducati seem quite positive that Bastianini will be back for the next round at Jerez, there is a much longer road ahead for Pol, and Tech3 haven’t set any kind of timeframe for the Spaniard’s return to action.

Joan Mir and Miguel Oliveira both faced fitness tests on Thursday and were declared fit to race.

In the run up to this weekend, there was a test at Jerez for MotoGP test riders and they were joined on track by World Superbike rider Toprak Razgatlioğlu on board a Yamaha M1. Toprak has tested the bike in the past, but that test was hampered by rain meaning he didn’t get to spend much time on the bike. There has long been talk about the Turkish rider making the move to MotoGP, but he had always played it down saying that he would rather focus his energies on World Superbikes, but now he has ‘expressed an interest’ in making the move according to Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis.

Jarvis also said that the test was a good opportunity for Toprak to explore the differences between his R1 superbike and the M1 MotoGP machine, and for Yamaha to see how well Toprak could ride the bike. Present at the test with Massimo Meregalli, Jarvis said that should Toprak make the move to MotoGP, he thinks he would have to change his riding style a great deal to get the most out of the M1.

Of course, this has led to the rumour mill ramping up – will Toprak replace Franky Morbidelli in the Factory Yamaha team? When asked about the Yamaha line up for 2024, Jarvis said that the priority is to keep Franky (his contract ends at the end of 2023), but that his staying would be dependant on his performance this year – if he continues to build on the pace and performance shown in Argentina, then he will stay. When pressed about a deadline for Franky to prove himself and keep the seat, Jarvis said that usually these decisions start to be made around the middle of the season.

He also said that should Franky not keep his ride; Toprak is on the list but that they would also look within the MotoGP paddock. He wouldn’t mention any names though!

I had wondered about either Franky or Toprak being placed in a satellite Yamaha team for next season, but Jarvis said that although they want a satellite team back as soon as possible, it is more likely that will happen for 2025 than next year.

Having come from his best weekend in ages, Franky Morbidelli was so keen to get going this weekend that he was at the end of pitlane ready to go before the green flag was waved at the start of P1. Jonas Folger hadn’t even completed a lap on his MotoGP return before his bike started smoking – the Aprilia duo of Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro slowed to tell him of the issue before the team issued a box call to his dash board and he was shown the meatball flag.

A few minutes later Folger’s team mate Augusto Fernandez crashed at turn 12 (there were a lot of crashes at turn 12 this weekend). There were crashes in this session for Jack Miller and Marco Bezzecchi too. The session was topped by Luca Marini from Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco.

P2 saw Miguel Oliveira fire himself up to 3rd in the timesheets before promptly crashing at turn 2, he got back to the pits and was back out on track later in the session only to add his name to the list of riders who would crash at turn 12.

With 15 minutes remaining to get a top 10 position and a direct slot in Q2, Joan Mir jumped to the top of the times, while Taka Nakagami pulled himself up to 8th. A few minutes later, it was Alex Rins who topped the times briefly before Aleix Espargaro went faster. There were red sectors all over the timing screens and it was difficult to keep up with who was fastest as riders followed each other over the line, each one faster than the one before.

There were late crashes for Bradl, Zarco and Mir (who crashed avoiding Zarco’s Ducati) meaning some final laps were hampered by yellow flags, but in the end it was Jorge Martin who came out on top in spite of the virus he was suffering from. Joining Jorge in heading straight through to Q2 were Bagnaia, Rins, Marini, Alex Marquez, Viñales, Quartararo, Binder, Aleix Espargaro and Miller, with the rest of the field having to face Q1.

FP on Saturday morning saw crashes for Taka Nakagami and Jack Miller in a session that was topped by Bagnaia from Marquez and Marini.

Jonas Folger was an early crasher in Q1, but he was able to remount and continue with the session. At the midpoint of the session with most riders in the pits, the top 3 was comprised of Bezzecchi, Zarco and Franky, but as riders started to head out to try for a faster lap with around 5 minutes to go, Zarco and Franky left it late to leave the pits meaning that each would only have enough time for one flying lap.

With 1 minute left on the clock, Raul Fernandez crashed, and as the chequered flag came out, Di Giannantonio, Franky and Zarco were all on fast laps. It wasn’t to be for Franky who ended the session in 4th place behind Joan Mir, with Zarco and Bezzecchi taking the top two slots and heading through to Q2.

Jorge Martin crashed early in Q2, but unable to return his bike to the pits, he hitched a ride on a scooter and arrived back with just enough time to run straight through his garage and jump on his second bike to join the rest of the riders as they headed out on their second runs. With 3 minutes remaining on the clock, Bagnaia, Marquez, Marini and Bezzecchi were cruising around like Moto3 riders – none of them willing to lead the way.

In amongst a flurry of crashes for Miller, Martin and Marquez, Alex Rins shot to the top of the times. Honestly, I’d have liked to have seen him take pole just to spite the Ducati riders and their earlier nonsense, but Bagnaia managed to put in a faster lap as the session ended to take pole position. He would be joined on the front row by Rins and Marini, while Marquez, Bezzecchi and Aleix would make up row 2. Rows 3 and 4 would be filled by Quartararo, Viñales, Zarco, Miller, Binder, and Martin.

The riders lined up on the Sprint grid under much hotter conditions than they had faced all weekend. It was Alex Rins who led into turn 1, but he ran a little wide and Bagnaia didn’t need to be asked twice to take advantage of the small mistake. Rins was soon back into the lead though, and was being chased by Bagnaia, Fabio, Zarco, Martin and Binder.

Bagnaia used the power of his Ducati to sail past Rins on the back straight, but Rins was soon right back on the tail of the Italian. Rins ran wide again on the second lap of the ten-lap sprint, and Aleix was up to 2nd place. Fabio thought he’d try his luck at passing Rins too, but all he did was get so close to the LCR Honda rider that he left rubber marks up the side of his leathers!

As Bagnaia started to pull a gap at the front, Fabio lost out to Jorge Martin on the straight, before running wide a little later in the lap and letting Alex Marquez through. Lap 5 saw both Fabio and Pirro crash, and although both were able to re-join, they were at the back of the field.

Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins were having a battle for 2nd place, with Rins eventually making the move stick on Aleix on lap 7. Aleix then ran wide, allowing Jorge Martin to move into 3rd place as Alex Marquez crashed out of the race at turn 12. It turns out that Alex had been feeling unwell and was sick inside his helmet under breaking, causing him to crash.

The final lap of the race saw Aleix putting in a massive effort to try and overthrow Jorge for 3rd place, even managing to pass him at turn 19, but Jorge was having none of it and passed him straight back. Bagnaia won the race – sorry, sprint – ahead of Alex Rins and Jorge Martin, with Aleix, Binder, Bezzecchi, Marini, Oliveira and Miller rounding out the points-scoring positions.

Marco Bezzecchi’s 5th place finish meant that he held on to the championship lead overnight.

Saturday afternoon’s rider debriefs with the media saw a very frustrated Fabio Quartararo complain about the lack of development from Yamaha in recent years, even going so far as to say that in the last 4 years he hasn’t noticed a big improvement in the bike.

Fabio Di Giannantonio revealed a one-off helmet design for Sunday’s race with a tribute to the late Ken Block. Block was an American rally driver who lost his life in a snowmobile accident back in January. Diggia unveiled a replica of Block’s ‘brain bucket’ helmet, with subtle changes to include Diggia’s race number in place of Block’s. I’ve heard Fabio refer to his helmet as a brain bucket before, but didn’t realise that it came from elsewhere. Every day is a school day, I suppose! It was a lovely tribute to pay to Block in his homeland.

Warm up on Sunday morning was cooler and much windier than Saturday had been, with many riders on the parade lap that followed warm up saying that the wind was making things difficult on track. Anyway, warm up was topped by Bagnaia from Fabio and Oliveira.

The conditions had warmed up a little by race time, but it was still windy. The lights went out and it was Bagnaia who took the holeshot, ahead of Rins and Fabio. There was early drama for Alex Marquez who was wiped out by Jorge Martin as he crashed out of the race. Alex did look hurt and was taken to the medical centre, but all is okay with the Gresini rider other than some ligament and muscle damage to his arm, which he says won’t stop him from riding in Jerez, but will slow his training down a little.

In the first lap or so Bagnaia had started to pull a bit of a gap over Rins, but by lap 3 Rins was closing him down again, with Jack and Fabio not too far behind. Lap 7 saw Fabio promoted to a potential podium position as Jack crashed out of the race, and a lap later Bagnaia did as Bagnaia does and crashed out of the race while leading, promoting Fabio to 2nd and Marini to 3rd as Alex Rins took the lead of the race.

Lap 9 saw Joan Mir crash out of the race, meaning that there were now only 15 riders left on track – everyone who finished this race would be in the points.

While out front Rins was leading by over two seconds from Fabio and Marini, further back there was an almighty battle raging for 5th place, with Viñales, Zarco, Oliveira and Binder all fighting to be ahead of each other. It wasn’t to last for Binder though as he crashed out on lap 11. He was able to re-join the race, and he would score points even if he came home in last place.

A lap later Taka Nakagami crashed out at turn 1. Lap 13 gave us quite possibly the clearest example of just how superior the power of the Ducati is to that of the Yamaha as Luca Marini started the straight a good 4-5 bike lengths behind Fabio, and sailed past him to lead him into the next corner. Talk about demoralising – it doesn’t matter how good you are in corners or on the brakes, there is just no competing with that.

Alex Rins continued to extend his lead at the front of the race and Stefan Bradl crashed out on lap 19, leaving Rins as the last Honda man standing. Things were getting tense in the pit lane and as the riders came around to begin the last lap of the race, LCR team boss Lucio Cecchinello was hanging over the pit wall urging his rider to stay calm. By the time Rins had entered the final sector of the lap, his team was climbing the pit wall to cheer him over the line to take LCR’s 100th GP podium.

Rins was followed across the line by Luca Marini and Fabio Quartararo, while Viñales, Oliveira, Bezzecchi, Zarco, Franky, Di Giannantonio and Augusto Fernandez rounded out the top 10. Michele Pirro was 11th, with Folger and Binder the final finishers in 12th and 13th.

Fabio Quartararo scored his first podium of the season in 3rd place, but he still wasn’t happy with the performance of his Yamaha, saying post-race that while the podium was great for him and his team, he’s still “not happy about how we are going.”

Luca Marini was delighted with 2nd place and his first MotoGP podium (Sprint podiums don’t count towards GP stats, although I bet that changes soon, it did in World Superbike), and said that he had thought he might be able to fight for the victory when he saw Bagnaia crash out, but Rins was too strong for him today.

Rins was clearly delighted after the race, and said that he was very happy to have achieved victory at this circuit in Moto3, Moto2, with Suzuki and now with Honda.

The riders donned their customary Michelin cowboy hats in parc ferme before heading up to the podium where they lobbed boots and knee sliders into the crowd.

As well as taking LCR’s 100th podium, Alex Rins is the first rider to win for LCR since Cal Crutchlow way back in 2018, and he is the first rider other than Marc to win on a Honda since that Crutchlow victory too. Both Rins and Cecchinello were realistic after the race about their chances of repeating this success going forward, with Rins saying that together with the team they are “creating our base” while Cecchinello told the BT Sport team that he doesn’t know how competitive they will be elsewhere as he knows that Rins is really good at COTA.

At the other end of the scale there was Pecco Bagnaia, who should really be winning races, but keeps crashing. Bagnaia said post-race when asked what had happed that for the second week in a row – he crashed out of second last time out – he didn’t know what had happened. He went on to say that he was very angry but not with himself because he knows 100% that the crashes were not his fault. That’s a staggering level of arrogance from someone who seems to make a habit out of crashing out of decent point scoring positions…

I had massive respect for Jonas Folger this weekend, who really was thrown in at the deep end on board the Tech3 bike. Yes, he is a test rider for KTM, but he hasn’t really had a lot of time on the bike before this weekend. He started Friday over 6 seconds off the pace, but by the end of the weekend he had cut that down to 2.880 seconds in the race.

Next up is Jerez after a weekend off, and Marco Bezzecchi once again heads into a race weekend as the championship leader – 11 points ahead of Bagnaia. Will he be able to build on his lead as the paddock returns to Europe? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out!


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