If you thought Jack Miller’s push for pole position in qualifying for the Argentina Grand Prix was crazy, it turned out to be nothing compared to what race day had in store for us.
We had a race start that was delayed, a grid that was one of the strangest you’ll ever see, 3 penalties for 1 rider, crashes, and an incredible fight for the race win between 4 different manufacturers.
So where do we start? The only way to make any sense of what happened in Termas de Rio Hondo is to start at the beginning and hopefully get to the end without driving ourselves completely crazy.
Track conditions had already been complicated for both Moto2 and Moto3, with Marco Bezzecchi taking his first win in the lightweight class as the riders who gambled on slicks failed to reap the rewards, and Mattia Pasini securing a stunning intermediate victory in a “dry race”, that was still wet, but saw the whole grid on slicks.
A cloud of confusion descended over Termas de Rio Hondo.
As the clock ticked around to MotoGP hour, everyone went to the grid on wets, with some riders doing an extra sighting lap, including Valentino Rossi who took slicks out for his first look before going back to wets.
Jack Miller was on pole for the first time in the premier class, and the Australian made the decision to switch to slicks on the grid. He had nothing to lose and the track was drying by the second, it was a risk worth taking despite the race being declared wet.
But then a cloud of confusion descended over Termas de Rio Hondo. Bikes further back on the grid started to be wheeled back to pitlane, with riders deciding to change to slicks ahead of the warmup lap. This was unfair to Jack who had taken a risk and you have to ask if they should’ve been allowed to leave the grid when MotoGP is flag-to-flag anyway. With just minutes to go before they were supposed to get started, the grid only had Jack Miller sitting on it and pitlane had riders, bikes and team personnel going in all directions.
Unsurprisingly, the start was delayed due to safety conditions, and the riders who had squeezed themselves 5 abreast at pit exit had to push their bikes back up pitlane to their garages. IRTA, Race Direction and team managers then had an impromptu summit on the grid to work out what the hell was happening, while everyone else just stewed in a bowl of confusion and stress, as light rain started to fall again (thankfully it didn’t last long).
10 minutes after the race was supposed to have started, rider numbers were going back on grid positions, but in some very odd places, as the grid was reformed with everyone who left being put to the back.. but when there’s 23 of them there’s not a lot of room, so they were placed in order of qualification giving Jack Miller about 4 rows of space behind him on pole position.
Quick-start procedure was declared, riders had 60 seconds to get out onto track when pitlane opened, there would be 1 sighting lap, then a warmup lap, then the race would be 24 laps (1 less than the original distance).
And that was all the drama there was before the race started.
Marc Marquez then stalled his bike after the warmup lap. The rules mean that you have to then remove your bike to pitlane, but he had space in front of him that wouldn’t normally be there so he managed to give it a push start and the Honda was living once more. There was some confusion as to whether he was told to go to pitlane or his grid spot, but he felt he’d been given permission to start from the grid, so he rode the wrong way up the grid (strike 1 – you’re going to want to keep count) and turned his bike around behind Alex Rins before getting back to where he was supposed to be.
Now, briefly ignoring the fact that he broke the rules, it was some great bike skill on show from Marquez. MotoGP bikes aren’t easy to start on your own and he unsurprisingly showed great handling to get back into position. But he did break the rules.
With Marquez now in position, we could finally start. The lights went out and Jack Miller led (duh) from Dani Pedrosa, Johann Zarco and Marc Marquez. Zarco then had a wobble on a wet patch that let the World Champion through into third, who then went on to make a forceful but fair pass on his team-mate Dani Pedrosa for second.
Coming into turn 13 on lap 1, Zarco attempted to pass Pedrosa but pushed them both wide and Pedrosa hit a damp patch and was high-sided to the moon, slamming down hands first. I don’t think there was anything particularly wrong with the pass, it was definitely a hard one and probably a bit much for the first lap of the race with wet patches, but for me, Dani was just unlucky.
Back out front and Marquez was in the lead, while Bradley Smith had shown great progress; moving up 12 places to 9th. White flags then started to be waved, indicating that pitlane was open for bike swaps.. which was the last thing this race needed so thankfully no-one did.
There was simply no room and Marquez just went in too fast and too aggressive.
As the riders came around to start lap 4, Race Direction put out the message that Marc Marquez was under investigation for his actions at the start, but the man himself was pulling away with a 1.5 second gap over Jack Miller in second. Two laps later and the decision came through; Marquez was given a ride-through penalty for riding in the opposite direction during race start procedure.. As the message flashed up on his dash, the Spaniard seemed to momentarily lose his concentration, but came in at the end of the lap.
With Marquez touring down pitlane before rejoining in 19th, polesitter Jack Miller was now leading again, with Rins, Zarco and Crutchlow following behind.
Unfortunately for everyone else on the track, giving Marquez a penalty, and in turn, a lot of work to do, seemed to unleash a wild animal in the World Champion. He was so much quicker than the rest and that soon became a real problem.
On lap 9, as they came through turns 12 and 13, Marquez entered far, far too hot on Aleix Espargaro, making contact with his compatriot’s rear tyre and leg, pushing them both wide. There was simply no room and Marquez just went in too fast and too aggressive. (Strike 2).
Unsurprisingly, Marquez was again penalised. This time he was told to drop 1 position, but due to a little confusion decided to play it safe and drop 2, letting rookie team-mates Morbidelli and Luthi past, before soon repassing them. It didn’t slow or calm him down though, as replays also showed him going in pretty hard on Taka Nakagami.
Then came lap 20 and the moment that will sadly overshadow this Grand Prix for a long time to come.
Back to the front and Miller was still leading, with a gap of 0.4 and the top 4 all running in the low 1’41s. The Australian soon come under attack though, as, with 14 laps to go, Alex Rins made his move. The Spaniard took the lead but ran wide letting Miller back through, something which repeated itself over the next couple of laps, while Aleix Espargaro retired with a technical issue.
Lap 16 and Alex Rins made a brave pass on Miller at turn 6 and this time made it stick.. for all of 1 lap. He ran wide which let Miller back into the lead, with Crutchlow and Zarco also following through.
Two laps later and Marquez passed Dovizioso for 7th, while Bradley Smith crashed out at turn 1, before Miller almost lost the front at turn 13 after running wide, this time giving Cal Crutchlow the lead in the race. The front runners were all having some visible struggles with their bikes as the track dried and their tyres reached the end of their life.
Then came lap 20 and the moment that will sadly overshadow this Grand Prix for a long time to come. At turn 13, where Marquez had already come together with Aleix earlier on, he again came in too fast, but this time it was Valentino Rossi in front of him. As they both went for the same piece of asphalt the pair came into contact before Marquez pushed them both wide, resulting in Rossi crashing as he touched the grass.
Marquez was quick to raise a hand in apology, but as Rossi picked his bike up, now complete with some Argentinian foliage, I’m not sure he was particularly interested. (Strike 3).
In the leading group, Zarco had found his way to the front and maintained the position for a couple of laps before Cal Crutchlow took advantage of the slipstream on the back straight. With 1 lap to go the podium was complete and as the British rider crossed the line to take the chequered flag, he not only took his 3rd MotoGP win but also Honda’s 750th Grand Prix victory. After all the stress of the day, it’s not that surprising that LCR team boss Lucio Cecchinello sank to his knees in joy and relief with his rider now leading the World Championship.
Johann Zarco took another podium, his 4th in MotoGP, while Alex Rins came home in 3rd to secure his very first top 3 finish in the premier class. The man who’d been on pole, Jack Miller, took the flag in 4th, which is still an excellent result for him on just his second race with the Pramac Ducati.
The fact that 3 of the top 4 were from Independent teams is also an important one.. regulations that level the playing field work!
Sadly, much of what the top 4 achieved was slightly overlooked because of the antics of the World Champion, who received his 3rd penalty of the day when Race Direction gave him a 30 second penalty (a ride-through equivalent) after the Rossi incident, which dropped him down to 18th in the standings, 1 position ahead of where the Italian finished after rejoining.
But before we get into that, let’s round up the riders who didn’t almost lose their minds.
LCR Honda CASTROLCal Crutchlow takes an incredible victory at Termas de Rio Hondo #ArgentinaGPMotoGP
Posted by LCR Honda Team on Sunday, 8 April 2018
Race winner Cal Crutchlow was unsurprised by his victory, saying that he’d come into the Argentina weekend expecting 1st or 2nd and rightfully pointing out that if he didn’t believe he could win, then he’d stay in the garage. The series leader rode a sensible race, avoiding risks and even taking different lines to those around him in case any of them crashed. Throughout the weekend he was the closest in terms of pace to Marquez and it was an excellent performance from the British rider.
His team-mate Takaaki Nakagami brought home his first MotoGP points in 13th and made a great recovery from a difficult qualifying position. The rookie is still very much in learning mode, but found strong pace from the middle of the race and rode well.
Crossing the line in second was Frenchman Johann Zarco, who ran into a lot of criticism for his crash with Pedrosa. It was an aggressive overtake, especially considering the track conditions and the fact that it was lap 1. But I do believe it was a mistake, so a penalty isn’t really needed, but with his previous form, Race Direction might want to have a stern word and warn him that next time there will be repercussions.
Tech 3’s other rider, Hafizh Syahrin finished in 9th, making it a great day for the French team.. the Malaysian rider rode well, had good pace and pushed hard. There were some raised eyebrows when he was brought in to replace Folger but he has already more than earned his place.
Third went to Suzuki’s Alex Rins, who was understandably delighted with his first MotoGP podium. He’d been a bit nervous at the start (understandable) but felt comfortable and despite making a few mistakes when leading, was happy with his race and is already looking forward to Texas. Last year was a hard year for Alex due to injury but this year he looks so much better, especially combined with a stronger package from Suzuki.
The other blue machine was brought back in 8th by Andrea Iannone, who had decent pace but made some mistakes when overtaking that stopped his progress through the ranks. Overall, a very positive weekend for the Hamamatsu team.
Jack Miller had been left all alone on the grid when everyone else ran off and while he wasn’t able to convert pole position (and 4 rows of empty space) into a second MotoGP win, it was still a fantastic race and weekend for the Aussie. His pole lap was incredible and both he and the team did a great job during the race. He was the only rider to take the initial gamble on slicks and definitely deserves some praise for that.
Pramac team-mate Danilo Petrucci turned around a difficult weekend to finish 10th despite losing some time on the last lap due to contact, but will hope that the issues with feel and grip that he encountered earlier in the weekend don’t return later in the year.
5th place had initially gone to Marquez, but after his penalty, Maverick Vinales moved up to take the position and was happy to have found so many areas to improve in both wet and dry conditions. He was less pleased with his position as towards the end he’d been running the same pace as the front-runners but after some tricky points over the weekend, especially in qualifying, it’s a decent result.
While Vinales benefited from Marquez’s penalty, his Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi suffered due to the move that made it necessary, finishing in 19th. Thankfully the Italian was unhurt, but to say he was unhappy is a gross understatement. Before the crash, he’d been riding ok, not really a podium threat but still in a position to take home decent points. Don’t worry I’ll be coming back to him later, but it was also interesting to see him run the aero during the race.
Qatar race winner Andrea Dovizioso finished 6th after a very difficult weekend for last year’s championship runner-up. He’d never quite got there with pace and speed in Argentina, a track he knew he could struggle at, but he handled the race well and at least no-one knocked him off this year!
Fellow Ducati rider Jorge Lorenzo fell foul of the mixed conditions, finishing in 15th. The drying track with wet patches isn’t happy racing turf for Jorge and after last year’s crash he was cautious to avoid contact at turn 1. It was a strange weekend for the Spaniard; with speculation on his contract, interviews mentioning his team-mate taken out of context and an aero package he doesn’t like because it pushes the front but chose to run because of the front feel it gives. Hopefully, things will settle down for Jorge in Austin, so he can start finding his footing with the GP18.
Another rider on a Ducati, Tito Rabat, brought home his best MotoGP finish in 7th after having an equally excellent qualifying that put him 4th on the grid. Riding in the front group was good experience for the Avintia rider and he is really impressing since he moved away from Honda.
Rookie team-mate Xavier Simeon finished 21st after making a mistake in the early laps that lost him time and also struggling with grip issues in corner entry and on acceleration. The positions weren’t impressive in Argentina for Simeon, but he did make progress from Qatar and that’s always the most important thing.
11th went to Pol Espargaro on the KTM, who obviously wanted more but with all things considered it’s a decent result. He found that he struggled for grip in the dry and there’s clearly more work to do, but it’s a far better result than Qatar.
Marc Marquez eventually finished 18th after his penalty.
Bradley Smith was unable to bring his KTM to the flag after crashing out. He lost a lot of time after coming into contact with multiple riders, but then went offline at turn 1 and lost the front. The Brit was taking positives from Argentina though; he found a good feel this weekend and that bodes well for Texas.
Next up was the Aprilia of Scott Redding in 12th who was struggling with some serious back pain throughout the weekend. He was losing time on the straight but was able to even things out on the rest of the circuit and after a long race he was happy overall.
Aleix Espargaro was forced to retire with a throttle issue that caused issues in low-speed acceleration, but his race was obviously also impacted by Marquez. He also had some contact with Petrucci and said that the pair “took some avoidable risks”.
14th went to Marc VDS rookie Franco Morbidelli who stayed careful in the early laps and was happy to bring home some points after a tricky weekend, while his team-mate Tom Luthi took the flag in 17th after reaching his tyre’s limit at the end and having to fight his bike’s sliding. For both rookies, every lap is a learning experience and it’s good that both finished a difficult race.
The Angel Nieto team riders Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham finished 16th and 20th respectively, with Alvaro struggling to get his tyres up to temperature at the beginning but finding good pace and grip later on, and Karel having issues with contact, a brake issue that put him in the gravel, and multiple warning lights from his bike.
Finally, there’s the Repsol Honda team. Dani Pedrosa was high-sided out on lap 1 and will be having his right wrist checked in Barcelona on Tuesday. With him still healing from a hand injury in testing, hopefully this won’t be something that holds Dani back for long.
Marc Marquez eventually finished 18th after his penalty and this seems like a good time to really look at what went on with the World Champion in this race.
He wasn’t riding with care and in a couple of cases he was downright irresponsible.
Starting at the beginning, when his bike stalled. The rules say that if you cannot start your bike you must go to pitlane “where he (the FIM hasn’t embraced gender neutrality) may make further attempts to start it”. Now, this is where it gets tricky. Should he have been allowed to attempt to start it on the grid? Technically no and in a normal situation, there wouldn’t have been the space for him to start his bike the way he did. But then once it’s running, should he still go to pitlane?
Some of the officials looked as though they were telling him to go to pitlane, but Marquez says he felt he’d been given permission to go to his starting position. But seeing as they gave him a penalty for going in the opposite direction on the grid, it doesn’t look like they did.
Either way, the ride-through penalty came as a surprise to Marquez, but he still came in for straight away. Unfortunately, putting him in 19th, when he had been so much quicker than everyone else all weekend, meant that he was carving through the riders in front of him at a terrifying rate.
Why is that a problem? Because he wasn’t riding with care and in a couple of cases he was downright irresponsible.
With Aleix, he went in too hard, too hot and too fast, where there simply wasn’t room. It was unnecessary and the 1 place penalty wasn’t really satisfactory, because he didn’t learn from it. It didn’t calm him down or make him take more care with riders.
When he came upon Rossi, he was going so much quicker that he could have passed him with ease anywhere on the track. He chose turn 13 when the front straight was just 2 corners away. Again, he came in too fast and while at corner entry there was more room than there had been with Aleix, knowing Valentino would be turning into the apex (because..duh) it was a reckless move that has no place in MotoGP.
Did he mean to come into contact with Rossi? Valentino will tell you yes, “he do purposely.. he point the leg between the leg and the bike”. I don’t agree that it was intentional, or that any of Marquez’s moves were, for me it was just careless, which is almost worse.. carelessness gets people killed.
Marquez’s explanation was that he’d hit a wet patch, locked the front and released the brakes to avoid crashing. That makes sense, but he put himself in that position, not once but twice, at a corner everyone knows is problematic. He shouldn’t have been making a move that aggressive in that place, it was completely unnecessary.
Speaking after the race Valentino pulled no punches saying “he destroyed our sport.. if you start to play like this you raise to a very dangerous level.. you have to have respect for your rivals.. like this, it’s over.. this is dangerous.. we are MotoGP, we are the top of motorcycle.. if everyone is like this, it’s like destruction derby.. he don’t play clean, he don’t play aggressive, he play dirty”.
Now let’s not all lose our minds, what happened in Argentina hasn’t destroyed the sport, it survived 2015 so it’ll survive this, but Valentino is right in that it is dangerous, it does take it to a different level and respecting each other is key to everyone coming home safe at the end of the race.
But it doesn’t paint MotoGP in a good light and it’s controversy we really don’t need. However, there were a lot of people getting pretty angsty yesterday, so I’m going to address a few things. If you managed to not lose your mind, feel free to skip this bit.
Previous clashes: 2015 has nothing to do with Argentina. Sepang was the product of Rossi (wrongly) accusing Marquez of interfering with his title fight and the pair both acting out on track, and no I don’t believe Rossi deliberately caused Marquez to crash either, he just went too far. What followed was a level of hostility I have no desire to see return to MotoGP and it was only dampened when we lost Luis in Barcelona. Let’s not go there again, you, as fans, are better than that.
Some pointed out how much everyone, Rossi included, enjoyed the battle in Phillip Island when everyone was clashing fairings and swapping paint. But that’s very different, because while yes they were aggressive, they weren’t dangerous and they were all riding at the same speed. That’s the opposite of 1 rider not taking care around riders he’s so much faster than.
Then there are apologies. Marc arrived back into the garage, and according to Honda boss Alberto Puig, the first thing he wanted to do was to go to Yamaha and apologise, so he did. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to. I called that unacceptable at the time and I stand by that, because it wasn’t a member of the Yamaha team who said “hey, maybe later”, it was Valentino’s friend Uccio. If one of Yamaha’s management thinks it’s not the best time that’s fine, but when Valentino is in the box and Marc is there, just let him say sorry.
Apologies don’t have to be accepted. When Valentino crashed into Casey Stoner in Jerez his apology was greeted with the greatest response in motorcycle racing history, “your ambition outweighed your talent”, but he was still given the chance to say his piece.
Rossi criticised Marquez’s apology attempt, saying he hadn’t come alone and that it had been for the cameras. When he went to Stoner, he went with members of the Ducati team, was followed by the Dorna camera crew and didn’t remove his helmet.
It’s simple sportsmanship to go and apologise (such as when Pedrosa took out Dovizioso in Austin) and to allow your rival to give their apology. You don’t have to accept it, you can turn around and walk away, but everyone makes mistakes.
Marquez was irresponsible on track, there’s no doubt about that, but Rossi hasn’t handled it particularly well off track either.
Finally, Race Direction. For me, they made a huge mistake when they didn’t penalise Aron Canet in Moto3 after he took out Yurchenko on Friday. Canet felt the other rider had got in his way, waved his arms around, had a brief tantrum, then pulled in front of Yurchenko causing both of them to crash. I also don’t think that crash was deliberate, but I don’t believe Canet when he says it was a complete mistake, for me he wanted to get in his way in retaliation and it just went wrong.
Race Direction should’ve given him a back of the grid start at the very least and shown a strong message that behaviour like that has no place in Grand Prix racing.
On Marquez, the first ride-through was right, he should’ve been given a harder penalty for his move on Aleix and that might’ve stopped him from his clash with Rossi. Is a 30 second penalty enough? It’s basically the same as disqualification, he gets no points but I’m not sure it’s a hard enough message.. A grid penalty for the next race as well might have been a good idea.
Marquez was irresponsible on track, there’s no doubt about that, but Rossi hasn’t handled it particularly well off track either. Regardless of which side you’re on in this latest drama it’s important to remember that every single rider, regardless of class, position or number of championships, is a role model to both current and future riders.
Everyone needs to take the next two weeks before Austin to take a step back, have some deep breaths and realise that ultimately we all want the same thing; good, fast, safe racing.
MotoGP has one of the best atmospheres you’ll find in sport, we’re a family, let’s not forget that.
Fire it up in the comments below:
MotoGP Austin: Marquez is King COTA
Austin as a venue for Grand Prix motorcycle racing is excellent; it’s large (obviously, it’s Texas), it’s colourful and the city itself is a great place to spend time.
As a track you either love it or hate it; it’s technical and incredibly physical but there’s a little bit of everything. If you’re looking for a racing spectacle, you won’t find it at COTA, but if you want to witness a display of utter dominance there’s nowhere else where it’s clearer.
Argentina took MotoGP’s natural thirst for drama to fever point and knocked everything out of balance. The World Champion Marc Marquez was roundly, and rightly, criticized for his actions at Termas after riding carelessly. Deliberately dangerous? No, just not quite engaging his brain.
After so much scrutiny there were really only two ways things were going to go; sink or swim. And anyone who thought it would be the first of those options clearly doesn’t know Marc Marquez.
The Circuit of The Americas is his domain, his kingdom if you will. Every year we’ve raced there he has won with ease. This year wasn’t going to be any different.
The only two hiccups in his total dominance this weekend came on Friday afternoon when Andrea Iannone topped the second free practice session and when he was given a 3 place grid penalty for impeding Maverick Vinales in qualifying.
His pole position will still go in the records as his 6th at COTA and 9th in the USA, as well as being number 46 in MotoGP on his 93rd start in the class. But he didn’t start from that prime spot on the grid, instead, he was heading the second row in 4th next to Valentino Rossi. But if you thought that would hold him back or make things more difficult, you were sorely mistaken.
When the lights went out, it was Andrea Iannone who got the best start, tearing forward from second on the grid as the riders made their way up the steep incline to the hairpin of turn 1. By this point, Marquez was already through into second, but the real miracle came when everyone made it through turn 1 safely and still onboard. Vinales had inherited pole from Marquez and slipped behind the World Champion into third as they made their way through the continuous changes of direction that weave from turn 2 to turn 9.
At turn 12, at the end of the back straight, Marquez made his move and passed Iannone for the lead, while two corners later Rossi and Zarco battled for 5th as the two almost came into contact with each other, which would’ve been the last thing this race needed.
On lap 3 Iannone decided to live up to his nickname of “The Maniac” and passed Marquez into turn 11, unsurprisingly he couldn’t quite keep tight to the line and Marc cut back into the lead. Realistically, Andrea knew the move wouldn’t stick but thought he’d try to keep things exciting anyway.
By the next lap, Marquez had pulled the pin and opened a gap of 1.3 seconds over Iannone. In previous years he’d been happy to stick around to stop the race feeling so long as he roamed at the front, but this time he was out to prove a point and he simply cleared off.
Vinales made the move into second past Iannone on lap 7, as he took the inside line into turn 1 and with 14 laps to go the podium was complete, while Marquez continued to pull away giving him a 4 second lead by the next lap.
Further back Cal Crutchlow passed Zarco for 5th but ran wide at turn 12 giving the Frenchman plenty of room to retake the position. Things then got worse for the British rider when he lost the front at turn 20, crashing out of position and his place as championship leader before he rejoined back in 19th.
Karel Abraham made the decision to pit at this point, after completing just 8 laps, due to pain. The Czech rider had crashed heavily in Q1 and was experiencing a lot of pain in his wrist, fingers, palm, arm and back. Karel was, unsurprisingly, struggling to turn or brake and his team told him to come in.
But while Abraham was forced to retire, there was a gladiator still on track, with Dani Pedrosa running in 7th despite breaking his wrist just 2 weeks earlier.
Hafizh Syahrin soon became the next rider to fall, as he lost the front at turn 1. Like Abraham, Hafizh wasn’t in perfect condition ahead of the race after he had a very hard and fast crash in the morning warmup.
He was soon followed by Alex Rins, who crashed out 3 laps later at turn 12, giving the Spanish rider 2 DNFs in 3 races, and a bitter followup to his first podium last time out in Argentina. Alex lost the front late in the corner, which left both him and his bike right in the middle of where riders were exiting the turn. Thankfully, due to some avoidance tactics from riders, including Jorge Lorenzo and Aleix Espargaro, no-one else was caught up in the incident.
By this point, the top 4 were all having pretty lonely rides. Marquez was so far gone he was almost racing in Houston, Vinales had cleanly dispensed of Iannone, who in turn had a steady gap over Rossi. In 5th Dovizioso was chasing Zarco, but behind them, Pedrosa was exceeding all expectations, including his own, as he clung on in 7th.
The next real piece of excitement came on lap 16 when Jack Miller went in hard up the inside of Jorge Lorenzo at turn 1, forcing the Spaniard to sit up. There was definitely space at the entry of the corner, although things got a little tight as Lorenzo turned into the apex. There was no contact between the pair and while it was undeniably a hard pass, it was a fair one, and Lorenzo would’ve made the same move a thousand times if roles were reversed.
One lap later and Dovizioso made his move on Zarco down the back straight (hello horsepower) and gave no opportunity for the Tech 3 rider to fight back.
Apart from a late battle for 8th between Miller and Rabat, the rest of the field pretty much followed each other home, as Marc Marquez took the chequered flag 3.5 seconds ahead of Maverick Vinales. In reality, his gap was over 6 seconds, but he sacrificed that when he stood up to do a dance over the line.
Marquez had spent a bit of time in Brazil after the Argentina race, working with UNICEF and visiting a local school in Sao Paulo. The students shared some of their dancing with the World Champion, as part of the project that aims to use dance and music to boost education. Marc had told the kids that if he won, he’d dance for them, and true to his word, as always, he did.
Following him, eventually, to the chequered flag was Maverick Vinales who took his first podium finish since Australia last year and Andrea Iannone who secured his first top 3 with Suzuki and marked a return to the podium for the first time since Valencia 2016.
The cooldown lap then brought the moment of the weekend for me. COTA had done a great job remembering Nicky Hayden, naming the area under their iconic tower Hayden Hill and painting 69 onto the grass, and many riders had been carrying their own tributes to the Kentucky Kid as well. But as he made his way back round to the pits, Marc carried a 69 flag and brought it back with him to Parc Ferme.
Speaking about Nicky after the race, Marc said that honouring Nicky had been a special motivation and that he’d told his team he wanted Nicky’s flag at the end of the race. “He was a good friend.. I think this was the moment.. I enjoy a lot to make that lap for his memory”.
But Nicky wasn’t the only extra motivation for Marc Marquez this weekend.
After Termas, COTA was the perfect track to make a point. He changed his strategy to avoid having to spend time with other riders, going so far as to say “I didn’t have the confidence to battle”, and instead simply left them all for dust (which there was a lot of this year, thanks to the track grinding).
Marquez knew that he would be under more scrutiny this weekend. In Friday’s Safety Commission, riders were told that rules would be enforced more strictly from now on and that was demonstrated when both Marquez and Pol Espargaro were given 3 place grid penalties for riding slowly on the racing line and getting in the way of other riders in qualifying.
Now that rule isn’t new, it’s as old as racing itself because trust me you don’t want to see a fast rider hit a slower one from behind, and it would certainly have been a penalty in Moto3 after the rules were made stricter to stop them always cruising when looking for a tow. So, it’s right that it was also a penalty in MotoGP, we have to have consistency and parity in the rules and their enforcement. Marc had his attention on Iannone in front of him and didn’t realise Vinales was behind him until it was too late, but that’s no excuse, he’s a 6 times World Champion and he knows better.
But that extra scrutiny and the increased pressure that comes with it only served as more motivation for Marc. After qualifying Marc made an important comment “my style is my style, but I want to learn from my mistakes”. His riding style was questioned after Argentina when that wasn’t the problem, his lack of thinking was, and in Austin, he had a point to prove.
It took Marquez all of 12 corners to lead, and apart from Iannone’s brief moment of madness on lap 3, he was unchallenged from there to the chequered flag. If you want a definition of sheer domination, it would simply read: Marc Marquez in Texas. If you’re not already impressed, and you should be, he was actually a little bit ill this weekend so by his own admission wasn’t even performing at 100%.
Marquez is essentially a certainty for COTA, the only way he won’t win there is if he screws up and there was very little chance of him doing that on Sunday. But behind him, things weren’t so set in stone.
His team-mate Dani Pedrosa was performing miracles by even getting on the bike on Friday. He pushed himself to the limit in qualifying and then beat all expectations in the race. 7th place in MotoGP can be a hard fought position to take when fully fit, so 2 weeks after breaking his wrist and having surgery, it’s nothing short of incredible. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t particularly enjoy himself and he was struggling to control the bike towards the end, but he made it through 20 laps and 400 corners of one of the most physical tracks of the year and brought home some precious points thanks to painkillers and adrenaline (which is better than any analgesic). With more time to heal before Jerez, he should be feeling considerably better when we return to Europe. The Little Samurai is one tough cookie and for me it was the ride of the weekend.
Maverick Vinales had made some substantial steps forward with the electronics that were letting him ride in a more aggressive way, something that suits “Top Gun” and the benefits were evident as he took the flag in 2nd and showed the closest pace to Marquez at COTA. He’s found a good feel on the bike and while there’s still work to do, both with the electronics and the front feel, he’s ready for Jerez. Interestingly, he feels that his season will really start after he’s had some testing time to devote purely to setup, and the next test is immediately after the next race.
The other Yamaha was brought home in 4th by Valentino Rossi. It was a good weekend for The Doctor overall and the Italian showed pretty decent pace in the cooler practice sessions. But it was the heat on race day that prevented his podium aspirations as he struggled with the front tyre. He had been given little option but to run the medium as the harder compound simply didn’t work for him, but he felt the balance of the bike might have contributed to some of his issues so there’s still work to do.
Regardless, the Yamahas are definitely making progress and moving in the right direction. It hasn’t been the ideal start to the season, especially for Rossi, but the return to Europe promises more to come from the boys in blue.
It was back to back podiums for Suzuki, although with different riders as Andrea Iannone secured 3rd after his excellent start. Andrea seems to look happier and calmer this season, and he reaped the benefits in the race as he stayed sensible (mostly) and brought the bike home. He’d shown good pace throughout the weekend and was the only rider to beat Marquez in a session. He didn’t have enough to hold off the World Champion or Vinales but it’s a very good result as he looks to prove his worth to Suzuki ahead of contract-talk time.
For Alex Rins it was a bumpy fall from the highs of his first podium at the last race. He struggled for much of the weekend; lacking confidence and feel, although he had felt better on Friday when the track was very dirty and grip levels were low. He was obviously disappointed to crash but keen to point out the positives of Iannone showing that the bike was working well.
5th went to Andrea Dovizioso, who had another weekend of damage control. Ducati expected to struggle in Austin and their concerns over turning proved true. Their issues with turning and wheelie when accelerating from low speed out of corners led to Dovi joining Lorenzo in running the aero fairing and he felt that it had definitely been the right decision. The concern for Dovizioso and Ducati is that much like last year they’ve shown that there are tracks where they struggle, and the thing that really held Dovi back in 2017 was not being on the podium when he couldn’t win. On the other hand, he goes to Jerez leading the championship, albeit by 1 point, which puts him in a much better position than last season, the flipside of that being that there are even more strong riders than 2017.
There was no such optimism on the other side of the Ducati garage though, as Jorge Lorenzo finished in 11th and called it a “race to forget”. The 2018 chassis proved to be more unstable over the bumps for the Spaniard and while over one lap he was able to put in a good time, with used tyres his pace simply wasn’t good enough, which is what ultimately held him back in the race as he struggled with spinning from the tyre. We are now heading to more Jorge-friendly circuits and with just 6 points from 3 races the improvements need to come fast.
Johann Zarco brought his Tech 3 Yamaha to the line in 6th after a tricky weekend that never really saw him looking comfortable. He didn’t have a particularly good start, and while his pace was pretty constant it simply wasn’t fast enough, especially when he came under pressure from Dovizioso, but he did secure the position of the top independent rider.
His team-mate Hafizh Syahrin definitely had a worse time though as he lost the front on the brakes and crashed. He had lost time in warmup due to crashing so was forced to run his setup from practice, which in the higher temperatures proved to be a little too soft. It was a rude awakening for the rookie who had otherwise been pretty impressive so far this year. Hopefully, it doesn’t knock his confidence and he can come back strong in Jerez.
Tito Rabat had a great race to finish 8th, a good improvement on his grid position of 14th. He’d taken a risk choosing the hard rear tyre but made it work. Tito had to make some hard overtakes but enjoyed the battles, especially with Jack Miller towards the end.
Avintia team-mate Xavier Simeon finished 20th after lacking confidence at the start but found a decent rhythm later on. Every lap is still good experience for Simeon who hasn’t had the easiest transition into the premier class and he’s the first to admit that he’s still holding back slightly to avoid making mistakes and crashing.. understandable but at some point, he’s going to have to lay it all on the line.
The star of Argentina, Jack Miller, took the flag in 9th after being beaten by Rabat late on due to a mistake he made that made him lose the front, but the Aussie had ridden a strong race and did well to make up so many places after starting 18th. It’s a 6th consecutive top 10 for Jack and with him looking so much more comfortable onboard the Ducati the season should only continue to get better.
Fellow Pramac rider Danilo Petrucci had a difficult weekend and lost time in the beginning as he struggled with his harder rear tyre and was ultimately disappointed with 12th place. The track might have been a tricky one for Ducati, but finishing behind Rabat, Miller and Lorenzo won’t have sat well.
Aleix Espargaro took the final place in the top 10 on his Aprilia after working hard to make up positions early on. Aleix felt the bike was working well, something that would’ve been a great relief after he said he barely recognised it on Saturday due to chattering and lack of traction, but he ran out of rear grip towards the end and couldn’t fight for higher positions.
Scott Redding brought the second Aprilia home in 17th after lacking rear grip, an issue that was influenced by the work they had done on improving the front-end of the bike.
The other Espargaro brother finished 13th with Pol bringing the KTM home in a pretty good position despite having issues with the changes of direction that make up so much of COTA. Pol felt the setup could’ve been a bit better and the soft front tyre might not have been ideal, but he had looked like they’d made good improvements on Saturday so hopefully, they can carry that forward.
Bradley Smith ended a few places behind his team-mate in 16th after his front tyre gave up and left him battling understeer from lap 12. Until then he’d had good pace and had made up a lot of places, but the British rider will be disappointed to just miss out on the points.
LCR’s points came from rookie Taka Nakagami on Sunday as the Japanese rider took the flag in 14th. He had hoped for more but experienced a difficult race. While his team-mate Cal Crutchlow could only manage 19th after rejoining following his crash and was obviously not happy ending an otherwise good weekend with decent pace that way.
Alvaro Bautista took the final point for the Angel Nieto team in 15th, despite lacking rear grip in the race. That issue had largely been the consequence of improving the turning, which in turn affected traction on corner exit. Team-mate Karel Abraham was unable to finish after retiring due to pain.
18th went to Tom Luthi who lost a lot of places at turn 1 as he got caught up in the group, before then having issues with front grip from the halfway point that made it difficult for him to negotiate COTA’s many turns.
The final finisher was his fellow Marc VDS rookie, Franco Morbidelli, in 20th. The Italian found himself struggling to ride the way he wanted to and put the focus on the need to get the setup to suit him and his style better.
At the end of the day, the Circuit of The Americas is almost provisionally marked down as a Marquez win as soon as the calendar comes out. He certainly doesn’t take it for granted that he will remain undefeated on US soil but no-one has brought forward a real challenge yet and 2018 was his 6th win at the track and 10th in the US in MotoGP.
This year he had a point to prove and he did it in the best way he knew how; by obliterating the rest of the field.
When asked what makes Marc so successful at COTA, Andrea Iannone responded “he’s more strong than everybody, it’s simple” and it really is. Austin goes left which suits him and he tames the challenging circuit in a way almost unheard of in motorsport.
Marquez remains the undisputed King of COTA and to those that boo him, he has one simple message “another motivation, that’s it”. If you think that you’ll break him, you picked the wrong rider. It will only make him stronger and quicker. Your act of stupidity is self-defeating. It marks you out as a fool and is blatant disrespect to every single rider that risks their life every time that they go out on track. Silence would suit you a lot better.
MotoGP now heads back across the ocean to Europe. This is the meaty part of the season. The tracks are often as narrow as they are familiar and we get closer and harder racing with battles for positions up and down the grid. It’ll be another 11 races before we leave the continent again and by then things could look very different. Next up: Jerez, and I can’t wait.
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WorldSBK Assen: Sykes wakes up and smells the victory
For the first time this season, Tom Sykes woke up and smelt the victory in race two at The Cathedral of Speed.
Starting from pole position after finishing race one in fourth, Sykes led the 21 lap race from start to finish, never faltering in what could only be described as a flawless performance by the Yorkshireman.
There wasn’t much to write home about as race two returned to its normal form. Jonathan Rea made a stellar start to come through to second, only occasionally coming under fire from home hero Michael van der Mark.
As Sykes was quick to pull a lead at the front, Rea and van der Mark stayed locked together for a few laps, with Rea eventually cutting back in front to ease a two second gap over the Dutchman.
Ducati will be leaving The Netherlands with their heads in their hands after a less than ideal weekend. Although they made it onto the podium with Chaz Davies yesterday, today they weren’t so lucky.
Davies ran steady in fifth with a healthy gap between himself and Jordi Torres in sixth, but ran into tyre wear troubles in the closing laps.
Meanwhile his team mate Marco Melandri was cruising around in seventh, after working his way back up from outside the top ten due to a disastrous first few laps that saw him pushed backwards continuously.
It seems that just as we start to see an exciting couple of races, a race like this comes along.
Today’s race certainly wasn’t as close as we have seen in other races this season, and that’s where the excitement comes from. What do the organisers have to do to make it a little bit more exciting for the fans to watch?
World Superbike returns in three weeks time for the first of two Italian legs in Imola.
World Superbike race two:
- Tom Sykes – Kawasaki Racing Team – 33:36.444
- Jonathan Rea – Kawasaki Racing Team +5.445
- Michael van der Mark – Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team +7.507
- Xavi Fores – Barni Racing Team +11.316
- Chaz Davies – Aruba.it Racing Ducati +18.953
- Jordi Torres – MV Agusta Reparto Corse +22.414
- Marco Melandri – Aruba.it Racing Ducati +22.515
- Loris Baz – Gulf Althea BMW Racing Team +23.997
- Toprak Razgatlioglu – Kawasaki Puccetti Racing +24.245
- Lorenzo Savadori – Milwaukee Aprilia +24.653