Things were going pretty much according to script on Lap 10 of the Grand Prix of the Americas on Sunday. Defending world champion Marc Marquez had checked out after starting from pole and was up over three seconds when, at Turn 12, he folded the front of his Honda, slid off the track, and could not re-enter the race. His unforced error allowed Alex Rins to enjoy his first premier class win and put Suzuki on the top step for the first time since 2016.
Rins was joined by the irrepressible Valentino Rossi in second and Jack Miller, himself on the podium for the first time since 2016 and the first time ever in the dry. Whatever it is that keeps the locals saying, “Keep Austin Weird” was afoot today at COTA.
Practice and Qualifying
Friday’s big story was the dirty track and the bumps. For a circuit that has had major cosmetic surgery twice now, it now offers riders multiple asphalt compounds, multiple series (plural) of bumps, numerous areas that have been sanded, all of which was built on clay, and all of which slides around in the wet season and/or under the wheels of F1 cars. Terrible place to build a helluva racetrack. Regardless, several of the usual suspects shook off the track conditions, stayed within a very narrow racing line, and posted respectable times. Marquez’ 2015 track record of 2:02.135 remained unthreatened, another indictment of the racing surface. Aleix Espargaro broke the steering locks on his Aprilia on the back straight, saying later he had never raced on anything like it, not even motocross.
With rain expected on Saturday, folks made like the standings after Friday could constitute qualifying order, and the end of FP2 was a bit of a scramble. My pre-race picks of Marquez, Cal Crutchlow and Miller were interrupted only by the surprising presence of what could be two Yams on the front row, shades of the salad days of 2010. Viñales and Rossi, one suspects, were praying for cloudbursts all day Saturday – never even have to put on the leathers, play cards, drink Monster Energy, complain to the press, wait for Sunday.
Missing from this picture, vulnerable to having to play through Q1, included both factory Ducati riders, three of the four KTMs, Jorge Lorenzo, Takaa Nakagami and the Aprilias. But two of the rookies made the cut.
As it turned out, FP3 was, indeed, scrubbed and the Friday results would stand as the weekly separating of wheat from chaff. With some high profile names in Q1 and things drying out, the heat was on, as Lorenzo found a quick lap late in the session, leaving Andrea Dovizioso, needing to advance to Q2 to stay in the same zipcode as Marquez, to the untender mercies of teammate Danilo Petrucci, who slid into home, spikes up, beating the throw to snatch the Q2 promotion at the last possible moment. Management would have preferred that he back off, as Dovi’s pursuit of Marquez is more credible than Petrucci’s. Not to mention that they could then use his failure to advance to Q2 in Austin as another reason not to renew his contract for next year.
This is COTA. Q2 was mostly academic. Once Marquez laid down his usual quotient of vapor trails (and consecutive pole #7), most of the residents of tranches one and two cinched it up and gave it a go, generally falling laughably short. The bumps on the back straight are bad enough that they’re irritating Marquez’s shoulder. But only Doctor Rossi and my boy Cal Crutchlow could manage a lap within 6/10ths of #93. The Yamahas keep showing signs of life at a track not designed to their strengths. Pol Espargaro put a KTM in P5 for the first time ever, the factory leaping into immediate contention for the Taller Than Danny DeVito Award later this year.
Safe to say that very few people expected the outcome of today’s race. You had three or four big names crash out or retire – Aleix Espargaro, Marquez, Lorenzo and my boy Cal, who seriously cannot stand success. Once Marquez left the premises, all of a sudden it was a race with consequences, a race with meaning. Rossi, who once upon a time would have won today’s race by 10 seconds, dogged Marquez for awhile while defending himself against repeated attacks by Crutchlow. Once he took the lead on Lap 10, with #35 and #93 already out, I found myself thinking, “Now or never, Vale.” I was actually rooting for him to win; the lack of wins late in his career will ultimately tarnish his reputation around the edges.
Rins, possibly having an out-of-body experience, found himself stalking his idol, and with better pace and better tires. He took his time, went through on Lap 17, withstood a couple of keep-him-honest attempts from Rossi, entered the final lap ahead by .3 seconds, and kept his act sufficiently grouped to avoid choking out. Miller kept his podium by holding off Dovizioso, who had started 13th, and Franco Morbidelli, one of two top ten finishers from the Petronas Yamaha team, the other being that insolent Fabio Quartararo kid again.
The Big Picture
Marquez’ travails today were a good thing for a handful of highly-ranked riders. Andrea Dovizioso, who skirted disaster after poor practice sessions put him in Q1, leads the championship heading to Europe with 54 points. Rossi sits second at 51, Rins third at 49 and Marquez fourth with 45. How much nicer is this than staring at Marquez sitting on 70 points looking self-satisfied? Dare we hope for another opportunity to Let Valencia Decide?
After Rio Hondo:
Tranche 1: Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow
Tranche 2: Alex Rins, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Maverick Viñales
Tranche 3: Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Fabio Quartararo, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro
Tranche 4: Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Tito Rabat, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira
Tranche 5: Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin
Tranche 1: Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi, Alex Rins
Tranche 2: Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo
Tranche 3: Maverick Viñales, Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro
Tranche 4: Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira
Tranche 5: Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat
Another three-week gap until the riders return at Jerez. I suggest today’s race was an overdue fluke, and that Marquez’ 2019 title is in no danger at all. Even if it is only a temporary respite, it is a respite from the relentless perfection of #93. Those of you who root for riders other than Marquez can live to cheer another day.
Aron Canet, winless in 2018 with Honda and now fronting for KTM, led an Austrian podium lockout, followed by Jaume Masia, who had spent some time way back in P18, and Andrea Migno, all of whom, along with Gabriel Rodrigo and Niccolo Antonelli, had credible chances to win. The final turn was terribly congested up front, anyone’s race, with Canet emerging in the lead to seal the win. Moto3 rocks – Canet became the eighth different rider to win in consecutive races dating back to last year. He and Masia head to Jerez tied for the series lead, tighter than wallpaper.
Swiss veteran Tom Luthi, after a pointless season in MotoGP in 2018, celebrated his personal career resurrection a week earlier than the original, winning easily in Texas on Palm Sunday. Teammate Marcel Schrotter took second, with Jorge Navarro securing his first ever Moto2 podium. Alex Marquez led much of the early going before predictably fading late in the day. The best ride of the day came from Italian guest Mattia Pasini, who stepped on a Triumph-powered bike for the first time on Friday and brought it home in fourth place today, outperforming a couple of dozen riders who’ve had winter testing and two race weekends to get acquainted with the big British bikes.
|2019 MotoGP Rio Hondo Results|
|1||Álex Rins||Suzuki Ecstar||41:43.688|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Monster Energy Yamaha||+0.462|
|3||Jack Miller||Pramac Ducati||+8.454|
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Mission Winnow Ducati||+9.420|
|5||Franco Morbidelli||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+18.021|
|6||Danilo Petrucci||Mission Winnow Ducati||+21.476|
|7||Fabio Quartararo||Petronas Yamaha SRT||+26.111|
|8||Pol Espargaro||Red Bull KTM Factory||+29.743|
|9||Francesco Bagnaia||Pramac Ducati||+30.608|
|10||Takaaki Nakagami||LCR Honda Idemitsu||+31.011|
|11||Maverick Viñales||Monster Energy Yamaha||+34.077|
|12||Andrea Iannone||Aprilia Gresini||+34.779|
|13||Johann Zarco||Red Bull KTM Factory||+42.458|
|14||Miguel Oliveira||Red Bull KTM Tech3||+44.272|
|15||Tito Rabat||Reale Avintia Ducati||+44.623|
|16||Karel Abraham||Reale Avintia Ducati||+44.740|
|17||Joan Mir||Suzuki Ecstar||+48.063|
|18||Hafizh Syahrin||Red Bull KTM Tech3||+1:07.683|
|DNF||Jorge Lorenzo||Repsol Honda||10 Laps|
|DNF||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||12 Laps|
|DNF||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda Castrol||15 Laps|
|DNF||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia Gresini||15 Laps|
|2019 MotoGP Top 10 Standings After 3 Rounds|
|1||Andrea Dovizioso||Mission Winnow Ducati||54|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Monster Energy Yamaha||51|
|3||Álex Rins||Suzuki Ecstar||49|
|4||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||45|
|5||Danilo Petrucci||Mission Winnow Ducati||30|
|6||Jack Miller||Pramac Racing Ducati||29|
|7||Takaaki Nakagami||LCR Honda Idemitsu||22|
|8||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda Castrol||19|
|9||Pol Espargaro||Red Bull KTM Factory||18|
|10||Fabio Quartararo||Petronas Yamaha SRT||17|