The 2018 edition of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas will not be remembered as one of the best tilts of all time. Truthfully, it might not make the Top 100. But for defending world champion Marc Marquez, today’s walk in the park restored some order in the championship and washed away the ashes of Argentina. The series, picking up speed, now heads for Europe with the top five riders separated by eight points. Tight as tree bark.
Practice and Qualifying
On Friday, between the dust and the bumpy racing surface, the Circuit of the Americas resembled The Badlands of South Dakota. How a relatively new, “state of the art” track can require re-paving after five or six years is beyond me. According to the riders interviewed, the massive “diamond grinding” effort during the offseason made several sections bumpier. The ubiquitous dust, according to Jack Miller, was worse than Qatar. Video confirmed his claim; it looked like they were running through clouds of cornstarch.
None of these problems would exist at the real circuit of the Americas – Laguna Seca. Even Indianapolis would be better than this.
Anyway, in FP1 two riders, Marquez, naturally, and Valentino Rossi found their way under 2:06. During FP2, four riders eclipsed 2:05, led not by Marquez for the first time ever, but by the suddenly cuddly Andrea Iannone, whose on-track comportment has improved, at least relative to Marquez and Johann Zarco. Marquez, Maverick Viñales and Rossi were all right there, with Marquez sounding more concerned about Viñales. Marquez ran the hard rear most of the day, while Iannone had the soft mounted when he ran his fast lap. Rain was expected on Saturday; a frog-strangler would wash the track and the air, while anything less would leave a frightening thin layer of mud soup just off a narrow racing line.
Naturally, Saturday, in the premier class, was dry as a bone. KTM pilot Pol Espargaro and Ducati tough guy Danilo Petrucci climbed up from Q1 to Q2, marking KTM’s first Q2 in 2018. Notables who failed to pass out of Q1 include Hafizh Syahrin, stuck in 16th place, and Miller, who qualified on pole in Argentina and 18th here two weeks later. WTF Jack? Can’t always have a rapidly-drying track.
Midway through Q2, Marquez folded the front at Turn 13 while on provisional pole, with Iannone (Suzuki), Viñales (Yamaha) and Rossi sharpening their incisors. Once he returned to the track, Marquez laid down another 2:03 lap, apparently sealing his sixth straight pole at COTA. However, #93 found controversy again on Saturday, dawdling around in the racing line late in the session when Viñales suddenly showed up, freaked, and rolled out of his (blistering) lap, raining scads of Spanish invective and gesticulations down on the offending Marquez. British announcer Steve or Matt characterized the obstruction as “a bit cheeky.”
Race Direction thought about this one for a while. After the Argentinian fiasco, when popular opinion was that Marquez got off easy, the stewards decided to penalize the Catalan marvel three grid spots, putting Viñales on pole, joined on the front row by Iannone and – guess who? – Johann Zarco, who struggled on Friday but showed up on Saturday. Ignoring the minor drama, it appeared Marquez had more than enough pace to win on Sunday if he could just manage to keep his nose clean. Heck, with the exceptions of Jorge Lorenzo, Pol Espargaro and the injured Dani Pedrosa, anyone in the first four rows looked capable of making it a Podium Sunday. Marquez starting beside Valentino on the grid put a cherry on it.
It had all the makings of a great race, which is usually a bad sign.
It Was Not a Great Race
Today’s race was riveting until the lead riders made it cleanly through Turn 1. The only hope any of the other contestants had for winning today would have involved Marquez getting skittled out of the race very early. As in Turn 1. Once that failed to materialize, it was pretty much game, set and match. Iannone and his Suzuki took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and were able to withstand the #93 onslaught for most of half a lap. Once Marquez went through cleanly, the battle for second place officially commenced.
Even the battle for second was, um, second-rate. Iannone held off the factory Yamahas of Viñales and Rossi until Lap 7, when Viñales slipped past him. Rossi, apparently still terrified over the fact that Marc Marquez was on the same track as him, made no impression on Iannone and finally settled for a listless fourth place. Johann Zarco, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso had a pretty engaging battle for fifth place today until Cal crashed out on Lap 8. Dovizioso went through on Zarco on Lap 17 and landed in first place for the season, a single point ahead of Marquez.
Crashing out of the podium is nothing new to Cal Crutchlow; he’s been doing it for years. Crashing his way out of the lead for the world championship is, in fact, new, and unlikely to ever happen again. Just sayin’.
Jorge Lorenzo had another miserable day today. Jack Miller made a mess out of qualifying on Saturday but moved up from 18th at the start to 8th at the finish, his sixth consecutive top ten finish. Dani Pedrosa, riding with a freshly fractured right wrist on the most physical circuit on the calendar, managed a semi-miraculous seventh place finish today. Mighty Mite does not lack for courage. Prior to earning his 13 points today, 2018 marked the worst start to a season for Valentino Rossi since 1977. Andrea Dovizioso’s effort at damage limitation in Texas paid off handsomely, as his 11 points were enough to put him on top of the 2018 pile, despite COTA being one of the worst tracks for the Ducati, for whatever reason. And what’s up with Tito Rabat? The dog has finally grown some fangs. Another impressive top ten finish today for the Spaniard. Oh, and another satellite beatdown administered to Jorge Lorenzo. Sweet.
Alex Rins crashed for the second time this year; though he’s sucking in the standings, at least he’s not injured. Meanwhile, Sam Lowes crashed unassisted on Lap 1.
I’m apparently the last one to learn that Pecco Bagnaia, late of Moto2, has already signed his 2019-2020 contract with Pramac Ducati. He outrode Alex Marquez today for his second win of the young season. And Jorge Martin whipped a couple of young Italian riders today in the Moto3 contest. Dude has Alien written all over him. Speaking of which, my boy Joan Mir got beat up in the opening lap today in the Moto2 race and found himself in 24th position midway through Lap 1. He finished the race fourth. Another Alien-in-Waiting.
The Big Picture
Now that the exhibition season is over and the series returns to Europe, we’ve learned who the true title contenders are: Marquez, Dovizioso, and Viñales. With Marquez a prohibitive favorite over either of the other two. He lost at Qatar by three feet. He had the pace to dominate Argentina until the wheels fell off. And he punished the field today in Texas, as usual. The bike is significantly improved over last year.
Viñales appears a year or two away. Dovizioso had about as good a year in 2017 as he’s capable of, and he fell short. The old guys – Rossi, Pedrosa, Crutchlow – will win some races. The young guys – Zarco (?), Iannone, Rins, Miller – will podium, but wins will be hard to come by. On the beachhead of the 2018 season, nobody looks capable of handling Marc Marquez on a regular basis.
Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Viñales
Tranche 2: Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, Zarco
Tranche 3: Rins, Iannone, Miller, Rabat, A. Espagaro, Petrucci, Syahrin
Tranche 4: P. Espargaro, Lorenzo, Nakagami, Morbidelli, Bautista
Tranche 5: Abraham, Simeon, Redding, Smith, Luthi
|2018 MotoGP COTA Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||41:52.002|
|2||Maverick Viñales||Movistar Yamaha||+3.560|
|3||Andrea Iannone||Suzuki Ecstar||+6.704|
|4||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+9.587|
|5||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+13.570|
|6||Johann Zarco||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||+14.231|
|7||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+18.201|
|8||Tito Rabat||Reale Avintia Ducati||+28.537|
|9||Jack Miller||Alma Pramac Ducati||+28.671|
|10||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia Gresini||+28.875|
|11||Jorge Lorenzo||Ducati Corse||+31.355|
|12||Danilo Petrucci||Alma Pramac Ducati||+34.993|
|13||Pol Espargaro||Red Bull KTM||+37.264|
|14||Takaaki Nakagami||LCR Honda Idemitsu||+39.335|
|15||Alvaro Bautista||Angel Nieto Ducati||+40.887|
|16||Bradley Smith||Red Bull KTM||+48.475|
|17||Scott Redding||Aprilia Gresini||+49.995|
|18||Thomas Luthi||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+51.115|
|19||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda Castrol||+59.055|
|20||Xavier Simeon||Reale Avintia Ducati||+59.747|
|21||Franco Morbidelli||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+1:00.513|
|DNF||Alex Rins||Suzuki Ecstar||10 Laps|
|DNF||Hafizh Syahrin||Monster Yamaha Tech3||12 Laps|
|DNF||Karel Abraham||Angel Nieto Ducati||12 Laps|
|2018 MotoGP Top 10 Standings After 3 Rounds|
|1||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||46|
|2||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||45|
|3||Maverick Viñales||Movistar Yamaha||41|
|4||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda Castrol||38|
|5||Johann Zarco||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||38|
|6||Andrea Iannone||Suzuki Ecstar||31|
|7||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||29|
|8||Jack Miller||Alma Pramac Ducati||26|
|9||Tito Rabat||Reale Avintia Ducati||22|
|10||Danilo Petrucci||Alma Pramac Ducati||21|