After an exhausting, confusing and ultimately revelatory weekend in Argentina, MotoGP boogies 4500 miles north to Austin, deep in the heart of Texas, for Round 3 of the 2016 season. Since its inception in 2013, the pretentiously-named Circuit of the Americas has hosted an annual Honda clambake, the other teams invited mostly to fill the grid and add to the festival atmosphere. Repsol Honda pretty boy Marc Marquez has started and won from pole all three years, and looks ready to do the same on Sunday.
Before examining the prospects for the riders and teams on Sunday, let’s take a few moments to savor the ridiculous spectacle that was the Grand Prix of Argentina, including:
- The great 2016 tire fiasco which, we trust, will not be repeated this year;
- The weather, ranging from apocalyptic heat on Friday to rain and treacherous track conditions on Sunday;
- The outstanding performances turned in by Marquez, Aspar Ducati’s Eugene Laverty, Suzuki hot property Maverick Vinales, Avintia Ducati’s Hector Barbera and factory Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso, last seen pushing his GP16 across the finish line after getting de-pantsed by teammate and road hazard Andrea Iannone;
- The rhetorical tour de force of Cal Crutchlow, who, after the race, put on a masterful display of conditional verb tenses explaining why he coulda, woulda and shoulda podiumed after crashing twice during the race. In doing so, he finished in a dead heat with the racing surface at Rio Hondo in the widely-followed Abrasiveness Challenge;
- The feast-to-famine fortunes of the factory Ducati team, the Dueling Andreas having gotten the best of Valentino Rossi, moments away from a double podium finish, that put on display for the world the alarmingly low racing IQ of The Rider Formerly Known as Crazy Joe Iannone. Dovi’s post-race comments did little to hide the disdain with which he holds his teammate and lend credence to the speculation that he may jump to Suzuki next year. With Lorenzo rumored to be weighing a switch to Ducati in 2017, Iannone’s comportment may become a topic of conversation in Jorge’s contract negotiations;
- The bitterness and acrimony directed toward Ducati Corse by pretty much every non-Ducati pilot on the grid, blaming the Italian factory for the entire tire fiasco and flaming Dorna for kowtowing to Dall’Igna and Company;
- In the junior classes, an incredible come-out-of-nowhere Moto3 win by Khairul Idham Pawi for the first win ever by a Malaysian rider in any class, and by a full 26 seconds! (Tickets for the Sepang round in October sold out 11 minutes after the conclusion of the race.) An unthinkable Malaysian 1-2 finish was spoiled only by the terrible luck of one Adam Norrodin, who went high side a few seconds before the flag and had to push the remains of his bike across the line, limping badly, for the best 11th place finish you’re likely to see this year. Fellow Malaysian rider Hafizh Syahrin, with a competitive 6th place finish in Moto2, currently sits in fourth position for the year, ahead of luminaries such as Alex Rins, Jonas Folger and Danny Kent. Having attended the 2014 Malaysian Grand Prix, these young men will return home as deities in their historically polytheistic culture. Kudos to all three.
Recent History at COTA
The last three years of what I think of as the Texas Grand Prix can be summed up in two words: Marc Marquez. He finished semi-comfortably in front of teammate Dani Pedrosa and Lorenzo in 2013, becoming the youngest rider ever to win a premier class race. He overwhelmed Pedrosa in 2014 by over four seconds, with Dovizioso a further 17 seconds behind on his Ducati. Last year it was Dovi finishing second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful race.
I’ve recently reviewed a number of my predictions from the past seven seasons, most of which have been terrible. The single exception came from the COTA results article in 2013, a bit of which is reproduced here:
Suddenly, everyone else on the grid looks old, slow and uptight. Each time he’s interviewed, Marquez comes across as a happy, humble, regular kind of guy. Watching him come up through the 125s and Moto2, like a hot knife through butter, you got the clear impression he was going to be successful one day in the premier class. In only his second race onboard the Honda RC213V, he has now come of age, at a track he is liable to dominate for the next decade. In doing so, he has become my favorite to win the 2013 world championship.
OK, so we know now that the happy, humble thing was an act, that he is as steely-eyed and aggressive as they come, fully capable of hatred, anger and loss of emotional control. Big deal. These guys, as a species, are as competitive as anyone on the planet. To compete at a championship level in motorcycle racing, you can’t be a cuddly little puppy; you need to be a miniature Rottweiler with a bad disposition, as long as you remember to smile and wave at any MotoGP video cams aimed in your direction.
A final thought concerning Marquez: Either he gets professionally shaved every morning on race weekends, or he hasn’t yet started shaving. I have never EVER seen him with any kind of stubble on his chin. One imagines him at home in Spain, dozens of lithe Spanish cuties hanging all over him, wondering what to do. (Too bad he’s no longer on speaking terms with Vale, who could probably give him a lesson or 12 in that area.)
WSBK and Nicky Hayden
Several fans of this column have commented recently wondering a) why MO doesn’t assign me to cover World Superbike and b) how Nicky Hayden is doing in Triple A ball. The answer to the first question is that I don’t really follow WSBK, along with the fact that MO can only stand so much of my gibberish. As to the second, Nicky, fronting the Honda World Superbike team, sits in 8th place after this past weekend with 41 points. Series leader Johnny Rea, MotoGP Wannabe, has gathered 131 points on the factory Kawasaki team. It appears Hayden’s hope of becoming the only rider to win world championships in both series is, at best, premature.
Your Weekend Forecast
Marquez for the win, followed by Pedrosa and Dovizioso or Rossi.
As for the weather, at this time Weather.com is calling for cloudy and breezy conditions, temps in the low 80’s, with a chance of rain on Sunday morning. Anything short of a tornado or freak blizzard falls under the heading of “Honda weather,” the hotter the better.
Team Yamaha must feel somewhat dispirited after last weekend, with Lorenzo having struggled all weekend and Rossi extremely fortunate to podium. Iannone gets sent back a full row on the starting grid after his brain fart on Sunday, and COTA is not a layout that will be super friendly for the Suzukis.
If you have access to the live broadcast – seriously, think about subscribing to the Dorna video feed – the race goes off at 3 pm EDT. We’ll have results and instant analysis right here on Sunday evening.