The run-up to the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Maverick Viñales and Honda triple world champion Marc Marquez. All day long, the British announcing crew was breathlessly prancing about the broadcast booth, pondering the sheer wonder of it all, going absolutely hyperbolic. Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game.

Practice, Practice, Practice

FP1: Viñales was in charge, not having received the memo about Marquez’ ownership position at COTA. FP2 was led by Marquez, snatched from Johann Zarco; Viñales right behind, trimming his cuticles. FP3 was Viñales, Dani Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow and Marquez.

Johann Zarco continues to impress, qualifying onto the second row and finishing fifth for the second-straight race.

Something had to be done about the weirdness in the standings heading into Austin. Early in the season, MotoGP seemed to have fallen through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Yamaha is just taking it to Honda – the 2016 M1 is competitive with the 2017 RC213V. All four Yamahas sit in the top 11 for the season after the opening two rounds, including the two rookies. Crutchlow led all Hondas, tied with Yamaha Tech 3 rookie Jonas Folger. Fellow rookie Johann Zarco is on the move, a mere five points behind Folger and Crutchlow. Three Ducs rest in the top ten led by, of all people, Scott Redding in fourth.

It was time to come up from the rabbit hole. Time to return to Europe. Just one more foreign outing in Texas to endure before things could return back to normal.

Establishing Positions

Marc Marquez continued to dominate in Austin, once again taking the pole.

Q2 saw a few things put right, beyond the fact that Viñales and Marquez stand head and shoulders above the rest of the field, a bunch of Aliens and wannabees slugging it out for supporting spots in the top ten. Viñales delivered the first sub-2:04 lap of the day with maybe 30 seconds left in the session. 20 seconds later, Marquez flogged his Honda to a fifth straight pole in Texas, from which he had won the previous four races. Rossi snuck onto the front row late in the session, creating a second row of Dani Pedrosa, the impudent Zarco on the satellite Yamaha, and one Jorge Lorenzo, clad in white and red. Oh, and perhaps the save of the season, by Loris Baz late in the session.

Lorenzo and Jack Miller had made it through Q1, with Lorenzo putting the Ducati as high as fourth position before settling for sixth. Zarco had been up near the top of the timesheets again all weekend, putting pressure on a lot of factory rides. Miller crashed out of Q2 and appeared to be trotting back to the garage “gingerly,” his inevitable early-season injury having possibly arrived. Pedrosa was hanging around in fourth, back to starting up front with the big dogs.

In support of my blog, Rossi and Viñales had their first set-to on Saturday during qualifying, with Viñales seemingly cheesed off about Rossi cruising on the racing line. Race Direction was later said to be considering sending a strongly-worded letter to Lin Jarvis asking him for “best efforts to prevail” upon The Franchise not to seriously injure The New Kid in Town.

The Race Itself

The 2017 American Grand Prix was more parade than firefight. The factory Hondas and Yamahas emerged from the early chaos to form up the leading group, with Dani Pedrosa front and center. Cal Crutchlow got clear of The Great Unwashed, and there was even a Jorge Lorenzo sighting around fifth place on the first lap. The usual suspects quickly found themselves strung out along the bumps and potholes littering the Circuit of the Americas, which stands in need of a paving crew.

Maverick Viñales' race was over after just two laps, his first mistake of his career at Yamaha.

Maverick Viñales’ race was over after just two laps, his first mistake of his career at Yamaha.

Although it took 21 laps and 45 minutes to confirm it, the race basically came down to four moves. 1) Viñales crashed late on Lap 2, leaving Pedrosa, Marquez, Rossi and Johann Zarco in the lead group. 2) Marquez took the lead from Pedrosa on Lap 9. 3) Rossi and Zarco came together a few minutes later, the Frenchman pushing Rossi wide to the right where he could cut back and increase his lead, incurring a hypothetical .3 second penalty that amounted to nothing but had the announcers, fully recovered from Viñales’ crash, happy to find something new to go mental over. 4) Rossi went through on Pedrosa on Lap 19.

Game. Set. Match

042317-rossi-zarco-yamaha-motogp

Johann Zarco forced Valentino Rossi to run straight through an S-curve. And while he didn’t intend to do it, Race Direction ruled Rossi still had an obligation not to gain an advantage and docked him a 0.3 second penalty. In the end, the penalty did not affect Rossi’s second-place finish.

Andrea Dovizioso being interviewed elsewhere about his place in the Ducatisphere:

Q: So why can’t the problems (with the GP17) be solved?

A: “There’s a big difference between understanding the problems and solving them.”

Quoted elsewhere, it seems Andrea “The Maniac” Iannone has finally accepted as fact something the rest of the planet observed late last season. This, allegedly, is News You Need: ‘Andrea Iannone says he is resigned to having to race with a top speed deficit with Suzuki throughout the 2017 MotoGP season.’ Please refer to the above quote from Dovi with regard to this revelation.

The good news for Jorge Lorenzo is he qualified sixth at COTA. The bad news is he finished ninth.

Rubbing salt in the wound, I’m pretty sure that Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone stole Jorge Lorenzo’s lunch money over the last few laps of the race. We could be charitable and suppose JLo’s tires gave up on him. Or we could be hateful and small and speculate that he got out-cojoñed by the two Italians.

The Big Picture

With Viñales’ feet replanted in terra firma after an otherworldly start to his Yamaha career, we can now have a straightforward, adult conversation about the state of the MotoGP championship after three rounds. The factory Yamahas and Hondas appear significantly ahead of everyone else early in the season. Rossi and Viñales are frightening, Viñales for his sheer speed, Rossi for his strategic brilliance. Marquez has atoned for his crash in Argentina and will push The Boys in Blue for the entire season. The factory Ducati program is in deep yogurt, Dovizioso hanging onto fourth place by his fingernails while grasping bad luck with both hands. LCR Honda stud Cal Crutchlow continues to nose around the top of the standings, his crash at Losail all that stands between him and a top three ranking.

Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez secured their first podiums of the season. Valentino Rossi scored his third to take over the championship lead.

Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez secured their first podiums of the season. Valentino Rossi scored his third to take over the championship lead.

So, order has been restored at the top of the MotoGP food chain just in time to return to racing in Europe. Aliens occupy the top three spots in the standings. Near-Aliens (semi-Aliens?) sit fourth and fifth, while the Alien Emeritus stands sixth. The apparently brilliant Johann Zarco has seventh place all to himself, while teammate Jonas Folger is tied for eighth place with Pramac Ducati pilot Scot Redding and Jack Miller. My boy Alex Rins, previously nursing a bad ankle, suffered a compound fracture of his wrist during practice this weekend and is out until further notice.

And Jorge Lorenzo, who sold his Alien Card for filthy lucre, sits counting his money in 13th place, with 12 points to show for his first three acts with Ducati.

A Look Ahead

The DNF dropped Maverick Viñales out of the points lead but he remains second by just six points and remains one of the favorites to take it all.

The DNF dropped Maverick Viñales out of the points lead but he remains second by just six points and remains one of the favorites to take it all.

Two weeks from now MotoGP blasts into the Spanish Riviera. The racing will be at Jerez, while the action in the evening will be on The Strip in Cadiz. Maverick Viñales, despite the good vibes associated with a return to home soil, probably will not be in the gift-giving mood in which he found himself today.

Excuse me while I butcher the old Smith Barney one-liner. If they want spots on the podium next time out, Rossi and Marquez will probably have to do it the old-fashioned way.

They’ll have to earn it.

2017 MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas Race Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda 43:58.770
2 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha +3.069
3 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda +5.112
4 Cal Crutchlow LCR Honda +7.638
5 Johann Zarco Monster Yamaha Tech 3 +7.957
6 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse +14.058
7 Andrea Iannone Suzuki Ecstar +15.491
8 Danilo Petrucci Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati +16.772
9 Jorge Lorenzo Ducati Corse +17.979
10 Jack Miller Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +18.494
11 Jonas Folger Monster Yamaha Tech3 +18.903
12 Scott Redding Octo Pramac Ducati +28.735
13 Tito Rabat Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +30.041
14 Hector Barbera Avintia Racing +31.364
15 Alvaro Bautista Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati +1:06.547
16 Bradley Smith Red Bull KTM +1:22.090
17 Aleix Espargaro Aprilia Gresini +2 Laps
Not Classified
DNF Sam Lowes Aprilia Gresini 10 Laps
DNF Pol Espargaro Red Bull KTM 12 Laps
DNF Loris Baz Reale Avintia Ducati 13 Laps
DNF Maverick Viñales Movistar Yamaha 20 Laps
DNF Karel Abraham Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati 20 Laps
2017 MotoGP Top 10 Standings After 3 Rounds
1 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 56
2 Maverick Viñales Yamaha 50
3 Marc Marquez Honda 38
4 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 30
5 Cal Crutchlow Honda 29
6 Dani Pedrosa Honda 27
7 Johann Zarco Yamaha 22
8 Jonas Folger Yamaha 21
9 Scott Redding Ducati 21
10 Jack Miller Honda 21
  • Gruf Rude

    The slo-mo shot of Marquez looking smooth entering a corner with the rear wheel a foot off the pavement tells me that if Honda wins the manufacturer’s title, it will not be by engineering prowess.

    • john phyyt

      Yes; but the bike must be okay over a lap. Pedrosa third! And Crutchlow fourth. Maybe KTM will win it .. Oh that is right just need more time ; Chasis just needs tweeking bla bla bla.

      • That’s ‘blah blah blah” actually. 🙂

      • BDan75

        I keep wondering if Pol and Brad are looking at the Tech 3 boys and wondering just what the hell they were thinking last year.

        Of course, then they probably look at their account balances and forget all about it…

        • In a soft spoken, workingman’s British accent, “At the end of the day, it’s just that we both want to win. It explains why we would turn our backs on a low pay package and a highly competitive year-old M1 for this bucket that will, in all likelihood, become really competitive a year or two after they fire us. Meanwhile we just need to live with The Benjamins and not hurt ourselves too badly. I DO hate that he beats me every time out, I tell ya.”

  • JMDGT

    I’m giving myself a three second penalty. It could really get interesting a few more races in.

  • Starmag

    I never like to see crashes, but Mav’s may have saved us some beginning-of-the-season tedium. I’m sure Hobbes is not pleased though, since I’m told “he’s a man eater and roots for Vinales”.

    Bruce is right about the best save of the season for Baz, but Motogp’s “Could be the greatest save of all time…” is hyperbole. Baz will have to try a lot harder to top this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC-8Mwp-rTc&list=PLGa60PlAnk0ALkfdhcnJaA_KOABJUo3_C&index=29

    • Find the film of Marquez stepping off his RC at about 180 mph at Mugello, walking away while the machine was shredded. Set a record for highest exit speed.

      • Starmag

        Well, that wasn’t a save or MM wouldn’t have ended up looking like Schumacher.

        • Cold. Another name for these “fail saves” could be A De Angelis, as exemplified by a Moto2 practice crash I saw live at Jerez in 2010 that he walked away from. PS to everyone–showing stuff where guys do not walk away is not funny and won’t happen here. This, however, is excellent. Forgive me if the video includes some kind of commercial.
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2BpjijDBRQ

    • spiff

      The feline says it was on purpose. Race direction said make it an interesting year or they would start his team mate at the back of the field again. Apparently the .3 was to show that they aren’t kidding. Apparently Vinales is quite honorable for a human.

  • Buzz

    The sun was out and it was much nicer at the track today except for the damn wind. It never stopped and my lips look like someone dragged a cheese grater across them.

    Marquez is still Captain America.

    • Red Bull noticed Marquez, who received an upgraded brolly girl to help keep him cool. Cool he is.

    • Anyone ever notice anything wrong with Buzz’s lips?

      • JMDGT

        Buzz is an inspiration to all of us. Women want to be with him. Men want to be him. He works tirelessly to help the less fortunate. Juggling his numerous charitable works in between running a business and providing world class consultation to countless heads of state around the globe he still finds time to work at the Hollywood and South Central soup kitchens. Not to mention the many local and global cat rescue organizations he supports financially. He is a man for all seasons.

        • Buzz

          I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.

    • Old MOron

      “my lips look like someone dragged a cheese grater across them”

      Perhaps you need to be a little more discerning about where you apply your cunning linguistics.

  • Old MOron

    In this video, Dovi says the tires were not an issue, and Jorge says he wore out his front tire. This is interesting because Dovi is supposed to be such a demon braker, and Jorge is supposed to be so smooth. http://www.motogp.com/en/videos/2017/04/24/motogp-riders-on-the-americasgp-race/ I guess I must be feeling hateful and small at this time, because I can’t help noticing that Petrucci, a much heavier rider on the same bike, also didn’t seem to have any tire issues.

    No I guess I’m not feeling hateful and small, because I don’t doubt Jorge’s cojones. He’s a fierce competitor. I guess he just couldn’t make his bike work. Oh well, if he has sold his Alien Card, he does have filthy lucre to console himself.

    I feel bad for Rins. He insisted on having the factory Suzuki. But he’s had nothing but trouble with it.

    • It is way too early to write off Rins. Compound fracture of the wrist is about as bad as it gets, though. Gruesome.

      • BDan75

        I hadn’t heard it was compound. Man, that’s nasty.

    • Gruf Rude

      Pedrosa (and others) said the right side of his tire gave out toward the end and Vinales said his front tire was ‘strange’ and caused his early slide. Set-up and riding style may be part of it, but there have been enough similar complaints that Michelin quality control can’t be ruled out.
      (edit: thinking about Mav and his ‘strange’ Michelin, it just occurred to me that Rossi and Michelin have always been VERY close . . .;>)

  • gjw1992

    Yet another terrific race. Crutchlow looking smooth. Which was a surprise.

    And a shame Canet in moto 3 went the same way as Zarco in Qatar.

    • Barry_Allen

      A real shame about Canet. He was out front and looked like no one could catch him before the restart.

      Here’s what caused a Red Flag, resulting in a restart for a 12 lap race instead of the original 18 lap distance. Number 27, Kaito Toba did make the restart. Unfortunately, he also crashed out of race two.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nu1J_8pVpug

      Here’s the end of John Canet’s day. He appears to just clip the paint before the sudden shift to asphalt while braking ruined what was until then an incredible weekend for him. Eventually he got up and walked back to the garage.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJbQkqv91UQ

      And a blurry vid of Chip’s Mamola-like save. It’s not a impressive as Randy on a 500cc 2-stroke, but I sure wouldn’t want to try it.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ped2ljQy5hw

  • As a fan, I get a boost from the idea that we’ll have, all things equal, Marquez, Vinales, Crutchlow, Zarco, Morbidelli and more to watch over the coming years. Getting more Moto2 and Moto3-ish, with big leading groups and seasons that are tight at the top. 20 race seasons including places like Finland and Thailand. Punking F1.

    • gjw1992

      F1? When was it Ecclestone moaned about too much overtaking in moto gp?

    • Old MOron

      YOU forgot to mention Rins?

  • Barry_Allen

    In the movie “The Man Who Would Be King” there’s a point where Sean Connery is wounded and, seeing the blood, the natives shout “He’s not a god, he’s just a man.” After COTA, Viñales is now “just an alien.” Apparently falling for all the hype being written about him, Maverick couldn’t take the idea of being in fourth place with nineteen laps to go and pushed himself into the fool’s errand of using his bike’s fairing as a gravel scoop.

    Pedrosa, the proverbial big bomb with a long fuse, may blow-up the top step of the podium early this year if he keeps racing like he did Sunday. Two wins for Dani this year, anyone?

    Nakarin “Chip” Atiratphuvapat’s (say it three times, fast) save in Moto3, doing his best Tom Cruise-Mission Impossible impersonation with both feet on the ground to the left of the bike after being thrown, all the while still steering it before jumping back on and continuing, was a better moment than Baz’s save to me. “Shades of Mamola” the announcers called it. Although a repeat of Baz’s rodeo moves may bring about the advent of hip sliders if he makes a habit of them.

    Canet, after his spectacular crash, (“I didn’t think a Moto3 bike could high-side that hard,” was the commentator’s reaction) sat on the ground for way too long for a man who moved as quickly as he did when he finally got up. The speculation, that he may have been playing for a second red flag, seems possible, if not probable. I would have preferred it if he hadn’t crashed though, as he and Fenati were having the best battle of the day.
    Second best was Crutchlow/Zarco for best independent in MotoGP.

    John McPhee gaining a point on points leader Mir while simultaneously losing a place in the standings, indicates what a twisted little knot the Moto3 championship may become. (You really should watch Moto3, Bruce. Teenage boys going as fast as possible on 250cc motorcycles might be a disaster on the street, but it’s a hoot on the track.)

    As for Marquez… He’s never lost in America. Any track, any class. Don’t bet against Captain America when he brings out the Stars and Stripes helmet. Vibranium makes motorcycles go fast.

    • Old MOron

      Hey Barry, any relation to Bruce?

    • Dude goes on like he wants my job. So what if he brings more to the table than I do? Still got the Random Slur Generator and Captain America going for me.

      • Barry_Allen

        You’re my inspiration, Bruce. I’d hit the ground like Alex Marquez in Argentina if I tried to keep up with you. Reading John Burns’ work for nearly 30 years may have affected me as well.

        • Reading John Burns for 30 years should make you some kind of laboratory test subject. Surprised you can still read at all.

      • BDan75

        My friend, if you moved to a place where this stuff was more popular, you’d stand a damn good chance of actually getting *paid* to do this. Maybe even going to the races!

        • Perhaps, but in those places they have guys who can kind of write but who actually know stuff about bikes and racing and all the junk I just make up. I could write the hell out of the NFL, which I actually understand, only there’s about a thousand other guys who know more and write better. Besides, when you think about it. it’s pretty unbelievable that anyone anywhere would publish this stuff as “sports.” Low comedy, sure, but sports?

          • Prakasit

            Made up or not, I thoroughly enjoy your write ups. Your sense of humor suits me. “See you” again in about 2 weeks. Congrats on the podium prediction BTW.

          • Y’know, I forgot to gloat over that one. I submit my previews to my editor by Tuesday morning, without any idea who may do well during practice, etc. It also occurs to me that, statistically, predicting two Spaniards and an Italian has been a decent bet since Stoner said, “Yes, dear.”

          • Prakasit

            Speaking of Stoner, I am vacillating between good on you buddy and wishing he was back in action. For now, I am satisfied with watching the new guys challenging the establishment and 46 fighting father time.

          • I would have paid good money to watch Lorenzo team up with Stoner on a factory Ducati team. Wonder if Stoner could toss the GP17 around the way he used to throw the GP7?

  • Vrooom

    Crutchlow’s going to be insufferable if he continues this success. Jorge starting in 6th and finishing 9th, that’s not good. I have to wonder if Jorge’s ego is good enough to be satisfied with just filthy lucre?

    • Old MOron

      Probably not. But in two year’s time, if he wants to come back to Yamaha, he’ll be competing with the likes of Zarco, Rins, Morbidelli, etc.

      • spiff

        I like Crutchlow and love to see him have a good run, but he is Christmas cake on new years eve as far as the factories are concerned.

        • Old MOron

          I think that must be how Suzuki felt about Zarco, too, even though he’s only twenty-six. I hope he has a long career with Yamaha.

          • spiff

            I also hope Honda keeps rewarding Crutchlow with factory bits. He is earning them.

    • BDan75

      Is Crutchlow worse when winning or losing? I’m not sure…

      I’m moving opposite Bruce. Used to be okay with the guy, find myself liking him less as time passes.

      • He’s keeping a much lower profile this year now that he hasn’t had to generate as many excuses this season compared to the last few. Very likable guy if he would just. Keep. His. Cakehole. Shut.

  • spiff

    I believe that it is utter crap that race direction believes that in the heat of the moment a rider should know that he gained .3.

    This is the way I see it. Rossi was concentrating on a task. Then that was interpreted when the other bike touched him. He vacated the immediate area to not get involved in a situation that he still does not comprehend. Then he sees all good, and gets back to racing. This was not an elaborate plan to shorten the track.

    Race direction needs more racers and fewer pencil pushers.

    • I thought for sure I’d get some flack over the letter from Race Direction. Funny to me!

  • spiff

    I am not a Lorenzo fan, but I thought it was good he put in a decent lap for qualifying. I think he will learn how to ride the bike, and they will build the 2018 bike around him. That said the Yamaha he left was built around him.

  • Ian Parkes

    Great to see Marquez back and to see a further refinement to his recipe of finding the limits by exceeding them in practice. He appeared to have given himself just a tad more space on the right side of them in the race this time and stayed upright. Really interesting to watch him learning, admitting in the press conference a win by 2 secs only gets you the same points as a win by 10 secs. But Vinales on the sweet Yamaha is still a better bet than the incredible Marquez on a stroppy Honda. Yet The Doctor still leads! MotoGP: Best motorsport ever.

    • Very much how The Grateful Dead would develop new songs, the opposite way of most bands. Garcia & Co would figure new songs out in concert, on the road, during jams, then go into the studio, put them together with a set of words, and record them. Marquez figures things out in practice, then goes out–with the notable exception of Argentina–and applies them. Lots to learn every time out on the Honda.

      • Vrooom

        All those great motorcycle truisms and a Dead reference, you are a man of many talents sir.

        • The Attics of my Mind are a very cluttered place.

  • Ian Parkes

    I wonder if the owners of COTA will heed Rossi’s feedback and get some advice on fixing the track properly this time? Perhaps American road builders don’t know any more than their Kiwi colleagues. Almost every year they have to fix a section of main road here that dips into a coastal swamp. I can’t help thinking they need to import some Dutch road building expertise. Most of their beautiful, sturdy roads are built below sea level. German roads also amazing.

    • Born to Ride

      The German roads I have sampled were garbage surface quality. That being said. LA freeways…

  • Kos

    Nice writeup, Bruce.

    ROSSI!

    Could have been a great show between Vinales and Marquez. I’m sure we’ll get one, yet.

    Agreed, a bit of a parade.

    Rossi penalized for something completely out of his control. Ridiculous. Nothing he could control. This is motorsport, not some reproducible endpoint titration conducted in a climate controlled laboratory.

    The U.S announcers for Bein Sports seemed to know their stuff, but possibly on Xanax, or just awakened from a nice nap? I’m looking forward to a return to Nick Harris. I can’t always understand every word he says, but that man has the passion!

    ROSSI!