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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.

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

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.

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.

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