Heavy hitter: can Marquez stay pitch perfect in Austin?
The Spaniard has already hit the opposition for six in Texas. Will 2019 be a lucky number seven?
Monday, 08 April 2019
So here we are…another season, another visit to the stunning Circuit of the Americas and another opportunity to look through the magnificent record of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) at the track. A modern classic, a technical challenge and one of the longest laps of the year, Austin is a different beast to Argentina but in six visits to the venue since its debut there’s only ever been a lone star: Marquez. Will this year be any different?
There are two self-explanatory ways that Marquez could lose his grip the top step: someone else could beat him, or he could make a mistake. The first has seen many try and fail, but the likes of Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), teammate Maverick Viñales and Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) have all been on the podium at COTA. Viñales also took his first Moto2™ win there and has shown good pace, most notably in 2017 when it looked to be headed for a Viñales-Marquez showdown before the former crashed, and last year when he took second. Then there’s Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) and although the Brit hasn’t been on the podium in Austin yet, and he’ll be on the war path to bounce back after his ride through penalty and jump start in Argentina. He’s still top Independent Team rider in the standings too, ahead of teammate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and fourth-place Termas finisher Jack Miller (Pramac Racing). Suzuki factory man Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), meanwhile, is the only man on the grid with a win at COTA in both of the smaller classes, so he only needs a MotoGP™ victory at the venue to complete the hat trick – and there was a Hamamatsu factory machine on the podium last year…
There is another name who stands out as having visited the rostrum a couple of times in the premier class though: key title challenger Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati). Bad luck and trouble have struck ‘DesmoDovi’ in Texas more than once, but the number 04 has shown some good speed there. Argentina also served to highlight once again the progress made by Ducati, with the Italian taking his first podium at Termas de Rio Hondo and significantly further up the mix than in the last couple of seasons. A good omen for this race? Time will tell, but with only four points between him and Marquez in the Championship – now in favour of the Argentina GP winner – he’ll want to do some more damage limitation at the very least before we head to tracks traditionally more suited to the Italian machine.
So what of the second option? Marquez has oft seemed nigh on infallible and his records at COTA and the Sachsenring – the two venues where he has never been beaten in the premier class – show that side of the coin. But crashes and mistakes at tracks where he has had the pace – Argentina, Aragon, Phillip Island – show the other; it’s never an easy task to convert that speed into a victory. The question is, then, can that perfect record last forever in Texas? Over 20 laps of 20 corners an awful lot can happen.
That’s true throughout the field, and in the battle for Rookie of the Year, it’s Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who leads the way, albeit equal on points with Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). The Frenchman took the honour of top rookie in Argentina and the Spaniard in Qatar, and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) scored his first points at Termas de Rio Hondo with an incredibly impressive 11th – just a couple of tenths off top KTM Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), who got the marque’s first top ten at the venue and their first of the year. But his fellow rookies’ speed leaves the second fastest man at the Sepang Test, Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing), currently trailing the trio and he’ll be looking to hit back in Texas. MotoGP™ is a story far more intricate that just who stands on the top step.
Tune in for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas for the next chapter, where Marquez will be aiming to destroy the opposition once again. But for those chasing him, like Dovizioso, they say at least being on the podium on a bad day is the secret to becoming a Champion – and he certainly did that in Argentina. Can he repeat the feat in Austin? Find out on Sunday 14th April when MotoGP™ saddle up at 14:00 (GMT -5) and remember – this is far from a two-horse race.