Following on from the dramatic opening encounter in Qatar, the 2013 MotoGP™ roller-coaster now rumbles on into Texas for the first time. This weekend’s maiden Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas marks the first of three races to be staged in the United States this year.
Back at floodlit Losail, Jorge Lorenzo delivered a convincing start to his second ever season of title defence as he and Yamaha Factory Racing very much dispelled any thoughts that Repsol Honda Team would be enjoying an easy run to the top this year. Backing him up, returning teammate Valentino Rossi shot through the field to seize a dramatic second place in an inspired recovery ride.
So where does this leave Honda? That comes down to opinion. The facts are that Marc Márquez has just enjoyed the best rookie performance for half a decade whereas Dani Pedrosa was unusually off the pace for most of the weekend; even though he was concentrating on race pace in the preceding sessions, the championship runner-up of 2012 still struggled with a distinct lack of rear grip and was overhauled by both Rossi and new teammate Márquez when it came to the race on Sunday night. He is now in need of a convincing comeback, but is likely to have a good chance of that – not least as he is one of few riders to have already sampled the new venue.
Adding to the general pressure of the occasion is the fact that Circuit of the Americas is a huge unknown to most. The factory representatives of Honda and Yamaha conducted a private test there last month, at which they were joined by LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl as well as American CRT wildcard riders Blake Young (Attack Performance) and Michael Barnes (GPTech). That group apart, the field will be sampling the track on Grand Prix machinery for the first time as sweeping curves, constant direction changes and tight hairpins are interspersed by several, high-speed straight sections.
Circuit of the Americas, around 25 minutes’ drive outside state capital city Austin, will offer the MotoGP field a new confrontation as it contrasts with California’s ever-challenging Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Curiously, the current trio of American MotoGP tracks are all of an anti-clockwise nature.
As the race starts at the more usual time of 2pm, the Grand Prix of Americas brings the first three-day weekend of the campaign (as Qatar’s event is spread across four days in order to have all track activity at night). Perhaps more importantly, the community will witness for the first time the prospect of the crucial third practice session taking place just hours before qualifying.
Back at Losail, there was a flurry of lap times as the favoured runners looked to confirm their positions in Q2. As this weekend’s second practice will occur amid cooler temperatures on Friday evening, it is almost certain that the late FP3 rush – when bike setups will be more suited to the circuit – will be a cause for excitement once again.
One man striving to make the pole position shootout, perhaps more than anybody, will be Ben Spies as he enjoys the privilege of riding in such familiar territory for the first time. The Ignite Pramac Racing rider – still nursing a shoulder injury – is one of five Americans contesting this weekend’s race, which will be a good reason in itself for crowds to flock to the scene.
As well as sharing the track with the aforementioned Young and Barnes, Spies will also be racing alongside 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden (Ducati Team) and Colin Edwards (NGM Mobile Forward Racing). An American rider is yet to win a MotoGP race in his home country since Hayden took the chequered flag for Repsol Honda Team at Laguna Seca seven years ago.
Qatar delivered a dramatic opening to the 2013 Moto2™ campaign, as Britain’s Scott Redding so nearly spoiled Pol Espargaró’s perfect opening start to the year. The pre-season favourite prevailed and he remains the benchmark as the sport heads to Circuit of the Americas (COTA) for the first time.
He may have started from pole position at Losail, but Tuenti HP 40’s Espargaró fell behind both Marc VDS Racing Team’s Redding and Italtrans Racing Team’s Takaaki Nakagami in the initial stages. He would fight back. Japan’s Nakagami fell to third but still picked up a well-deserved career-first podium finish, whereas Redding made a recovery of his own and touched Espargaró’s bike on a highly dramatic final lap.
Technomag carXpert’s Dominique Aegerter will be hoping to carry his impressive form through to Texas, as the Swiss rider put in a great performance for fourth last time out, while Redding’s teammate Mika Kallio will aim to carry through his qualifying feats into the race.
The first Moto3™ race of 2013 proved to be a thriller. What they may lack in experience they made up for in excitement, as a five-rider group battled for the lead at Losail. Spain’s Luis Salom, judging his race to perfection, came out on top; he now has a lead to defend as the sport travels to Austin for the very first time.
No less than four upcoming stars led the first Grand Prix of the year. Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Salom may have shot ahead in the closing stages, but had been forced to deal with mighty strong challenges from Estrella Galicia 0,0 pairing Álex Rins and Álex Márquez as well as pre-season favourite Maverick Viñales of Team Calvo, whose challenge has been hindered by a pre-season testing crash and its subsequent pain.
Honda-powered machines struggled at the fast and flowing Qatar track and will be hoping that the varied nature of COTA will work more in their favour.