Heavy hitter: can Marquez stay pitch perfect in Austin?

2019-04-08 07:47
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.
Championship Standings
Marc Marquez (SPA) - 45
Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) - 41
Valentino Rossi (ITA) - 31
Alex Rins (SPA) - 24
Danilo Petrucci (ITA) - 20
Lorenzo Baldassarri vs the United States of America
COTA hasn’t traditionally been a top track for the Championship leader. Will that change in 2019?
50 points, a 100% win rate and a top job on tactics has seen Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) take an early hold on the 2019 Moto2™ World Championship but next up it’s a venue that hasn’t seen the Italian enjoy much success: the Circuit of the Americas. His only result inside the top twenty at the track came last season as he took tenth, but that was then and this is now. Pace and confidence are nine-tenths of the victory, so can Baldassarri finally take on Texas and win in 2019?

With a cast of potential and proven rivals, it’s going to be more mountain than molehill. Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is a former polesitter, took second last year after challenging eventual winner Francesco Bagnaia and bothered the podium battle the year before. That battle was one that saw Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) play a big role as he took second in it, making it one apiece for two of the biggest names in the field. Dominique Aegerter (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward), who makes his 200th start this weekend, is the other rider who’s previously been on the podium at COTA – albeit on different machinery. And there’s only one man still on the grid who has a race win in Austin to his name: Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2).

Lowes crashed out in Argentina after showing good pace – just like and just next to Lüthi – but the Brit was almost two seconds clear when he took victory in the Americas GP in 2015. 2016 saw Lowes take another podium, too, so the form book says he’ll be one to watch.

So can Marquez build on his podium form? Can Lüthi and Lowes bounce back? Can the newer frontrunners on the block like first time podium finisher in Argentina, Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team), keep their pace rolling? And what of home hero, Joe Roberts (American Team KTM), racing on home turf? It’s a place he knows better than many.

Tune in to the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas on Sunday 14th April to see who can lay down the law as Moto2™ go racing at 12:20 (GMT -5).
Championship Standings
Lorenzo Baldassarri (ITA) - 50
Remy Gardner (AUS) - 33
Marcel Schrötter (GER) - 27
Alex Marquez (SPA) - 25
Tom Lüthi (SWI) - 20
The first timers vie to upset the veterans in Texas
After Toba in Qatar and Masia in Argentina, can another fresh face strike for the win at the Circuit of the Americas?
In Qatar it was Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) who took his first Grand Prix win and in Argentina the pattern became such with Jaume Masia’s (Bester Capital Dubai) impressive victory – adding to Can Öncü's (Red Bull KTM Ajo) victory in Valencia last year. It's the first time first timers have taken three wins in a row since Moto3™ began, so there’s an obvious question as we head north to the USA: will it be four first time winners in a row? There are plenty of candidates on a grid stacked with quality, but there are two more veteran names who’ve shone in Austin before: Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers Team) and Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team).

The expansive Circuit of the Americas is certainly one behemoth of a track to tame. The two long straights often make a spectacular scene in Moto3™, but the technical and challenging remainder of the lap has meant we’ve seen riders break away from the pack before. In 2016, Fenati was the man to manage it and won by over six seconds, and in 2017 the win was his with a margin of more than four despite a shortened race. That year, however, someone else had outpaced the Italian for much of the weekend: Canet.

The Spaniard broke the lap record and looked certain for a charge at the win, but Fenati outduelled him and forced an error. Could we see a repeat head to head two years on? Or has the chasing pack more than caught the two in the interim?

The likes of recent frontrunners Masia, Toba, Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3), Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers Team), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing), Darryn Binder (Bester Capital Dubai) and Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) will be hoping so – and a good few of them have yet to take a podium or win so there’s plenty on the line.

Watch Moto3™ tackle Texas from 11:00 (GMT -5) local time on Sunday 14th April.
Championship Standings
Kaito Toba (JPN) - 31
Lorenzo Dalla Porta (ITA) - 29
Jaume Masia (SPA) - 25
Niccolo Antonelli (ITA) - 21
Darryn Binder (AUS) - 20

Source: Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup

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