MotoGP Austin: Race Weekend Preview



Image: GeeBee Images

Much has changed since MotoGP’s last race on the Circuit of the Americas, most notably the winner of the last two races: Ducati Lenovo’s Pecco Bagnaia, who went from a first victory to a back-to-back hero in a week.

Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) remains the points leader, the Frenchman has just won in Misano, and this time, as we go back to Austin, there are only three races left to go. But despite the very different landscape and drama of the past year and a half for eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), there is surely only one star to wait in Texas. So can he do it?

One thing we can probably guarantee is that he will try. It will not be easy, however. While before the MM93xCOTA collaboration seemed both an unstoppable force and an immovable object, this season is different after a harder-than-expected comeback for the historic Spaniard. There has been solid progress and good results since those emotional first laps on a MotoGP machine, and even earlier in the year when all was far from going well, Marquez showed he remains the king of left. His victory at the Sachsenring was emotional, for him and for Honda, and it also revealed a confessed margin. The risk that day was worth the reward, and life remains a little easier counterclockwise: it allows you to unleash a little more …

Fast forward to Aragon and another prime hunting ground counterclockwise, and again, number 93 was right back up front. This time, however, it was not on the highest step – but not for lack of trying. Marquez was the only rider who could stay in the postal code of Bagnaia on Sunday and the two staged a truly spectacular duel, the existence and outcome of which make two different points.

Existence emphasizes that Marquez is not to be counted in COTA, that he retains a touch of magic even as he struggles to get back in shape, and that this remains not only his specialty, but also an additional aid in this struggle to get back to the top. And the result? That said, Bagnaia is probably a little less impressed with the Texas record books, something that could prove powerful in itself: unfazed by Marquez is no small feat.

There was also a time when a Ducati track meant one thing, but those days are gone. The poetry of the number 63 for Borgo Panigale, added to marked improvements in their previously “weaker” domains, form a serious whole of man and machine. So there is no reason to expect a serious drop in form in Texas, and it puts a bit more pressure on Quartararo than the Frenchman probably expected a few races ago. Because COTA has never been Yamaha’s favorite territory either …

The Iwata brand performed well, however, and Quartararo hailed good improvements at the Red Bull Ring, which had also been more difficult before. So is this a victory assault, a damage control exercise, or just a numbers game? 48 points of advantage at the top allow each of these options.

Behind the championship top two and Marquez’s story, there is also another for Joan Mir of the Suzuki Ecstar team. 67 points on top and 75 on the table after Austin, allow the defending champion to defend his crown. But that also takes some pressure off, and it was a Suzuki at the top of COTA on the one time Marquez wavered. Then it was Mir’s teammate Alex Rins who crashed in Misano, but can the Hamamatsu factory regain that peak form? The two drivers were also very positive after the Misano test, so the grid was warned.

Texas is also now a critical moment for the riders just behind Mir in the standings: Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) and Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team). The first comes from an arm pump operation and therefore probably expects to back down, but the second also praised the two days of testing on the Riviera di Rimini and is only one point behind. What can they do? Miller was also on the podium the last time we moved to Texas.

Then he edged out an intriguing Yamaha-Ducati lockout from second to seventh. Valentino Rossi, now at Petronas SRT, was the Yamaha leader just half a second away from the win, and he will want to make his way to the United States as he races there for the last time. Quartararo will also be delighted when we return. Then came Miller, then came Andrea Dovizioso, who is now tackling a Yamaha – the same Yamaha Petronas that in 2019 got behind him in the hands of Franco Morbidelli, now at Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP. With the state of play looking quite different in 2021 as each of this group arrives in a different seat, the track record doesn’t predict the future, but the reshuffle continues to create some interesting stories as some return, some gear up for leave and others fight back.

Speaking of which, Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) will want to do exactly that at COTA as the rookie race winner now finds himself under a little more pressure in the fight for Rookie of the Year. He had done well despite his injuries earlier in the season, but a first-class podium finish for Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) at Misano – with a winning pace – means there are only 10 points left ahead of the Spaniard, so it is also the game in this showdown.

There will also be a lot to look out for at KTM and Aprilia, with the two factories gearing up with quite different machines as we head back to the US for the first time since early 2019. Then KTM hadn’t won a race. and they’ve now won five. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is also sixth in the championship, just 16 points behind Miller, and the South African has continued his Sunday charges to varying degrees in recent races. Where will KTM end up in the pack in Texas?

Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), meanwhile, is the driver on Binder’s heels and Noale’s factory will want more than what she got in slightly muted Misano. Maverick Viñales scored his first points with the brand last time around, so the narrative continues to grab the headlines. How will the all-new RS-GP behave at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas?

Bagnaia comes on the crest of a wave, Quartararo retains his advantage in points, and Marquez is six for seven in Texas. What’s next for MotoGP in the United States in 2021?

Before the track action begins, there is another event to watch out for as well. On Wednesday, Marc Marquez takes on Jett Lawrence as eight-time World Champion and 2021 MX 250 AMA Champion testing their skills against each other, riding Honda NSF100s on the COTA kart track in a high-stakes time trial challenge and only one can win.

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