Photo: Marc Marquez/Facebook
CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS, Austin, Texas – It was a bit of a Honda romp at the third round of the Moto GP series – but a Yamaha ended up leading the world championship. Honda’s Marc Marquez grabbed his fifth successive victory at the track (partially designed by world champion Kevin Schwantz), while team-mate Dani Pedrosa grabbed third after leading the early part of the race, and Brit Cal Crutchlow took top “independent team” kudos with a fourth on his LCR “customer” Honda.
However, the wily old veteran Valentino Rossi managed to grab second on his Yamaha, after team-mate Maverick Viňales crashed out (his first mistake of the season).
Rossi’s second put him in top place in the championship, despite his endless problems dealing with the new Yamaha M1 GP machine during all the testing and qualifying so far. In spite of the team’s struggles, Vale has managed three podiums and heads back to the European circus in two weeks with a six-point lead over his team-mate.
Another Yamaha impressed in fifth; series rookie Johann Zarco challenging Rossi for fourth early in the race, and in fact pushing the veteran off-track in a failed passing move. That ended up in a bit of a controversy; Rossi was pushed off-track but managed to stay up and rejoin in the same position, but Race Direction decided he’d actually gained some time by cutting the course and penalized him 3/10 of a second. To my mind, it was an idiotic call – no doubt Rossi gained some time by cutting the corner a bit, but at the same time he’d been pushed off; if he hadn’t given ground they’d both likely have crashed.
At any point, it turned out to be moot, as close to the end of the race Rossi managed to catch Dani Pedrosa and collect enough of a lead that the penalty didn’t matter. It was amusing to see “the Doctor” at work … Rossi’s on-board camera caught him shaking hands with Zarco on the cool-down lap, while he slagged the guy in the press conference.
The Ducatis didn’t have a great race in spite of their horsepower advantage on the longest straight in GP racing. Andrea Dovizioso managed to hold on to sixth, while new mega-buck signing Jorge Lorenzo brilliantly managed to fall from fourth to ninth at the flag. If I were in charge of Philip Morris (the cigarette company still bankrolls Ducati in spite of advertising bans), I’d be talking pretty hard to the guy who convinced Lorenzo to join the company, at a rumoured 12 million Euros per season. After three races, a mere 12 points, and lots of excuses, you’ve got to question the call. The guy is fast – you don’t win three world titles if you’re not – but he’s clearly not working well with the admittedly difficult Ducati.
Suzuki had a mixed weekend; Andrea Ianonne got a strong seventh (no doubt gloating over beating Lorenzo, who took his spot at Ducati), but Alex Rins crashed and again broke bones, this time both the bones in a lower arm. He’ll be out for at least two races, perhaps more.
The new teams, Aprilia and KTM, could pretty much write the weekend off to research purposes. Crashes and engine failures plagued both teams, and they’ll no doubt be glad of a couple of weeks to sort out their problems before the series regroups at Jerez in Spain in two weeks.
The Moto 2 race was a bit processional after the first few laps, with Marc VDS’s Franco Morbidelli grabbing control after an early scrap with his team-mate Alex Marquez to take his third victory in three races this season. The young Italian has maintained the speed he showed in his first season in the class but has tempered that with considerable racecraft and control; it’ll be a hard game to beat him to this year’s title, early as it is to make such a claim.
Second behind Morbidelli, and also second in the series at this point, is experienced rider Tom Luthi. With three podiums in three races at tracks he dislikes, the Swiss is in perhaps his best position ever to grab a Moto 2 championship – if he didn’t have Morbidelli ahead of him
Sixth in the race, and a more impressive third in the championship, is Portuguese Manuel Oliveira. In his first year in Moto 2, and with a brand-new bike from KTM, his results so far have been sparkling.
Third in Austin and fourth in the championship is Japanese Taka Nakagami, making a welcome return to the sharp end of the grid after a lacklustre 2016. After getting past Morbidelli’s team-mate Alex Marquez, he maintained a great pace – like Luthi, he’s been at the front of the field in the first three races at tracks he’s not overly fond of.
And fifth in the championship, ninth in Austin, is Xavi Vierge, the latest find for the Tech 3 team, which under principal Hervé Poncheral is continuing its tradition of finding and developing superb upcoming talent. The young Spaniard’s results this year have been outstanding.
The rider who dominated practice and qualifying, Aron Canet, comfortably led the race until a red flag restarted everything. From that point, bad boy Romano Fenati (fired from the VR46 team last year because of his behaviour), hounded the Spanish teenager until a huge highside ended his race. Fenati held on to win, while series leader Joan Mir ended up shuffled back to eighth at the flag but maintained his series lead.
World Championship Standings after three of 18 races
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 56 points
- Maverick Vinales, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 50
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 38
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 30
- Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 29
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 27
- Johann Zarco, France, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 22
- TIE, Jonas Folger, Germany, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha / Scott Redding, U.K., Pramac Ducati / Jack Miller, Australia, Estrella Galicia 0-0 Honda, 21
Next race, May 7, Jerez, Spain.