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Marquez heads to Austin with eye on extending lead
Marc Marquez has never been defeated at the Circuit of the Americas, a statistic he’s keen to keep as he seeks to extend his lead.
It was a dramatic weekend at the Termas de Rio Hondo, safety concerns forcing riders in the MotoGP™ World Championship to pit mid-race for their second bikes. Contrast and surprise were the themes of the race; those who dominated in Qatar struggled in Argentina while other riders made their first major impact on the world stage.
The two-part race in Argentina saw Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) back at his best, the Spaniard untouchable during the second half of the race. After a torturous off-season, Marquez has been the only rider in the premier class to finish on the podium in both races. Thanks to third in Qatar and first in Argentina, the Repsol Honda man has a comfortable eight-point cushion at the top of the championship table. Both Argentina and Austin are circuits which suit Marquez’s style, the Spaniard winning at the Termas de Rio Hondo for the second time and aiming to take his fourth straight win in Austin.
Since joining the MotoGP™ class in 2013, Marquez has never lost on US soil. His record at COTA is even more impressive than that, not only has he won every edition of the race but he has also started all three from pole position. All signs point to an ominous weekend at round three for Marquez, but his rivals are ready.
Second in Argentina and the championship, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) was unable to match his opening pace with his second M1. His podium chances appeared gone as the final lap of the race began but an incident involving both the factory Ducati Team riders would see him promoted back to second once more. Rossi now looks to keep his momentum going at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, a track where he has only once finished on the podium. With Marquez’s history at the Texan track, Rossi will be up against the odds in America.
But his teammate, Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), will face an even more critical weekend after the Majorcan failed to finish in Argentina. After a steady start to the race, Lorenzo began to up his pace but soon fell at Turn 1, extensive damage to his M1 ending his race. From the highs of Qatar, the defending World Champion was forced to suffer the lows of his first DNF since the 2015 San Marino GP.
Due to the unpredictable nature of the first two rounds, Lorenzo still holds fourth in the championship with 25 points, only two behind Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team). After the first two races in 2015, Lorenzo headed into the third round of the year with 26 points but down in fifth, eventually recovering to take the championship. His defence is by no means over.
Like Rossi, luck played a role in Pedrosa’s Argentina GP podium finish, as he too was able benefit from Ducati’s misfortune. On his two previous visits to Austin, Pedrosa finished in second behind his Repsol Honda teammate, the COTA track certainly suiting the RC213V.
Ducati had been set to take a brilliant double podium finish in Argentina, until Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) attempted an overly ambitious overtake on his teammate Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). Both riders would fall, Dovizioso pushing his bike across the line for 13th. Iannone was awarded a three-place grid penalty for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas and a penalty point for the move. Were it not for Iannone’s mistake, the factory Ducati team looked set to take their first double podium finish since the Qatar GP in 2015.
Dovizioso has classically gone well in Texas, taking two podium finishes on Ducati machinery and will be hoping for a slightly less eventful race. Meanwhile Iannone will be out to simply score points, ‘The Maniac’ yet to finish in 2016 and in the midst of a four-race DNF streak.
Iannone wasn’t the only rider left thinking ‘What if?’ in Argentina, Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) distraught as he returned to the pits after crashing from the race while pushing Rossi for the podium. It wasn’t all bad news for Viñales, the Argentina GP proof that he and Suzuki can battle the likes of Ducati and Yamaha for podiums.
One of the stand out performers of the weekend was Eugene Laverty (Aspar Team MotoGP) who achieved his best ever MotoGP™ finish. With initial teething problems solved, Laverty has steadily pushed his way forward in each session aboard the Ducati, no longer lamenting a lack of power as he did on the Open Honda. The battle for top Independent Team rider remains tight, Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) leading the battle with 19 points, Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing) second on 18 and Laverty third with 17 points. After their thrilling battle in Argentina, the trio are ready to do it all again in America.
Aprilia Racing Team Gresini produced an incredible double top ten finish in Argentina, by far their best result since embarking on the Aprilia project. Stefan Bradl led the charge with a seventh place finish, Alvaro Bautista in tenth. With another race worth of experience under their belt, Aprilia aim to continue making rapid improvements to the RS-GP and stop treating race weekends as extended test sessions.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Yonny Hernandez (Aspar MotoGP Team) and Loris Baz (Avintia Racing) all experienced a rough start to the season. None of the three have been able to finish in the first two rounds as unfortunate crashes ended their races prematurely.
The MotoGP™ class hit the track in Austin at 09:55 Local Time for Free Practice 1 on the eighth of April.