The 2015 MotoGP Championship began two weeks ago with many surprises under the floodlights at Losail International Circuit in Qatar.
First, Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso took the pole aboard the new GP15 prototype that was tuned under the direction of new team manager Luigi Dall’Igna of Aprilia World Superbike fame. This was only Ducati’s third pole since Valencia in 2010 (Casey Stoner); the other arrived last year at Motegi (Dovizioso).
Second, two-time defending MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez screwed up on race day. The Repsol Honda RC213V pilot ran wide at turn one, falling back to last position – 25th. But he redeemed himself with an impressive fifth-place finish. This allowed Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi – a nine-time World Champion – to take the season-opener victory. The Qatar win was also the 36-year-old Italian’s 109th GP victory across all classes.
Third, Ducati Team’s Dovizioso and Andrea Ianone rounded out the podium, the Italians giving Ducati its first double podium since 2010 Aragon MotoGP when two-time MotoGP Champion Stoner won and former Ducati pilot Nicky Hayden finished third.
These factors provided a truly unique beginning to 2015 MotoGP, but things can change drastically this weekend during round two at the massive 3.426-mile Circuit of the Americas just outside of Austin, Texas.
Can Rossi win again? Since COTA began hosting MotoGP in 2013 – the year Rossi rejoined Yamaha following two sour years with Ducati – he finished sixth and eighth, respectively.
Rossi admits he is not a huge fan of COTA’s 20-turn layout that features multiple blind turns and steep elevation changes, the most dramatic being the 133-foot ascend up turn one into a hairpin left.
But Rossi – the most-experienced and oldest rider in 2015 MotoGP – will hope to carry his winning momentum into Texas; at Qatar, the crowd-favorite Rossi qualified eighth but was able to battle his way to front for the win.
“Beginning the championship with a victory is really nice, but now we must try to be just as competitive as we were in Qatar everywhere else. Austin is not our favorite track. Although the track is very modern and I really like some corners, the two long straights are weak points for us,” Rossi says.
“Our opponents are strong, but it‘s also true that our bike has made major improvements. I‘m happy with my feelings on the YZR-M1. We will work hard to find the best possible solution, as we did at Losail. After the victory in Qatar we are all very motivated and we are ready for another weekend. I would like to get on the podium. It won‘t be easy, but we will try!”
Without a doubt, Rossi’s biggest threat at the first of back-to-back races that includes Argentina’s Termas de Rio Hondo will be the 21-year-old Marquez. The RC213V pilot took pole both years in Austin, and followed these up with wins. He also holds all records at COTA – fastest race lap and pole record (2:02.773), circuit record (2:03.575), and top speed (212.6 mph).
“I’m really looking froward to getting to Austin and putting Qatar behind us. The Circuit of The Americas is one of my favorite circuits and I have good memories of taking my first win in the MotoGP class, back in 2013, and also winning there last year. We need to work hard from FP1 and then keep this momentum for the whole weekend and have a ‘normal’ race,” Marquez says.
Unfortunately, the rider who qualified second and finished second in both races last season, Marquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa, will miss COTA due to undergoing arm-pump surgery. Pedrosa, who struggled to sixth at Qatar, will be replaced by Team HRC’s official test rider, Hiroshi Aoyama.
The Japanese rider is no stranger to MotoGP; he has 64 races under his leathers, and finished 12th during last year’s COTA race on the Aspar Honda RCV1000R. He also substituted for Pedrosa during the 2011 Dutch TT at Assen.
“I’m really sorry for Dani, myself and the whole team wish him a speedy recovery. We welcome Hiroshi to the team and will help him how we can,” Marquez says.
Due to Ducati’s unbelievable double-podium start, much attention will focus on the Ducati Team paddock. Per MotoGP rules, the Ducati Team bikes – and the Pramac Racing Ducati GP15s of Yonny Hernandez and Danilo Petrucci – must run 22 liters of fuel instead of 22 as they did at Qatar.
Ducati runs under Open-class rules, and if a win or three podiums are achieved since the start of 2013, the rules state the bikes most lose two liters of fuel. Ducati officials report that its riders will have no issue completing race with 22 liters of fuel. This rule does not affect the Avinita Racing Ducati team. (For an in-depth report, visit Ducati’s Fuel Capacity Reduced After Qatar Podiums | Class Rules Explained).
Dovi, who finished a mere 0.174 of a second behind Rossi, finished third at COTA last season behind Marquez and Dovizioso. He’s curious to see how well the GP15 does at COTA.
“I am very satisfied with my result in Qatar, because I was able to fight for the win right down to the checkered flag with a totally new bike,” Dovizioso says. “In 2014 I succeeded in obtaining my first podium with Ducati at Austin, in what was a bit of a strange race, but I really like the Texan track because of its characteristics and I can’t wait to start racing this weekend. I’m very excited and very curious to see how the GP15 will go in the next few circuits!”
Finishing fourth at Qatar was Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who complained of helmet issues that ruined his chance of a win. At one point the two-time MotoGP Champion led, but says his helmet’s interior came apart and obstructed his view. As for Austin, his best finish there was third in 2013.
“Qatar is in the past and we thought our result would be better, but now I‘m just focusing on next race in Austin. I look forward to racing there once again, even if usually it‘s not a track that suits our bike. In the past I was able to get on the podium so I want to do my best in Texas and try to keep as focused as I was in Qatar,” Lorenzo said.
“I‘m eager to race as soon as possible because I feel very fit and mentally strong. Hopefully we can do a better job than last year because both me and the bike have improved and maybe also the new tires give us a chance to fight for the race. From my side, I‘m going to push at the maximum.”
During Suzuki’s official return to MotoGP since 2011, Team Suzuki ECSTAR GSX-RR pilots Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales finished 11th and 14th, respectively. And this is not bad considering the Suzuki inline-four prototypes are underpowered. COTA will add another challenge, considering Suzuki MotoGP machinery has never raced there before.
The other manufacturer to rejoin MotoGP in 2015 – Aprilia – had its issues at the season opener in Qatar. The Aprilia Gresini Team, which is using 2015 MotoGP as testing grounds for the 2016 season, scored a 21st with Marco Melandri at the controls of the RS-GP. Melandri’s teammate Alvaro Bautista suffered a DNF due to technical issues.
Regarding Satellite teams, the top finisher at Qatar was CWM LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, who earned seventh ahead of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha duo of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. Crutchlow earned fourth at COTA in 2013, but crashed out last year while competing on the factory Ducati.
Avintia Ducati’s Hector Barbera took the top Open-class results at Qatar with 15th, but he should have much competition from Forward Racing Yamaha’s Stefan Bradl, who finished fourth at COTA last season.
CWM LCR Honda’s Jack Miller will be hoping to improve his fortunes after he crashed out of his MotoGP debut in Qatar, and he had success COTA, winning the 2014 Moto3 race from pole.
As for the sole American in all of Grand Prix racing, Aspar MotoGP’s Nicky Hayden will start his 200th GP race before a home crowd. At Qatar, the Kentuckian finished 15th as he sorts out the RCV1000R.
Practice gets underway Friday, followed by qualifying on Saturday and Sunday’s MotoGP, which is set for 3 p.m. CT Sunday.
2015 Austin MotoGP TV Schedule:
Fox Sports 1 will provide live broadcast coverage of Austin MotoGP from Circuit of the Americas beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
2015 MotoGP Point Standings (after one of 18 rounds):