2016 MotoGP Austin Press ConferenceTwo races, two different winners and five different podium finishers. That’s the way the 2016 MotoGP Championship is playing out ahead of round three this weekend at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas – the only stateside round on this year’s calendar. The Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas also marks the first back-to-back round after the series had completed round two last weekend at Termas de Rio Hondo in Argentina.The season opener under the floodlights in Qatar went to the reigning MotoGP Champion Jorge Lorenzo, who earned his third premier-class title season by a mere five points ahead of teammate Valentino Rossi. Lorenzo also earned the pole in Qatar, his 62nd of his career, breaking his tie with Rossi for most poles in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Lorenzo was joined on the Qatar podium by Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso and two-time MotoGP Champion Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez.
But things drastically last weekend in Argentina when Marquez returned to the top of the podium. Following a last-lap crash of the two riders battling for second – Ducati Team’s Andrea Iannone and Dovizioso, the former penalized for the wreck – Rossi was able to earn second. Earning third was Marquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa.What a season so far. But it’s just beginning, as is the action at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), the 3.4-mile circuit containing 20 corners that was designed by Herman Trilke, who also known for the F1 Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.Austin MotoGP officially throttled into action Thursday with the pre-race press conference. Present was the man who won every race at COTA since its inception in 2013, Marquez, along with Rossi, Lorenzo, and the Desmosedici pilot who earned his best MotoGP result ever last week in Argentina, Aspar Team MotoGP Ducati’s Eugene Laverty. Also present were two riders who suffered DNFs in Argentina – Iannone and Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Maverick Vinales.Marquez was the first to speak; with his third- and first-place finishes, he leads the series with 41 points, eight ahead of Rossi. Marquez not only won all races at COTA – he won all from pole.Marc Marquez says: “Yeah Austin is a circuit that in the past has been really good for me. We’ll see this year, honestly the other years we arrived here with a really strong feeling. The feeling is really good now on the bike but here we have many accelerations and at the moment it’s where we lose the most. We’re trying to find the best way to improve the acceleration. Honda and my team are working a lot so I believe that step by step we will improve in that point and I’m really happy to be here. It looks like the US is a good country for me!”Marquez struggled throughout the preseason with the aggressive nature of the RC213V, but seems to have that under control, along with the adaptation to the new Michelin spec tires and ECU.“The pre-season has been really really hard. The feeling wasn’t there and we were losing a lot and in the positions we were far from the top guys. In Qatar in FP1 we were eighth or ninth I don’t remember. But always we believe in our potential and we worked hard to find a good base, it looks like that base was working in Argentina. I hope that it will work here so we will see,” Marquez says.Nine-time World Champion Rossi was next to speak. He earned his 50th premier-class podium in Argentina, and Friday practice marks exactly 15 years since Rossi was victorious at the opening race of the 2001 500cc GP Championship.Valentino Rossi says: “In Qatar, was a quite good race but I arrived just fourth. In Argentina was a difficult race for everyone, especially because there are a lot of problems with the rear tyre during the weekend and they decided to make the race in two parts. I feel very good on the first part but unfortunately with the second bike I wasn’t strong enough and I was lucky to arrive on the podium.”Rossi, who says he openly struggles at COTA, says “This track is very difficult, so long and so technical and you have all different things from the beginning to the end In the last years it wasn’t the best track for us. Usually we suffered a lot with the front here but now we have to understand if we’ll have the same problem with these tires. We have to try to be ready and see what happens during practice.”Lorenzo enters Austin after suffering his first DNF since the 2015 San Marino GP; Lorenzo seeks serious redemption.Jorge Lorenzo says: “For sure normally I’m a quite safe rider. Obviously in Argentina the conditions of the track were really complicated for everyone but some of them stayed on their bike and I made a mistake. I didn’t feel great on the bike in the first laps and I lost a lot of meters with the first group and instead of having patience to improve the feeling little by little and wait for the second bike, maybe I could have been faster on the second bike.“I just pushed too much in this first corner, which had a lot of wet patches and I crashed. Nobody is perfect and I made this mistake and I try to learn from it in the future. I try to forget this race and I think we have a good potential in normal conditions with normal tarmac and normal conditions.”There’s been much talk of Lorenzo joining Ducati for the 2017 season, but he said: “I cannot tell you anything more than in Argentina. When my decision is made in the future you will all know.”Laverty is second in the battle for top Independent Team rider, just three points behind Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Pol Espargaro.Eugene Laverty says: “Yeah, it was a bit of a crazy race let’s say. When we started 17th on the grid I didn’t expect to end up fourth, not even at the start of the race nor at the start of the last lap when I was in eighth place. I crossed the line and I had no idea where I was, it wasn’t until I rounded Turn 1 and I looked up on the tower and saw ‘Lav’ next to P4 that was a great moment!”Speaking of the preseason, Laverty says: “It was one of the roughest pre-seasons I’ve had. I finished the last test in hospital and I came back and Day 1, then the throttle stuck. I though OK ‘I’ve survived that’ and then an hour later the brakes didn’t work so it was really a crazy period and I wondered when my lucky was gonna change and finally I was in the right place at the right time. It looks like the luck of the Irish has worked out this time!”Suzuki’s Vinales was quick throughout the preseason, but has struggled during the opening two rounds, which includes his crash in Argentina.Maverick Vinales says: “For sure it was disappointing as I was there. I had the podium in my hand and I made a mistake and I can’t accept that I made this mistake when I had the podium there. Always it would have been great to bring Suzuki to the podium because it has been a lot of years that the bike isn’t at the top. But anyway, I feel confident that I can try to do it again. For sure I learned a lot. When I was riding behind Vale, Iannone and Dovi I learned a lot what our bike needs so for sure it will be helpful.”Austin is also a special place for Vinales, who earned his first-ever Moto2 win there: “For sure, always when I come to Austin it’s a really good track. I like it a lot; it’s one of the special tracks for me where I can use my riding style better. Last year was difficult, it was only the second race of the first year in MotoGP and the bike still wasn’t like now. I’m quite confident for this Grand Prix and for sure we will work hard and for sure we’ll try to repeat as we were doing in Argentina.”Finally speaking was Iannone, who was penalized a three-place grid penalty at Austin for his “overly ambitious” pass on Dovi at Argentina, which caused both to crash.Andrea Dovizioso says: “Yes, it’s a very bad start to the season. The first race was so bad it’s incredible. I think the best way is to look forward and focus at 100% to improve the situation. It’s very important for us after the second race as it’s my mistake and it’s difficult because it’s my teammate and we went down. It’s difficult for me especially. But OK.“For me it’s very important to stay on the podium and I had the position and after the first race this would have been really good. But I know I had Vale on the rear and I thought Vale would try to pass me on the last corner so I tried to stay more inside on the corner but I touched the dirty part of the track so it’s difficult because I closed the front then I crashed. Unfortunately also Dovi. A very difficult moment for us but for sure we want to improve.”The 21-rider grid gets its first laps in of 2016 Austin GP Friday with the first of two free practices at 9 a.m. local time.Photos by Ara Ashjian