2016 Austin MotoGP Upside/Downside | Commentary from COTA

If you like close competition, the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas at the Circuit of the Americas is not going to be on your list of great races in MotoGP history. Of course, with all the riders sliding out on the still-developing spec-Michelin tires, there was plenty of drama for the hard-core fans, and that’s what we are, aren’t we?

Here’s our latest take on MotoGP – the upside and downside from round three of the 2016 MotoGP Championship in Texas – the only round that will occur on American soil this season.

2016 Austin MotoGP – Upside

Austin MotoGP Upside/Downside | Plenty of Drama for Hardcore Fans Marc Marquez
Honda’s Marc Marquez

1. Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Márquez

They might as well rename the facility Circuit of the Márquez. Jorge Lorenzo did his best to rattle Márquez early, but it was to no avail. Márquez led by over eight seconds going into the final lap, where he cruised to a six-second victory. Márquez, who also earned his fourth-straight pole at Austin MotoGP, made a different tire choice than the other front row riders, going with a Soft, rather than Medium front tire.

“This is a circuit that I like, one of my favorite,” Márquez said, “but there were some unknowns here because just before the race we decided to run the soft front tire. In the end, the team advised me very well, because the change gave me the good feeling with the bike that I had partly lost in the warm-up. I have to thank them all, as well as the Michelin technician. When I asked, they told me that I would be okay for the first 12-15 laps, and then after that I would have to manage the situation more, which is exactly what happened.”

With this win, Marquez leads reigning MotoGP Champion Jorge Lorenzo by 21 points, and the rest of the field by more than a race—after just three rounds. Honda’s excruciating pre-season testing seems to be a thing of the past for two-time MotoGP World Champion Márquez.

2. Ducati Team’s Andrea Iannone

Four DNFs in a row had to be weighing heavily on Iannone, especially after tossing away a double-podium for Ducati in the last set of corners at the Argentina MotoGP the previous week. To make matters worse, he was docked three positions on the COTA grid for the Argentinean miscue.

Ducati's Andrea Iannone rips COTA during Austin MotoGP 2016
Ducati’s Andrea Iannone

Iannone played it safe at the Circuit of the Americas, sitting in seventh after the first lap was completed. Iannone didn’t make a pass until Lap 6 when he went by Aleix Espargaró for fifth (Iannone moved up a spot when Valentino Rossi crashed). Eventually, Iannone caught Dani Pedrosa and teammate Andrea Dovizioso.

He had a front row seat in Turn 1 when Dani Pedrosa crashed and took out Dovizioso on Lap 7. From there, it was a quiet, no-drama podium for Iannone, which is surely exactly what he wanted.

Iannone was appreciative toward Ducati Team: “I’m glad how this Grand Prix went, and I dedicate this podium to my Ducati and the team because I made them suffer in the first two races, and I hope that this result will repay them for their commitment and the work they are doing to myself.”

3. Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Jorge Lorenzo

After winning in Qatar and crashing out in Argentina, Lorenzo had to know that beating Márquez at COTA was a long shot. Certainly, Lorenzo gave it his best shot, making what looked like a couple of lunging pass attempts on the first lap, hoping to disrupt Márquez.

However, Lorenzo says otherwise: “It was a difficult beginning; the track was slippery, and with the hard rear tire and the full tank, it was difficult to stop especially on braking. I made some mistakes I don’t normally do in the first lap. I couldn’t keep the pace of Marc; he was making the difference this weekend and in the race. I was fast enough to stay in second place and finish the race. You could see it was difficult to stay on the bike with a lot of crashes. Today the important thing was to finish, and I did it.”

After the chaotic start, Lorenzo settled into a lonely ride in second place for the rest of the afternoon. With Pedrosa and Rossi crashing out, Lorenzo made a big move in the MotoGP standings, jumping from fourth to second.

4. Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Aleix Espargaró

A weak pre-season, and two 11ths to begin the season were not the start Espargaró was looking for, especially since his teammate Maverick Viñales has been running strong. Although he didn’t beat Viñales at COTA, Espargaró certainly made a strong showing, finishing fifth, right behind Viñales. Tied for ninth in the standings with Aspar Team MotoGP’s Eugene Laverty, this could be the big step forward Aleix Espargaró needs. We’ll find out if this was a change or a fluke when the MotoGP series continues at the Gran Premio Red Bull de España at Circuito de Jerez.

Maverick Vinales at 2016 Austin MotoGP
Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales

5. Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Maverick Viñales

Crashing out in podium position last week in Argentina had to be tough on Viñales, and he seemed determined to right it at COTA. Sitting in a dismal 10th after the first lap, Viñales showed great maturity in staying patient.

While others were crashing ahead of him, he forged forward. Viñales passed Cal Crutchlow (who later crashed), and then OCTO Pramac Yakhnich’s Scott Redding and teammate Alexis Espargaró.

The rest he picked up from attrition, which is the easiest way of all to make passes. Tied for seventh in the standings with Dovizioso, Viñales has to be beside himself at his unforced error in Argentina.

6. Ducati

It might have been easy to overlook, but there were four Ducatis in the top 9—Iannone, Redding, OCTO Pramac Yakhnich’s Michele Pirro, and Avintia Racing’s Hector Barbera. That’s definitely not a bad showing.

2016 Austin MotoGP – Downside

Ducati GP16 Andrea Dovizioso at COTA MotoGP
Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso

1. Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso

Sometimes, you just can’t get a break. Dovizioso was taken out of second place by Iannone last week in Argentina when Iannone was “overly optimistic” (thanks, Race Direction) and they both went down (Dovi pushed his Ducati over the line for a 13th place finish).

Now, at COTA, while battling for the podium, Pedrosa’s front end went wobbly setting up for notorious left Turn 1 and Dovi gets nailed by a sliding Honda RC213V. Dovizioso is tied for seventh in the standings with Viñales, but without the misfortune caused entirely by others, Dovi would be just 10 points behind Márquez and second in the MotoGP championship chase. Instead, he trails the leader by 43 points.

2. Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi

Rossi had a long run of top-five finishes that included every race in 2015. That streak came to an unexpected and instant end when he lost the front end in fast Turn 2 on Lap 3. Rossi says he was recovering from cooking the clutch on the start when he crashed: “It’s a shame because at the start unfortunately I burnt the clutch. I was third, but the clutch slipped a lot, so I had to go slow to try and recover the clutch and I lost some positions. At the same time, I was not so far. I felt good with the bike, we worked well during the weekend, and I felt fast. I had the feeling the clutch was coming back already, but I entered turn two, I didn’t feel from the bike I was too fast, but looking at the result, maybe I was.”

3. LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow

So far, the 2016 MotoGP season is not a pretty picture for Crutchlow. Three rounds in, the Brit has hit the deck three times and has not a single point to show for his efforts. Last year after three rounds, Crutchlow had 34 points and sat sixth in the standings, just two points behind Márquez. Crutchlow is 66 shy of Márquez this year. It’s a disaster.

4. Repsol Honda Team’s Dani Pedrosa

“I made a small mistake, losing the front end under braking when I was still turning into the corner. I lost control and tried to save the crash, but I ended up going down and taking Dovizioso with me. It’s a shame to have finished the race in that way, and I feel especially bad for Andrea and want to apologize to him. I’m glad he’s fine.” Enough said about sportsmanship.

VR46 Valentino Rossi at CIrcuit of the Americas MotoGP
Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi

5. Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Bradley Smith

The last time Smith finished out of the points in MotoGP was on August 31, 2014, at the Hertz British Grand Prix. Crutchlow went down in front of Smith in Turn 11 at COTA, and Smith went right down after him.

Later, Smith tweeted that there may have been oil on the track: “Well it was fun while it lasted, 26 points scoring finishes. Seems that there was oil offline in T11. Glad I finished, Thanks.” Certainly, it was a huge disappointment to have that streak end, plus Smith is 13th in the standings, two full races behind Márquez.

6. The Fans

There wasn’t much in the way of racing in the MotoGP class at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas. After just a few laps, the gaps between riders was huge, and there weren’t two riders within a second of each other at the finish until you got to Pirro and Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Pol Espargaró fighting it out for seventh. Plus, The Doctor checked out on Lap 3, which will always tamp down fan enthusiasm.

The 2016 MotoGP Championship breaks for two weeks ahead of the first European round of the season in Jerez. Who will make the Upside/Downside list there? Stay clicked to Ultimate MotorCycling to find out.

Photos by Ara Ashjian