There’s no denying the two favorites ahead of this Sunday’s Austin MotoGP at Circuit of the Americas (COTA).Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez is the undisputed king of COTA. The three-time MotoGP Champion has won every MotoGP held at the track from pole since COTA joined the World Championship in 2013.
The other favorite is Movistar Yamaha MotoGP newbie Maverick Vinales. The 2013 Moto3 Champion, who joined Valentino Rossi on the factory Yamaha squad following two years with Team Suzuki Ecstar, is unstoppable so far this season. The Spaniard topped all pre-season practices, and claimed both opening rounds in Qatar and Argentina from the pole.These two Spaniards highlighted Thursday’s pre-race press conference at Circuit of the Americas. They were also joined by nine-time World Champion Rossi, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Team Ducati), and reigning Moto2 Champion Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).Vinales spoke first. He won at the Grand Prix of the Americas in 2014 during his only year in Moto2. But in MotoGP, he’s best finished was ninth.
Regardless, he’s set on one goal: finally beating Marquez at COTA: “For sure for me it’s a good track, I’ve always been strong here and it fits with my riding style. There are a lot of acceleration zones, which are good for us.“We have to work for the last ten laps of the race because here’s it’s really important, we know the rear tyre can be difficult at the end. Last year that was a disaster. If we’re at 100% we know we can be there fighting for the win. It’s impressive to have four wins in a row here but we know we have a good level…”As for Marquez, he has yet to finish on the podium, and crashed out of Argentina. But the RC213V pilot always quickly finds his rhythm in Texas, and this race can possibly be a turning point for the 23-year-old Spaniard.“We arrive here with a good mentality and I feel strong on the bike,” Marquez says. “We have a lot to improve but I feel really good. Here is the best circuit to get the first good result of the season, in the past years it’s been good for me. In Argentina I crashed but I was leading and feeling strong. Even a first podium of the season would be really good! We’ll see on Sunday if we can fight for the win. From the first two races we don’t have the best base setup and that’s something we have to improve.”Rossi has finished on the podium in both opening races, and trails his teammate by 14 points after two of 18 rounds. Rossi crashed out of last year’s Austin MotoGP, and has a best finish of third there (2015).“Here is a very particular track and one of the most difficult – it’s very long and has lots of different corners, and is very demanding for the tires, and riders,” Rossi says. “We’ll try and understand how what we learnt in Argentina can help us here on Friday and Saturday. Marquez is always very strong at this track, from the first time we tested here in 2013, and for me this track isn’t fantastic in terms of results but last year and in 2015 I was quite competitive. I made a mistake and crashed, but I had good speed.”Crutchlow has showed promise this season, especially in Argentina where he battled with Rossi and claimed the final podium position.Speaking about COTA, Crutchlow says: “I expect here it will be a difficult start but by Saturday and Sunday we should be competitive. It seems at the moment it takes us a while to set the bike up.“This is a circuit I like, it’s a good circuit to ride and good for all the bikes because different bikes are good in different areas. It’s good because it swings a bit – unless Marc is at the front! I look forward to the challenge of this track because there are so many corners. Half way through a lap you’ve already done 12 corners! So it takes a lot of concentration.”Ducati Independent Team rider Bautista arrives in Austin after securing fourth in Argentina. His goal aboard the Desmosedici is another top five: “I’m smiling because from the first test on the Ducati I felt really good riding the bike, in Argentina I had the same feeling and I felt strong. In the race I was very competitive, especially in the second half. I feel that my performance with this bike and team is really good so I’m just trying to keep this level. The GP16 bike is already finished, we have all the references from last year and they fought for podiums and wins on it.”The last rider to talk was Zarco, who also had an impressive finish in Argentina. The rookie finished fifth at Argentina MotoGP, and looks to carry that momentum into Austin: “I’m happy. It’s a good start for my confidence – leading the first six laps in Qatar was good and I was disappointed but in the end we aren’t fighting for a Championship so you have to enjoy it.“Argentina was different, it was my first MotoGP race weekend with a normal schedule. It’s not so easy to manage it and prepare the qualifying and the race. I want to keep this high target to just get on the bike, push at the maximum and see where I am. I hope to always be in top positions because I think if I push like this I can setup the bike and set my mind up for the pace – and be ready for the race.”The GP of the Americas at Austin round begins at 9:55 a.m. local time Friday from the 20-corner Circuit of the Americas.Photos by Ara Ashjian