The temperature has dropped but the action has heated up! Two more practice sessions and qualifying are now in the books, and we now know that Marc Marquez earned his 5th pole at Circuit of the Americas in as many years. He sure made it interesting, though – saving his best lap for last after Maverick Vinales had just set a time under 2’03 for the first time all weekend. Vinales got a 2’02.871 on his last lap of qualifying, and Marquez nipped him with a 2’02.741 just a few moments later.
Here’s how Marquez’s triumph sounded from inside the Alpinestars hospitality tent – the last few minutes were absolutely fantastic:
But let’s go back to the morning. After yesterday’s late night, we slept in a bit and went to one of our favorite BBQ joints from last year’s trip – Micklethwait Craft Meats. Like many BBQ joints in Austin, it’s pretty much just a trailer with some outdoor seating. It’s also delicious, and it doesn’t hurt that they have free beer for you while you wait in line.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to sample anything while waiting in line because I was busy putting the finishing touches on yesterday’s post from MotoGP! Writing the summaries while on location is time consuming, so I have to take whatever time I can get.
We got to the track in time for Free Practice 4 and the two Qualifying sessions. Free Practice 3 was dominated by crashes – 8 riders went down and the general belief is that it was due to a track surface that is too bumpy in braking areas combined with a decrease in track temperature of 68 degrees compared to Friday afternoon.
The highlight of Qualifying 1 had to be a nearly-impossible save by Loris Baz (#76/Reale Avintia Racing Ducati). I’m not even sure it counts as a save – he basically had a lowside crash but he didn’t wait for the bike to stop before getting back on. Unfortunately for him, it was on the last lap of Q1 and the lost time prevented him from earning a spot in Q2. Marquez called it “the save of the year.” Here’s a loop because you’ll probably want to watch it a few times:
This is a man who just cheated gravity. Looks like he got himself some TV time for his efforts:
There was also a weird bit of drama between the new teammates of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha), though it was short-lived. Take a look at this:
I’d argue that if this was anyone’s fault, the blame is on Maverick. But at the end of the session, he let Rossi know he wasn’t happy:
By the time members of the press were able to ask Maverick about the incident, he had calmed down and both riders had moved on, saying “it’s something that happens on the track.” So in the grand scheme of things, it was quite minor. But it was still very odd watching it live.
When the next qualifying session was all said and done, Marquez assumed his usual place at the front of the grid.
If you’re curious, here’s the entirety of Marquez’s pole-winning qualifying lap:
Johann Zarco had a slight drop off from his impressive showing yesterday and finds himself starting the race in 5th place. Still, the Frenchman was the top rookie and top independent rider of the day!
The starting grid for tomorrow, with manufacturer name and qualifying lap times:
1. Marc Marquez / Honda / 2’02.741
2. Maverick Vinales / Yamaha / 2’02.871
3. Valentino Rossi / Yamaha / 2’03.673
4. Dani Pedrosa / Honda / 2’03.866
5. Johann Zarco / Yamaha / 2’03.928
6. Jorge Lorenzo / Ducati / 2’04.151
7. Andrea Dovizioso / Ducati / 2’04.431
8. Jonas Folger / Yamaha / 2’04.623
9. Cal Crutchlow / Honda / 2’04.661
10. Scott Redding / Ducati / 2’04.673
11. Andrea Iannone / Suzuki / 2’05.741
12. Jack Miller / Honda / 2’05.970
13. Danilo Petrucci / Ducati / 2’05.221
14. Loris Baz / Ducati / 2’05.231
15. Hector Barbera / Ducati / 2’05.541
16. Tito Rabat / Honda / 2’05.920
17. Karel Abraham / Ducati / 2’05.931
18. Bradley Smith / KTM / 2’06.258
19. Alvaro Bautista / Ducati / 2’06.295
20. Sam Lowes / Aprilia / 2’07.232
21. Pol Espargaro / KTM / 2’07.601
22. Aleix Espargaro / Aprilia / 2’05.468 (crashed)
Rookie Alex Rins (Suzuki) has been recovering from an ankle fracture but he highsided on Turn 19 in his first timed lap of Free Practice 3 and fractured his left wrist. He has been declared unfit to race tomorrow and will likely be out for six weeks.
Aleix Esparago called today “one of the worst days of my life” thanks to two crashes in Free Practice 3, a blown engine in Free Practice 4, and a crash in Qualifying 1. Per that article from Crash.net, he managed to just do 5 laps all day. Nathan caught Aleix staring directly at his camera during one of those 5 laps:
There were noticeably more people out and about today and the energy is definitely starting to build. I think tomorrow is going to be absolute madness in the best sense of the word. The Red Bull girls were out to brighten up a gloomy day. This photo is much less funny when the subject in the middle isn’t a baby.
After qualifying, several riders came out to meet their fans. Like his Tech3 Yamaha teammate, Jonas Folger notched a top 10 qualifying spot (he placed 8th):
Johann Zarco has plenty of reason to be happy with his 5th place spot, in the middle of the 2nd row. I didn’t know much about him going into this weekend but I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen so far.
Marquez makes a fan’s day:
Waiting for your favorite rider can take a long time – I’d guess about 100 people were waiting for Rossi (shown in the featured photo up top) and by the time he came out after Qualifying, the Supersport race had already finished and the first Superbike race was almost over. By then, it was time for dinner, so we grabbed a bite at Silo on 7th, and then headed back to the Handbuilt Show for more custom bikes. As mentioned previously, I’ll have a comprehensive post in the future about Handbuilt – but here are a few quick highlights from what Nathan and I saw today (photos by Nathan):
There were plenty of beautiful bikes inside, but the best thing about my experience today at the Handbuilt Show was the Wall of Death set up in the back.
The Wall of Death is also known as the Silodrome or Motordrome. I just call it madness with vintage American iron. A wooden cylinder that’s 14 feet tall and 30 feet in diameter acts as the stage for daredevils who ride on the vertical wall performing tricks and tempting fate. It’s sensory overload – you don’t just see beautiful old Harleys and Indians, you smell and feel them too as they cause the entire wall to vibrate. I wish this video was able to convey just how exciting the experience was – find a way to see this show.
Other acts included the same gentleman (Charlie Ransom) riding up high and grabbing dollar bills out of the outstretched hands of the audience, and even a go-kart and Harley SX175 running side by side. When Nathan and I got into our rental car to head home, we both had the exact same response: a moment of silence, and then a synchronized “wow.”
I’m hoping the battle between Marquez and Vinales tomorrow will be just as awesome. Tune in and check it out with me!
Featured Photo – Nathan captured Rossi in the pits exhibiting his trademark charm.