2017 MotoGP Austin – Thursday and Friday

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Yesterday I had a little preview of what to expect from the next few days. Let’s get into it! As a reminder, this is less about race analysis and more about sharing the experience of this weekend for those of you that can’t make it out this year. Hopefully it inspires you to join for next year!

Nathan, his wife Ellen, and I got in on Thursday and immediately got to the good stuff…food:

We followed that up with a visit to St. Elmo Brewing.

We all enjoyed our beers and the location. I even give them bonus points for having a beer named Ramathorn, which is a reference to the Indian cop in Super Troopers.

But…there is a catastrophic problem with this brewery: they don’t have a beer named St. Elmo’s Fire. That might negate anything positive I felt about the place.

A humorous sign at St. Elmo’s

Motorcycles don’t get on the track until Friday but there’s some industry events I had to check out on Thursday. Nathan and I (and Baby Jack, can you see him?) stopped by the track to pick up our press passes…

…and then we headed to a few events. One event that’s open to the public was the Kick Start party for the Handbuilt Show. Unfortunately, because we were at other events we got there late, which means we missed some cool stuff like a demonstration of Alpinestars’ Tech Air airbag system. Thankfully, A* has done a few demonstrations with the big motorcycle media publications – check out this demo with Rennie Scaysbrook over at Cycle News. Fast forward to 9:30 for the money shot:

But we eventually arrived and enjoyed some drinks and the company of hundreds of passionate motorcyclists. I’ve mentioned it several times in the past but this is my favorite ‘motorcycle-themed’ weekend of the year. A big part of that is the fact that you get riders with a huge variety of interests – sportbike fans from all over the world co-mingle with customizers from the US and local enthusiasts of classic bikes. The best example of this to me (and I’ll show you later) is when you get support teams from MotoGP checking out the Handbuilt show and enjoying some custom bikes. This party was at the South Congress Hotel, and it was anothe rexample of how well organized the guys over at Revival Cycles are. We enjoyed a few drinks at the rooftop poolside bar, and then made our way downstairs as the party wrapped up. These are great ways to meet the builders of your favorite bikes – everyone’s friendly and willing to share advice and thoughts about why they made certain decisions with their builds.

Friday morning rolled around and I had to wake up early for a media event with Polaris – they invited a few folks to check out the Slingshot. It’s been out for a few years now, but they have just released a luxury version called the SL LE. I have never tried a Slingshot before, and I decided to try one of the new versions. It utilizes the same ~170 horsepower GM Ecotec motor, but with a few extra comfort pieces. Long story short – local roads did not give us much of an opportunity to test the 3-wheeler in corners, but I had a lot of fun. With that said, I’m not sure it makes more sense than, say, a Mazda Miata.

In the SL LE, I thought the seats and the riding position were quite comfortable, though the tactile sensation of the steering wheel and shifter were underwhelming. Polaris offers a sport version called the SLR with a Sparco steering wheel and gear shifter and my colleagues who tried that model said the input devices felt much better.

The steering wheel of the SL LE. Those indents at “10 and 2” are just too flexible.

There’s a LOT to like about the Slingshot, but there’s also a lot that doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think it’s very fair to evaluate a vehicle with a route that’s just straight road after straight road, so I’ll try to get one for a longer evaluation back home in LA. One thing I can say with complete confidence: this is infinitely better than a Can-Am Spyder.

Another thing I can say…there’s no way you’re having a bluetooth phone conversation in this thing.

For those of you that have local dealers who are stingy with test rides, the demo ride section at CotA is a godsend. This year there are booths from Harley-Davidson, BMW, Honda, Polaris, Yamaha, and more. They open up spots at 8am and they fill up quick, so make sure you get there early in the morning!

Someone takes a demo ride of Yamaha’s new FJ-09

We caught Free Practice 1 (Vinales set the fastest time with a 2’04.923) and then left the track to grab some lunch at Terry Black’s BBQ.

Easy enough that even I can figure it out! Do yourself a favor and grab the creamed corn as one of your sides.

Yes, there are plenty of decent and overpriced food options at the track. But there’s so many good BBQ spots at Austin that we feel an obligation to try out as many possible when we’re in town. I thought the meat and sides were excellent but the sauces were underwhelming. Not underwhelming was how much Nathan ended up ordering – he says not to make the same mistake he did:

This is after he already had 1/3 a pound of brisket…

Our desire for local barbecue was temporarily satiated, so we went back to the track to catch Free Practice 2. I was able to arrange a photographer credential for Nathan, and he responded by snagging some gorgeous shots throughout the afternoon:

Andrea Dovizioso – 6th at the end of Free Practice 2

Maverick Vinales – 3rd at the end of Free Practice 2

Valentino Rossi – 4th at the end of Free Practice 2

Dani Pedrosa – 5th at the end of Free Practice 2

Per usual, by the end of Free Practice 2 lap times had dropped. Marquez was back to his usual title of fastest rider at Circuit of the Americas with a 2’04.061. For context, Marquez holds the fastest lap here in any official MotoGP capacity (a 2’02.135 set in 2015) as well as the the fastest lap in a race (2’03.575 set in 2014). Also per usual – riders of Ducatis claimed the highest top speeds. In fact, the top 6 riders in this category were all on Ducs. Highest top speed was achieved by Alvaro Bautista, who hit 212.4375 miles per hour on the main straightaway. The surprise of FP2 for me was Johann Zarco, who set the second quickest lap at 2’04.347 – but remember that he’s not on a factory team. He’s representing the Monster Tech3 Yamaha. It’s an impressive showing and I won’t be the only one watching to see if he keeps it up!

Alex Rins had some mechanical issues with his Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR, so I caught a couple of snaps of it in Technical Control. He was able to continue on with a backup bike:

So many buttons!

A little behind-the-scenes look – here’s the press room where we get a feed of what’s happening on track, along with all the information required to share what’s happening with you! A lot of these guys and gals slave away and don’t actually get to enjoy the track or the ambiance to make sure that their readers get stories as soon as possible. Much respect to them:

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After a last pass through of pit and paddock area…

…we headed over to the Handbuilt Show. I’ll do a separate post on Handbuilt because there’s simply way too much going on. But just like last year, it’s absolutely worth attending. Revival Cycles is now charging $15 to get in but that’s well worth it. The cost didn’t deter a long line from forming:


When you get bikes like this outside of the show, you know it’s going to be a good time:

Beautiful Harley tank:

Of course, said Harley leaks oil:

Last year Revival hosted some flat track racing right outside of the show, but unfortunately that won’t be happening this year. Still, the quality of show bikes will keep you fascinated for hours. My personal favorite has to be the BMW Alpha:

A few other quick hits – expect a much more complete gallery once I’m back home:


As I mentioned above, the Handbuilt Show is great because it gets unexpected groups of motorcyclists together. Here’s some of a Yamaha support crew admiring the customs:

You’ll also see plenty of names you recognize from the world of motorcycling. Ellen’s a huge MotoGeo fan, so I had to introduce her to Jamie Robinson:

From there it was on to exploring some Austin nightlife. I’ll spare you photos to protect the not-so-innocent, but we did have a stop at one of our favorite bars from last year – the Yellow Jacket Social Club. That’s where I saw this little guy:

The pace of racing will pick up tomorrow for Free Practices 3 and 4, plus the two Qualifying sessions. Marquez has earned pole position in this race each of the last 4 years – sometimes he’s under 2’03, sometimes he’s over. Let’s see if he’s able to crack into the 2’02s again for qualifying tomorrow morning! Remember, if you’re around – feel free to say hi!

Click here to read my thoughts from Saturday.

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