At the end of both qualifying sessions, it looked like we were in store for a repeat of the last several years: Marc Marquez had earned pole position. However, his recent trend of making news for the wrong reasons continues as he ended up getting in the way of Maverick Viñales’ attempt to set a fast lap and MotoGP hit Marquez with a 3 position penalty on the grid.
I’m sure Marc would rather have the pole, but this is pretty much as close as I can get to having my wish of Marquez starting from the back. It’ll just make the first 3.5 laps of the race more interesting until Marquez takes the lead and keeps it until the checkered flag. Here’s hoping I’m wrong!
Photos by Nathan May unless otherwise specified.
If you missed my thoughts from Thursday and Friday, you can check them out here. Otherwise, let’s go back to this morning…as you may remember from yesterday’s story, Nathan and I are staying at an Airbnb. There’s a few motorcycles in the parking lot, the coolest of which is this Honda Dream.
Another excellent detail was this vintage FAA parking sticker.
I also spent some time learning more about the track itself:
First proposed in 2010, COTA was the first track in the US that was specifically built to host Formula 1. Seeing as Kevin Schwantz was involved from the beginning, it’s no surprise that it also hosts MotoGP (though I truly miss having MotoGP at Laguna Seca). THe course is 3.43 miles long with 133 feet in elevation change.
The longest straight is 3937 feet, and the fastest riders will end up topping 215 miles per hour.
One thing to note – last year the race was 21 laps, but this year it’s going to be 20. That obviously makes the final distance a bit shorter (now we’re down to 68.52 miles, which is still a tremendous physical challenge.
Though there are more left turns than right (11 to 9), Michelin’s (official tire supplier of MotoGP) engineers have calculated that the right side of the tire gets more stress than the middle or left of the tires.
Speaking of Michelin, here’s a fun trivia fact for you. In each race on this season’s MotoGP calendar, Michelin will bring in 1,400 tires. Said tires have minimum running pressures:
Front Slick: 27.55 psi
Rear Slick: 24.65 psi
Front Wet: 29 psi
Rear Wet: 24.65 psi
Free Practice 3 concluded with Marc Marquez back on top. His fastest lap is 2’04.608, and Johann Zarco is the closest behind him with a 2’05.025. Note that Iannone’s fast lap from FP2 yesterday was still the best time of the week at 2’04.599. Top speed honors continue to go to Cal Crutchlow – in FP3 he hit 213.13 miles per hour.
I went back to the paddock to people watch (and because I had the opportunity to visit the Yamaha Movistar pit), but the first thing I noticed was a suit.
This gentleman unfurled a French flag as soon as he came into the paddock.
This guy was waiting outside of the bathroom with his camera pointed right at the door. I thought this was weird, and he seemed disappointed when Nathan appeared. This would not be the first time Nathan disappointed an individual (or several) as he walked out of a door today…more on that later.
In the vendor area, there’s some options for demo rides, but I went there specifically to check out a bike that was only shown on static display. I’m very excited about the Niken – I’m actually talking to Yamaha to see if Vy and I can try one while we’re in Spain this summer as Europe gets this before the US does, but I don’t think they’re going to be available in time. Marcus Demichele, Yamaha’s Street Motorcycle Media Relations Manager, told me that the first year of production is scheduled to be very limited, and the local demo rep said that you can probably expect to try these out on demo rides next year.
Sticking with Yamaha for a moment, I noticed something called the Yamaha R/World VIP Experience while I was exploring the MotoAmerica paddock. Turns out it’s a special program Yamaha puts on every year for just 40 Yamaha owners who are willing to shell out what I think is $1,500 (don’t quote me on that). The experience includes goodies like:
• Suite, Paddock, and Parking passes for all 3 days
• Meet and greet with Yamaha Factory Race Teams (Friday)
• Tour of the Yamaha MotoGP team garages with exclusive photo opportunities (Friday)
• Pit Lane Walk passes
• MotoAmerica Yamaha Factory Racing transporter tours
• Catered Dinner in the Suite Friday night
• COTA Karting Session & Observation Tower passes
• And more…
If you have the money and want to do MotoGP right, it sure sounds like a fun way to go! I didn’t have $1,500 to spend, but I did end up shadowing a Q&A that the VIPs had with Superbike riders Cameron Beaubier and Garrett Gerloff. Josh Hayes was there in an official capacity – he’s recently come on board with Yamaha as a Factory Racing Ambassador and bLU cRU Riding Coach. Everyone was eloquent and knowledgeable, and Josh was particularly savvy in his ability to represent Yamaha. I remember one specific question from the crowd about how/why Yamaha was giving up speed in certain sections of he track to Toni Elias and his successful Suzuki. Cameron talked about how the factory Suzukis get better drive out of corners but the Yamahas make up for it with better power at the top end. Josh followed it up with a line about how Yamaha is the “tuning fork company” and that’s why they excel in “sections with rhythm.” It makes no sense – Yamaha’s history with musical instruments has no bearing on hitting apexes – but it sure sounds good and it gets a laugh out of the crowd. I was very impressed with Josh’s demeanor and his ability to connect with his audience.
I mentioned earlier that Nathan had a trend of disappointing people today. When we were in the Yamaha pit, a crowd of people had built up outside the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of Valentino Rossi. So when the pit door opened, excitement was high…until Nathan walked out. To be fair, the only reason I knew how the scene would play out is because it had happened to me just a few seconds earlier. But why would I let facts get in the way of making fun of Nathan?
Free Practice 4 came and went without much drama, which is mostly because the times set in FP4 have no bearing on what qualifying session a rider participates in – we’ll get to that in just a moment. Marquez was again the fastest rider of the session but his 2’04.686 time was still slower than Iannone’s fast lap from FP2. Viñales was just behind with a 2’04.738, and the rest of the top 5 were Valentino Rossi, Andrea Iannone, and Cal Crutchlow. For the fourth time in four practice sessions, Crutchlow had the highest top speed of anyone on the track. This time around he hit 214.87 miles per hour.
MotoGP qualifiers aren’t completely intuitive, so here’s a basic introduction if you’re not already familiar with how it works. There are two 15-minute sessions which are imaginatively named Qualifying Number 1 and Qualifying Number 2. Q2 is for the riders with the 10 fastest times in FP1, FP2, and FP3 (all of which are 45 minutes long). Q1 is for the riders with lap times of 11th place and below. However, the two riders with the fastest laps in Q1 get bumped into Q2 so now there are actually 12 riders in Q2 that compete for a starting spots. Spots 13 and below in the race are determined by the lap times set in Q1. Still with me?
FP4 is a 30 minute session that exists “to accommodate for any unforeseen changes or necessary adjustments.” it’s not officially timed and the results do not affect if a rider will be in Q1 or Q2.
Riders only had a 10 minute break after FP4 before Q1 started, and the two riders that advanced to Q2 were Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) with a 2’05.169 and Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) with a 2’05.245. Q2 started after another 10 minute break and before the 15 minutes were up, Marc Marquez managed to earn pole position AND have an accident (obviously not on the same lap). Marc’s fast lap was a blistering 2’03.658, well ahead of the 2’04.064 that earned Maverick Viñales a 2nd place start tomorrow. Here’s a link to the accident video, though you’ll need to have a free account with MotoGP.com to watch it.
With all that said, Marquez will not actually be starting from pole position. During qualifying, Marquez was involved in an incident where he got in Viñales’ way near Turn 15, and it ruined Maverick’s lap. Marquez was hit with a penalty of three spots. That puts him in 4th place, right alongside his current best friend, Valentino Rossi. Viñales’ promotion makes him the first non-Honda rider to snag pole position in the US since Lorenzo did it in Laguna Seca all the way back in 2012! You may remember that Maverick was giving Marquez a run for his money for a whole lap before he crashed out last year, so here’s hoping he can make it a challenge for #93.
This is the video MotoGP released of the “incident that cost Marquez the pole”, though it doesn’t have much in terms of context. Marquez says that he was focused on the the rider in front of him (Iannone) and he wasn’t going very fast. The problem was that he was going slow while in the racing line, and by the time he heard Maverick behind him and moved over to the side it was too late – he was already in the way.
The starting grid is as follows:
1. Maverick Viñales / #25 / Yamaha / 2’04.064
2. Andrea Iannone / #29 / Suzuki / 2’04.209
3. Johann Zarco / #5 / Yamaha / 2’04.210
4. Marc Marquez / #93 / Honda / 2’03.658
5. Valentino Rossi / #46 / Yamaha / 2’04.229
6. Jorge Lorenzo / #99 / Ducati / 2’04.294
7. Cal Crutchlow / #35 / Honda / 2’04.456
8. Andrea Dovizioso / #4 / Ducati / 2’04.865
9. Dani Pedrosa / #26 / Honda / 2’04.963
10. Danilo Petrucci / #9 / Ducati / 2’05.058
11. Alex Rins / #42 / Suzuki / 2’05.260
12. Takaaki Nakagami / #30 / Honda / 2’05.457
13. Tito Rabat / #53 / Ducati / 2’05.686
14. Bradley Smith / #38 / KTM / 2’05.761
15. Pol Espargaro / #44 / KTM / 2’05.829
16. Hafizh Syahrin / #55 / Yamaha / 2’05.873
17. Franco Morbidelli / #21 / Honda / 2’05.943
18. Jack Miller / #43 / Ducati / 2’05.966
19. Aleix Espargaro / #41 / Aprilia / 2’06.035
20. Thomas Luthi / #12 / Honda / 2’06.222
21. Alvaro Bautista / #19 / Ducati / 2’06.296
22. Scott Redding / #45 / Aprilia / 2’06.370
23. Karel Abraham / #17 / Ducati / 2’06.537
24. Xavier Simeon / #10 / Ducati / 2’06.726
Tomorrow is going to be a blast.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about MotoAmerica’s Superbike racing (besides the fact that Toni Elias is dominant) but when the rain started coming out Nathan thought it would be interesting to see how the bikes looked in the wet so we stayed a little bit later than usual.
From there it was off to Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden as part of a little get together. Thanks so much to all of you that came by, it was wonderful to meet you!
Here’s a bonus photo from Handbuilt for fun, but tomorrow the focus is all about the MotoGP race! Hope you’re able to catch it in person, on TV, or online.