2018 MotoGP Austin – Thursday and Friday

In Travel by AbhiLeave a Comment

It begins! Thursday’s a relatively light day, so I’ve consolidated it with a summary of what happened on Friday as well.

Photos by Nathan May unless otherwise specified.

Thursday is media day at MotoGP, and this year was a little different than usual. Remember when I said that the last race made headlines for the wrong reasons? Due to the acrimony between Rossi and Marquez, there were three separate panels:

One for Marquez by himself. Marc didn’t say a whole lot directly about the scandal, instead choosing to go general with statements like “the race weekend in Argentina and especially Sunday was very tricky for the conditions, and a lot of things happened during the race weekend…But I’m a rider and a person who likes to improve and especially learn from everything. And I think from that race day everybody can learn a lot.” Number 93 went on to add, “I’m a rider and person who likes to improve and learn from, in this case, mistakes. A lot of things happened. I made mistakes, I was penalized and I went to apologize…We’re riders, we’re people and we all make mistakes. It’s a competition at the limit, and the track conditions were at the limit. So you learn from the bad and the good, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Photo courtesy MotoGP

One for Rossi by himself. Valentino also put an emphasis on looking ahead towards this weekend’s race when he said “the only thing to do now is look to the future and think about this weekend…I think it’s important to get back on track, ride the motorcycle, to try to get the maximum and work with the team. I’m very happy to be here.” He did not forget to remind everyone that he thought he was right about the incident, though: “I watched the race back, I think exactly what I said after the race in Argentina. But it’s better to look forward.

Photo courtesy MotoGP

One for the rest of the serious contenders. From left to right we’ve got Alex Rins, Maverick Viñales, Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow, Johann Zarco, and Jack Miller.

Photo courtesy MotoGP.

I slightly teased Cal Crutchlow in my preview, but he’s the first Brit to lead the MotoGP standings since Barry Sheene in 1979. He also seemed less cocky than usual: “I don’t know whether I’ve silenced any critics or not but it’s true, don’t doubt me…sure on Sunday or next race maybe I’ll finish tenth and we won’t be leading but I think at the moment we deserve it because we’ve done a good job.

Photo courtesy MotoGP.

Moving away from the track, Thursday was also the Pre-Party for the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show.

The pre-party this year was at the South Congress Hotel, where Revival Cycles has a storefront.

The parking situation was simultaneously orderly (everything was lined up nicely) and chaotic (bikes moved from the street to the sidewalk to inside the plaza).

The rider of a classic Harley tries to find a place to park on the sidewalk.

One of my favorite rides was this modified Honda Gorilla. The owner trucked it down from Springfield, Missouri and it looked like he was having a blast on the streets of Austin. He’s turned it into a cafe racer and shoved a 150cc motor into it. According to him, it’s a little too easy to get the front wheel up now.

This old Guzzi was quite charming.

Brian Case is the Co-Founder and Design Director of Motus Motorcycles. Their V4 sport-tourer is impressive (check out Walter Barlow’s thoughts here) but Brian decided to create a naked concept that gets plenty of attention as well.

There was a special area upstairs at the pool deck that had a few bikes from the show.

One of them was Craig Rodsmith’s V9 which was built as part of a Moto Guzzi initiative that supplied 4 custom builders with a V9 to make their own.

It was also a great place for Nathan to enjoy a Lone Star beer..

We enjoyed the sunset, caught up with a few friends while having a few more beers, and then grabbed some late night food at the Magnolia Cafe.


Friday is when the MotoGP action started, but Nathan and I began with what has become an Austin tradition for us – breakfast at Micklethwait Craft Meats. I maintain it’s just as good as any other place in Austin but it opens at 11am so we can get there around 10:40am and not have to suffer through the absurdly long lines of places like Franklin’s (which also opens at 11, but the line seems to be twice as long).

On Saturdays and Sundays they offer free beer to help pass the time in line. As this was a Friday, we were out of luck..until Nathan decided that he was going to walk a couple of blocks over to a liquor store to get some Shiner. He inspired a group of people behind us to do the same thing.

My go-to order is the Frito Pie. They also make some of the best jalapeno cheese grits I’ve ever had.

Everyone apparently wanted pictures of their food.

From there we stopped at a local CVS to grab some earplugs and then headed to the track.

Special thanks to Nathan for joining me and taking photos. The end results are fun but it’s very difficult to get shots from all over the track by yourself! Photo by me.

There are 24 riders on the entry list for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas. There are 9 Spanish riders, 5 Italians, and 3 from Germany, with a few individual entrants from countries like Austria, France, Japan, and Switzerland sprinkled in for good measure.

While there might be two dozen riders on the grid, some people (including yours truly)think it’s really just Marc Marquez and 23 people fighting for 2nd place. I hope I’m wrong!

Free Practice 1 (FP1) started at 10:55am, and it ended much the same way that last year’s race did – with Marquez in first and Rossi in second. Marc set the fast lap of 2’05.530, while Valentino was close behind with a 2’05.926. Rounding out the top five were Maverick Viñales, Jorge Lorenzo, and Cal Crutchlow. Cal had the fastest top speed of anyone in the first practice session, achieving 214.50 miles per hour on his LCR Honda.

Baby Jack gets comfortable on the inside of Turn 16.

Free Practice 2 (FP2) looked like more of the same for nearly the entire session of 45 minutes plus 1 lap as Marquez held the fastest lap from 6 and half minutes in until Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) snatched that title away on his last lap (number 16) with a 2’04.599.

The Suzuki pit seemed quite ecstatic when Andrea pulled in at the end of practice after beating Marquez’s time!

I normally love Valentino Rossi’s helmets, but this variant on his famous Sun/Moon paint schemes didn’t do it for me.

One of Rossi’s colleagues in the Movistar Yamaha team keeps a close eye on the competition – in this case, Marc Marquez. Photo by me.

Marc’s 2’04.655 was only good for second, while the rest of the top 5 were Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, and Cal Crutchlow. Cal again earned fastest top speed of the session (though this time he tied with Danilo Petrucci) by hitting 216.18 miles per hour.

Jack Miller had a less successful time out on the track – at one point he found himself literally on the track after going down.

Nearby track workers tried to push start his KTM but they were unsuccessful and one of the workers fell in the process. Photo by me.

Adorably, he saluted to let the crowd know that he was OK. Photo by me.

This kid wanted to get back to the action! Photo by me.

The observation tower at COTA is something special, and you can see nearly the entire track from the top. You can also see the airport, downtown Austin, and the factory for Tito’s vodka. There are 419 stairs up to the top, but thankfully the elevator works now (it didn’t last year).

Nathan and I went up the tower (the observation deck is 230 feet tall, while the entire tower is 251 feet) to catch some of the Moto2 practice, and we were rewarded with some an interesting perspective on the action.

They’ve paid tribute to Nicky Hayden by painting his logo into the grass.

A track worker sweeps the course after a Moto2 practice session.

If you’re interested in tires, you’ll probably know that Michelin is the official supplier for MotoGP this year. In FP1 almost everyone was running soft slicks up front and medium slicks in the back, but tire selection was all over the place in FP2 as teams decided to experiment. The weather gods are calling for rain and thunderstorms tomorrow so it looks like slicks will be swapped out for “Michelin Power Rain” rubber. Whatever tires they’re using, things should be interesting if Weather.com’s prediction of “scattered thunderstorms” is true during qualifying. Selfishly, I’m not-so-secretly hoping for a situation where Marquez ends up at the back of the pack again for the race on Sunday so we get to watch him carve up the field (and hopefully not take out any Italians in the process).

At this point, Nathan and I split up so he could shoot some of the MotoAmerica superbike action, while I headed to the paddock to see what was happening off the track:

Toni Elias says hi to Nathan.

Nathan was fascinated by the almost sponsor-free livery of Jeremy Coffey on a BMW S1000RR.

After the Superbikes were done with the track (no surprises, Elias took Superpole), an Energica Evo spun a couple of laps as a preview of the new FIM MotoE World Cup that will start next year. Like just about every other electric bike, it’s freakishly quiet.

I had just been dropped off by the media shuttle in the background when the official safety car (a mean-sounding BMW M5) started to make its way to the track.

I love the “Horsepower Rodeo” slogan that MotoGP uses when they’re in Texas.

Moto3 bikes are light!

A member of the factory Ducati team cleans Dovi’s front fairing.

This Ohlins shock also gets its own bath.

Danilo Petrucci’s suit gets some attention from the REV’IT technical support team.

Today Aprilia revealed their new RSV4 RF LE (Limited Edition), which will be exclusive to North America:

This is #1 of the 125 that will be sold in 2019. Major changes from last year’s model include a paint scheme that incorporates the old stylized “A” logo (originally used in the late 80s when Loris Reggiani earned Aprilia their first GP race victory), optional removable winglets inspired by the factory works bike, and black forged wheels. The exhaust is disappointing for such a premiere machine, but Aprilia’s reasoning is that owners are going to want to slap an aftermarket pipe on, so why charge more for an upgraded exhaust that’s going to be discarded anyway?

Other important news off the track was the induction of Randy Mamola as a “MotoGP Legend”, or what MotoGP calls their Hall of Fame. He is the 27th member of the club, and while he won 13 races he is the first Legend who has not won a World Championship. Most people didn’t have a problem with that because of his fame while racing and all he’s done since, including his work with MotoGP’s official charity: Two Wheels For Life. But when Johann Zarco was asked about Mamola’s induction, he pushed back by saying, “It’s not fair that Randy can become a legend, because he’s never won a title, and this takes some of the importance away from MotoGP. He deserves to be a legend because he’s created unforgettable moment, but at the same time he takes away from the titles won by other riders.” Do you agree?

Randy started off his press conference by saying he didn’t want to get emotional…and then he promptly started tearing up. Photo from MotoGP.

Friday also marks the start of the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show. To be frank, there’s way too much going on here now for me to cover tonight. It’s grown significantly and changed venues – this year it’s at the Austin American-Statesman, in a warehouse where they used to store the raw paper that would be printed on. So for now I’m just going to give you a taste, but I’ll give you a full recap and plenty more photos when I get back home to LA and have a chance to sleep.

You may remember this bike because I featured it for sale a few weeks ago. It looks pretty good in photos but in person it’s even more stunning. I have to keep reminding myself that Jay was just 23 years old when he built this. It’s still for sale!

Last year Moto Guzzi gave V9 Bobbers to 4 custom builders. Today was the first time they were all together in the same room for the public to check out.

Nathan normally doesn’t care for Harleys, but this was one of his favorite bikes from the show.

Makoto Endo was back painting some show bikes, and I was excited to see that he had finished Mark Atkinson’s BMW Alpha!

Click here for a video of Mark talking about the origin story of his build.

Normally with art like this, the costs to make it happen are kept very quiet. Makoto had no problem sharing his fees publicly, and I thought they were quite interesting. Photo by me.

Nathan will do what it takes to get the shot…

…and after a little bit of repositioning, this is what he got. This is a 1973 Honda CB350 built by Mike Gustafson of Monnom Customs. The most striking feature is the fairing, which is made out of walnut. For more information, check out this BikeEXIF story.

While Handbuilt is best associated with custom builds, there are a few bikes that are truly special just as they were delivered – that list includes the Honda NR750:

It was great to see old friends and meet new ones.

This is Shun Miyazawa, Motorcycle Project Manager for Yamaha and the man behind the Yard Built and Faster Sons projects – he was ahead of the curve when it came to the factory-sponsored custom builds that now seem to be mandatory.

Again, I’ll have more for you from Handbuilt when I’m back home in Los Angeles. Speaking of which, I live in LA because I like sun and I hate rain. But tomorrow will be the first time I’ve wished for precipitation in years, simply because I think it will make qualifying way more interesting. Let’s see what happens!

Here’s what happened on Saturday.