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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
Moving away from the track, Thursday was also the Pre-Party for the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show.
There was a special area upstairs at the pool deck that had a few bikes from the show.
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).
From there we stopped at a local CVS to grab some earplugs and then headed to the track.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Moto3 bikes are light!
Today Aprilia revealed their new RSV4 RF LE (Limited Edition), which will be exclusive to North America:
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?
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.
Makoto Endo was back painting some show bikes, and I was excited to see that he had finished Mark Atkinson’s BMW Alpha!
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.
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!