Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class at COTA:
The weather in Austin was stable enough to deliver three dry FP3 sessions and the intermediate class didn’t have to rush to sort out the top 14 positions. Despite a few movements early on, Raul Fernandez’s Friday benchmark stood until the final handful of minutes of FP3, when fellow rookie Ai Ogura and then teammate Remy Gardner challenged for the top of the timesheets. However, Fernandez quickly responded to reclaim the lead by six hundredths of a second from Gardner, whose final charge was derailed by a moment in the final sector.
Saturday morning in Texas was still dry and hot, albeit quite overcast, and it allowed the premier class another physically-demanding battle for the top 10. There was no major movement on the timesheets early on but the time attack eventually hotted up for the final handful of minutes, with Jack Miller ending FP3 on a high, almost seven tenths of a second ahead of the opposition. Only five rivals managed to finish the session within a second of the Ducati man, with Takaaki Nakagami as the main challenger.
The weather radars were kind on the lightweight class on Saturday morning, with dry conditions for FP3 and a solid opportunity to fight for that valuable top 14. Despite the improved forecast, riders were in no hurry to attack the timesheets so Filip Salac’s top FP2 time held on until the shootout in the final handful of minutes. Jaume Masia eventually managed to claim the top of the timesheets by almost two tenths of a second from Stefano Nepa, whose late charge promoted him to second, ahead of compatriots Dennis Foggia and Niccolò Antonelli.
Pol Espargaro summed up the complex emotions of almost the entire grid (possibly bar Jack Miller, but more of that later) at the end of an eventful first day of practice at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. "First of all we need to say that it's super nice to come here to America, to be able to race here," the Repsol Honda rider said. "Already this is something super good after so long in Europe. And to see the American fans is super nice, they are super excited and it's nice. Saying that, I think we are in a professional MotoGP championship that, we need a minimum of quality in the tracks, about safety, run off area."
Then came the 'but'. "We must say that the track is not at the level of a MotoGP championship, sure. First of all, there are parts where the asphalt is super bad. Not about the bumps, it's just cracked everywhere, and the asphalt is super old, and it looks bad, and also it's bad grip. But then there are the bumps, and the bumps are not something that we can say it's better or it's worse. The bumps are super dangerous."
Track surface was nice and dry for the final session of the day but despite the improved conditions, no one found a cure for the speed of Raul Fernandez. After leading a damp FP1, the rookie was quick to resume the lead with a significant advantage early in FP2 and resisted all challengers to end Friday at the top of the timesheets. Teammate Remy Gardner had a more difficult session, starting at the bottom of the top 15 and needing some lengthy repairs after an unfortunate collision with Tetsuta Nagashima mid-session.
The pimply hills of COTA were alive with the sound of slick Michelins for the first time today and the margins got tighter in the premier class. One thing did not change though and the Marquez rodeo was back to its most challenging, particularly for Dorna’s on-board camera stabiliser. The Honda man was one half-second step ahead of the competition for much of the session and only a late switch to soft fresh rubber allowed his rivals some time in the limelight, but Marquez quickly resumed control at the front.
After a wet morning at the Circuit of the Americas, the lightweight class welcomed a dry FP2 and Niccolò Antonelli’s FP1 benchmark didn’t stand a chance in the much-improved conditions. The Italian did come close to reclaiming the top of the timesheets, with a couple stints at the front in the session but had to surrender top spot to Filip Salac for the final couple of minutes by eight hundredths of a second. After leading he way early on, Dennis Foggia dropped to third, one tenth off the lead and another tenth ahead of Jaume Masia.
The intermediate class got the best of the conditions on Friday morning, with a pretty convincing dry line but lap times were still quite a way off the usual in Texas. The glimpse of sunshine helped riders improve their times throughout FP1 and the lead changed hands frequently, until Raul Fernandez claimed the headlines on his final flying lap. The rookie made a fast start, almost two tenths of a second faster than Bo Bendsneyder, who also bided his time to climb the timesheets.
The premier class entered the stage at the COTA festival in pretty wet conditions and the headline act was once again Marc Marquez, the sheriff getting a nice homecoming by leading the way early on by over two seconds. However, the Honda man lost most of that advantage as sunshine made an appearance and track conditions improved, prompting riders to get an early time attack in. Jack Miller was the Spaniard’s main challenger, the Ducati man briefly leading the way but getting demoted back to second by one tenth of a second in the end.