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.
Austin gave the MotoGP paddock a very wet welcome on their return to the States and although the track conditions seemed kind on the lightweight class for their first outing of the weekend, it was a slippery end to the session, with quite a few last minute tumbles. Times were reasonably quick and the lead changed hands many times until Niccolò Antonelli picked up top spot in the final couple of minutes of FP1, dropping Filip Salac to second by one hundredth of a second.
It was inevitable that there would be a lot of talk at Austin of the events of a few days earlier, at Jerez. The death of Dean Berta Viñales in the first (and only) WorldSSP300 race at the Spanish track had once again raised the question of safety in motorcycle racing. Especially the safety in the support classes, where the technical rules had been set up to achieve as much parity as possible, creating very large groups on the race track. And especially in classes populated by sometimes very young riders.
How ironic, then, that some of such talk took place in the pre-event press conference in Austin, where a group of riders in the FIM MiniGP North America series were present. Kensei Matsudaira, age 10, Jesse Shedden, age 12, Jayden Fernandez, age 13, Kayla Yaakov, age 14, and Travis Horn, age 13, all got to sit and listen as the MotoGP riders were asked questions about how to prevent young kids from being killed in motorcycle races.
The FIM MiniGP series is one of the steps Dorna is putting in place in its Road to MotoGP initiative, aimed at stimulating racing talent at a regional and national level, before moving up on the path to World Championship level racing.
For the first time in two years, MotoGP is headed for a flyaway race which isn't in Qatar. After a long period of uncertainty, and facing a certain amount of opposition from inside the Grand Prix paddock, the series is heading to the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. After having 12 of the first 14 races all inside the same timezone (give or take an hour), a flyaway race feels like something of a novelty.
The novelty will not be quite as great as hoped for all those traveling to Austin. Given the extremely high case numbers of Covid-19 in Texas, and the dearth of ICU beds, Dorna has requested everyone attending the race remain in their bubbles – staying inside their hotels, not going into town, not visiting bars and restaurants – as much as possible. Normally, the Austin round of MotoGP is a reason to party. That will not be the case this year.
Staying inside will be made easier by the weather: very heavy rain is expected throughout the weekend, especially on Friday and Saturday. Leaving the hotel to wander the streets of downtown Austin is a much less attractive opposition in the pouring rain.
The rain is going to add an extra level of difficulty to what is already one of the most challenging tracks on the calendar. COTA is probably the most physically demanding track of the year, thanks to its layout.
Roller coaster ride
Maverick Viñales has elected not to race at the US round of MotoGP at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. The Spaniard has decided to take the time to come to terms with the death of his cousin, Dean Berta Viñales, as a result of a crash in the WorldSSP300 race at Jerez on Saturday. Dean Berta Viñales rode in the team run by Maverick's father, Angel, and which carries Maverick's logo.
With a three-week break after Austin, the Spaniard will have time to process the death of someone so close to him. For both Maverick Viñales and Aprilia, the races in the second half of 2021 were an added bonus in the Spaniard's adaptation to the Aprilia RS-GP, as he had originally signed to race for the Italian factory for the 2022 season. But his release by Yamaha allowed him to get an early start.
The Aprilia press release appears below:
MAVERICK VIÑALES WILL NOT RACE IN AUSTIN
There has been yet another change to the MotoGP calendar for 2021. As had been expected, the Malaysian Grand Prix scheduled for October 24th at the Sepang International Circuit has been canceled. In its place will be an extra race at the Misano circuit in Italy. Misano will be the second circuit, after Portimão, which will two races this year but not back to back. Unlike the Portuguese circuit, however, Misano will host its second race five weeks after the first, rather than six months later.
This change looks like being the final alteration to the 2020 calendar. Despite the fact that the Covid-19 outbreak in Texas has placed serious demands on hospital capacity, with ICU beds now 99% occupied, MotoMatters.com understands that there is a huge push inside Dorna to make the Austin race happen. The Circuit of The Americas and the county and state governments are also assisting in pushing the race to take place.
The MotoGP Test At Sepang, due to be held from 19th - 21st of February, has been canceled, Dorna announced today. The King of Malaysia, at the request of the Malaysian government, has declared a state of emergency in Malaysia which is due to last until August 1st. The state of emergency has been declared in an attempt to stem the Covid-19 pandemic which continues to spread around the world.
The cancellation comes despite the best efforts of Dorna, IRTA, and the circuit to make the Sepang test as self-contained as possible. Dorna and IRTA had put forward a proposal to house everyone involved in the test at the Sama Sama hotel, located next to Kuala Lumpur International Airport, to the exclusion of other guests. Everyone - riders, teams, officials - would travel between the hotel and the circuit only, with no time outside of the MotoGP bubble. As the Sama Sama hotel is where most teams and riders involved stay during the test anyway, very little would change.
MotoGP will continue into 2021, and scheduling difficulties continue to accompany it. Unlike 2020, however, Dorna and the FIM are prepared for it, however, and so today, we saw a provisional 2021 MotoGP calendar announced. It is a very conventional-looking schedule, with a giant caveat attached underneath: "All dates, events and the attendance of spectators are subject to the evolution of the pandemic and the approval of the corresponding Governments and authorities."
After two tests, at Sepang in mid February and Qatar in mid March, the 2021 season is scheduled to kick off at Qatar on March 28th. After Qatar, the series heads to the Americas, where MotoGP races in Argentina at Termas de Rio Hondo and at Austin. They then head back to Europe, for the usual round of spring races: Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Barcelona, Sachsenring, and Assen. They round it off with a trip to Finland, subject to the Kymiring being homologated on time.