Alex Rins

Austin MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Near Tragedy In Moto3, Marquez Still Fast Going Left, And Quartararo Tightens His Grip On The 2021 Crown

Sunday was a busy day for motorcycle racing fans. WorldSBK from Portimão, MXGP in Teutschenthal, Germany, BSB from Donington Park, and probably some more that went unnoticed in the hectic schedule. There was a lot of racing to take in, even for the most ardent and completist fan.

The action in Europe was thrilling, WorldSBK turning into the most exciting and tensest racing on the planet right at this moment, and then the racing world turned its attention to the United States of America, where the Grand Prix paddock had set up shop at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.

The racing in Austin was a good deal less scintillating. With the exception of the terror and drama of Moto3 – more on that later – both the Moto2 and MotoGP races were, frankly, dull, decided in the first few corners. Not that there wasn't anything of interest that happened: in Moto3 and Moto2, the championship gaps closed, in Moto2 significantly after Remy Gardner crashed out, his first mistake of the season, while in MotoGP, Marc Marquez returned to winning ways while Fabio Quartararo put one hand on the title.

But the process by which we reached this point was not exciting, in any shape or form. The field was quickly strung out – even in Moto3, at least by its own standards – and the battles for position were few and far between. After the shocking crash in Moto3, the dullness of the Moto2 and MotoGP races was rather welcome.

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Austin MotoGP Saturday Round Up: New Surface Needed, More Speed Than Ever, And Predicting The Last Rider Standing

It has been four years since anyone lapped the Circuit of The Americas quite so rapidly. In 2018 and 2019, nobody, not even Marc Marquez, managed to get under the 2'03s. So it is a testament to how much faster the MotoGP riders are going that two riders managed it on Saturday in Austin. And this, despite the fact that the track has become so much more bumpy in the past couple of years.

So bumpy, in fact, that it appears as if the circuit has been issued an ultimatum: resurfaces the section from the exit of Turn 1 all the way through Turn 10, or MotoGP is not coming back. Though riders try not to talk to the media about what was discussed in the Safety Commission, the body in which the MotoGP riders can talk to Dorna and the FIM about safety issues, so that they can speak freely, it was obvious there was only one topic of discussion in the meeting: the bumps which have rendered the track so dangerous that there were calls by some riders not to race at all on Sunday.

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Austin MotoGP Friday Round Up: The Danger Of A Bumpy Track, Lasting 20 Laps, And Can Marc Marquez' Withstand Fabio Quartararo's Onslaught?

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."

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Misano MotoGP Test Tuesday Round Up: Wet Riding, Yamaha's New Chassis, Aero Updates, Honda's New Frame

The trouble with testing is that you have no control of the weather. As a result result of rain, and a track that was slow to dry, the MotoGP field lost half of the first day of the two-day test at Misano to wet conditions, with little use made of the track. The test riders were sent out as sacrificial lambs to put in laps and collect data in the wet. But Fabio Quartararo also put in some laps in the wet, to try to get a better feel for the Yamaha M1 in the wet, conditions they struggle in.


The wet-weather brake disc covers on the Yamaha M1

Those wet laps were useful for the championship leader. "In the morning I tried to make some laps but the track conditions were changing a lot, but from the first lap I could clearly see where the problem is with our bike and I think that we need to find a solution to that… But it's true that it's quite difficult to know what is happening," Quartararo told us at the end of the day.

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Misano MotoGP Saturday Round Up: How The Dry Saved Fabio's Bacon, What's Irking Marc Marquez, And Why All The Crashes?

It was supposed to rain, so of course it didn't, proving that the weather on Italy's Adriatic coast is just as fickle as any other place in the world at the moment. Instead, it was hot and humid, with the threat of rain looming in the distance, providing a brief shower during qualifying for the Moto2 class, but leaving the rest of the sessions untouched.

The recent rains did leave their mark, however. The standing water left by the heavy showers of recent weeks had allowed midges, mosquitoes, and other insect life to breed copiously, and clouds of midges swarmed sections of the track. To the misfortune of Jack Miller, who had to come into the pits after getting one of the little mites in his eye.

"I did end up with one in my eye," he told the press conference after qualifying on the front row of the grid. "It was annoying for a couple of laps. It was strange. There were small tubes of them just randomly in random spots on the track. Even on my best lap in FP3, I had one flying around the inside of the helmet and it didn’t want to go away. I was trying to look past him a little bit."

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Misano MotoGP Friday Round Up: Fast Maverick, Wet & Dry Ducatis & Yamahas, New Returnees, And Honda's Chassis Tests

Friday at Misano was fun, if a complete waste of time. Ideal conditions for about 35 minutes of FP1, then the deluge came, flooding the track and putting an end to any idea of improvement. A rainy afternoon – though not quite as rain-sodden as the end of FP1 – meant it was impossible to better the times from this morning.

Which left Maverick Viñales at the top of the timesheets. A remarkable achievement, given this is just his second race on the Aprilia after his dramatic separation from the Yamaha team. Does this mean that Viñales is now the favorite for the win at Misano? Even Maverick Viñales doesn't think so.

"Overall the feeling has been good, but like in Alcañiz, we are not thinking at all about the position and the performance," Viñales said on Friday afternoon. "We know we have to be focused on the feelings, especially on this learning process that we are doing. It's good to be in the front, this is clear, makes you feel much more calm, much more comfortable, because you feel you have the speed. But whatever it takes right now, we need to keep with a lot of calmness, trying to build up a solid step and this is what we are trying to do."

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Aragon MotoGP Preview: Quartararo's Challenge, Hot Conditions, And Maverick Viñales' New Challenge

These past two pandemic-stricken season have been strange years for me as a journalist. Instead of heading to race tracks almost every weekend, I have been sat at home, staring at a computer screen to talk to riders. There have been ups and downs: on the plus side, we journalists get to talk to more riders than when we were at the track, because computers make it possible to switch from one rider to another with a couple of mouse clicks, rather than sprint through half the paddock from race truck to hospitality and back again. I no longer waste hours in trains, planes and cars, traveling from home to airport to hotel to race track. And it is easier to slip in a quick hour on the bicycle between FP1 and FP2, which has undoubtedly improved my fitness and prolonged my life.

But the downsides are major: it is no longer possible to knock on the door of a team manager to ask a quick question, or check some data with IRTA, or stop a crew chief or mechanic in passing to ask something technical. Casual conversations do not happen. I miss friends and colleagues, people I have worked with for years, through many ups and downs. And though I don't miss the travel, I do miss the scenery, and the locations.

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Silverstone MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Unfazed Fabio, Trouble With Tires, Close Races, Aprilia Joy, And Marquez' Madness

The question MotoGP fans and followers were asking themselves over the summer break was how much of his 34-point championship lead Fabio Quartararo would be able to hang on to after Ducati ruled two races in Austria and Suzuki hoovered up the points at Silverstone. The best the Monster Energy Yamaha rider could hope for was to claw back a few points at the British Grand Prix, and then hope to manage the points gap to the end of the season. The question in everyone's mind was how much of Quartararo's lead would remain, and whether his lead would even be in double figures.

It hasn't turned out that way. Quartararo finished third and seventh in the two races at the Red Bull Ring, and managed to extend his lead to 47 points by the time MotoGP left Austria. At Silverstone, the Frenchman dominated, adding another victory and stretching his lead to 65 points. With six races left in the 2021 MotoGP season (probably, Covid-19 permitting), the championship is Quartararo's to lose.

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