Joan Mir

Austin MotoGP Race Round Up: Making History, Yamaha's Revival, And The Future Of The US GP

There are only three certainties in life: Death, taxes, and Marc Márquez winning any MotoGP race organized in the United States of America. That has been true since the Spaniard moved up to MotoGP, and for both years he spent in Moto2 as well. There is something about America which makes Márquez nigh on invincible. Is it the anticlockwise tracks? Is it the low grip and tricky surfaces found at the circuits? Or is high fructose corn syrup Márquez' equivalent of Popeye's spinach?

MotoGP went to Austin hoping this might be the year when things changed. With good reason: the racing in the series has been getting closer and closer almost on a race-by-race basis. Valentino Rossi finished just 0.6 seconds behind race winner Andrea Dovizioso at Qatar, but he crossed the line in fifth place. In Argentina, the seven riders fighting for second place were separated by 3 seconds on the penultimate lap. The Ducati Desmosedici GP19 is faster and better than ever, the Yamaha M1 has made a huge step forward since 2018, and the Suzuki has consistently been in the hunt for podiums since the middle of last year.

That is all very well and good, but the margin of Marc Márquez' victory in Termas de Rio Hondo suggested that ending Márquez' reign in the US would require something extraordinary to happen. The Repsol Honda rider had a 12 second lead going into the last lap in Argentina. The Honda RC213V had the highest top speed in both Qatar and Argentina, the bike having both more horsepower and better acceleration. Then, during qualifying, Márquez took pole – his seventh in a row at the Circuit of the Americas – with an advantage of more than a quarter of a second over Valentino Rossi. Normal service had been resumed.

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2019 Austin MotoGP Fast Notes: Jump Starts, Winning Ways, A Tight Championship, And Outstanding Team Managers

Jump starts

Have Race Direction suddenly decided to have a crackdown on jump starts? After a long period without a single jump start, we suddenly have three in two races. Look at the video, and it's clear the reason Race Direction issued two more penalties for jump starts is because two riders moved on the grid in Austin. A random statistical distribution tends to be lumpy, not smooth, and so random events look like they are clustered together. And at the point of the race where the riders are most intensely focused, occasionally mistakes will occur. Sometimes even simultaneously.

The two culprits in Austin were Joan Mir and Maverick Viñales. Mir's infraction was the smallest, barely moving and then almost coming to a stop. He was quietly seething after the race, angry at a penalty he felt he didn't deserve, and at the disproportionate nature of the penalty for the tiniest infraction in which he didn't gain an advantage, like Cal Crutchlow in Argentina. "It ruined my race," the Suzuki Ecstar rider said. "All the weekend for this. It ruined my whole weekend. When I see my lap times every lap and the pace that I had, it makes me even more angry because sincerely we had today a great pace to fight for the podium or top five, sure."

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2019 Argentina MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Honda's Race Pace, Ducati's Revelation, Yamaha's Race Pace, And How The Rain Means None Of This Matters

Qualifying in MotoGP is always important, but at the Termas de Rio Hondo track in Argentina, it matters just that little bit more. That would seem odd at such a fast and flowing track, but the problem is that the circuit doesn't get used much. That leaves the surface dusty, and without much rubber on the track to provide grip. Over the three days of the Grand Prix weekend, the three classes gradually clean up the track and put down a layer of rubber, adding to the grip.

The trouble is, because it is practice and qualifying, most of that rubber gets laid down on the racing line, as everyone tries to find the quickest line around the circuit. Stray from that line, and you are quickly back in green, dusty tarmac, with nary a hint of rubber on it. The grip is gone. "That's an important thing, because if you go 1 meter wide, you feel the bike like it is floating," is how Danilo Petrucci describes it.

That's why qualifying matters so much. If you start from the first couple of rows, you stand a chance of getting in the leading group, and biding your time until a safe opportunity presents itself. But if you don't qualify up front, or you mess up the start, then you have to take your chances out on the dirty part of the track, and hope your luck holds.

Run wide at your peril

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2019 Qatar MotoGP Race Round Up: From Masterful Management To Youthful Recklessness

For a place which 95% of the paddock hates going to, Qatar certainly knows how to make us want to come back. The area between Doha and the Losail International Circuit has been a mixture of noisy construction, omnipresent sand and dust, and an ever-changing and convoluted road system (the route to the track regularly and literally changing overnight) ever since I first went to a race there in 2009. But once at the circuit, the track layout serves up some of the best racing in the world.

Fittingly, the title sponsor for the Qatar round of MotoGP was VisitQatar, the Qatari tourist office aimed at stimulating inbound tourism to the Gulf peninsula. To be honest, the best thing VisitQatar could do to attract visitors to the country is just play all three of Sunday's races on a loop. In the Moto3 race, the first eleven riders all finished within a second. The first five riders in MotoGP finished within six tenths of a second. And the winning margin in all three races was five hundredths of a second or less. These were races decided by the width of a wheel, the winner in doubt all the way to the line.

The MotoGP race was a thrilling affair, a close race from start to finish, with wild passes as far as the eye can see. Riders jockeyed for position, vying to make their contesting strategies pay off. Yet it still left some fans feeling empty, with the impression that they were being cheated of an even better race if the riders has been willing and able to go flat out as soon as the lights went out all the way to the end.

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