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.
It wasn't the first time we've seen processional races at the Circuit of The Americas. In fact, processional races tend to be the norm at the circuit. Sunday's top ten in MotoGP was separated by 20.265 seconds, the second closest at the circuit since MotoGP started racing there. The closest top ten was in 2017, when 18.494 covered winner to tenth. The first four races held in Austin saw the top ten separated by over 40 seconds, and 31 seconds separated first from tenth the last time we came here in 2019. That was the only time the margin between the winner and second was under a second, Alex Rins beating Valentino Rossi by 0.462 seconds.
For comparison, only Portimão and Mugello saw bigger gaps between the top ten in the dry in 2021, as well as the wet races in Austria 2 and Le Mans, which tend to be more spread out. For some reason or other, though, Austin always seems to string races out, see them effectively decided in the first couple of corners.
Why is that? "Well, I have no idea," Pol Espargaro responded when asked. Fortunately, he went on to give a long list or reasons: "The track is tricky, long, it's bumpy, so it's very easy to make a mistake. It's physically demanding, and this makes more mistakes. I don't know, maybe it's that. Consistency is very difficult here, and maybe for that, there is more gap in between the riders. But honestly speaking, I don't know."
No room for error
Espargaro is onto something. The first section, the long esses from Turn 2 to Turn 10 is complex, and if you run wide there you are automatically off line for a long time before there is enough space between corners to correct a mistake. And if you mess up bad enough, you are across the hard run off and either have to slow down, or like Jorge Martin, have to do a Long Lap Penalty.
Making things worse is the bumpiness of the track. On a long, complicated track, the bumps are so numerous and varied that you can only really memorize the bumps around the main line of the track. Run off line and you encounter bumps you weren't expecting, turning a small mistake into a major loss of time.
Espargaro had bitter experience of how a single mistake can turn into a nightmare. "In my case for example, on lap 7 I had a huge closing in the second corner, and then I needed to go straight and I need to shortcut on the consecutive corners, and in that place I lost 1.5 or 2 seconds in one lap," the Repsol Honda rider told us. "So this makes a huge gap between me and the guy in front, and then I couldn't recover."
All downhill from there
Things went from bad to worse after that. "I was overtaken by Bastianini, I did another mistake, then I lost another second and a half, so in two laps I lose three and a half seconds. So after, it's difficult after a huge closing like that to come back to a good pace, it's difficult."
That puts pressure on a rider to try to make up ground, tempting them into even more mistakes, Espargaro pointed out. "And then you make more mistakes, you get nervous, you want more than what you can do, and also I cooked the front tire and I burned it and that was it." Espargaro finished over 20 seconds behind his teammate, and race winner, Marc Marquez.
The racing may not have been memorable – with the exception of the Moto3 race, for all the wrong reasons – but it was still a significant weekend. In these subscriber notes:
- Moto3 mayhem, literally, the hows and the whys
- Will a two-race ban for Deniz Öncü clean up Moto3?
- How modern training methods are making for more aggressive races
- Marc Marquez' secret for turning left
- Fabio Quartararo's championship calculations
- Pecco Bagnaia's impossible task
- Quick thoughts on Martin, Bastianini, Rins, Miller vs Mir, Jenny Anderson on the podium, Dovizioso's progress, and Rossi being right to retire
First, that Moto3 race. Or rather, those Moto3 races. The first attempt at running the race was stopped on lap 7, when Filip Salac highsided on the exit of Turn 11, and needed to be moved with care from the side of the track. He was later taken to the Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin for scans on chest and abdomen.
Once the track was cleared, a second attempt at running the Moto3 race was made. That second attempt did not last long. Halfway through the 5-lap dash, as the pack headed down the back straight, Deniz Öncü moved across in front of Jeremy Alcoba, clipping the Gresini Moto3 riders front wheel. Alcoba went down, leaving Andrea Migno and Pedro Acosta nowhere to go. Migno was launched over Alcoba's Honda, knocking the bike into the path of Acosta, who was a little way behind Migno. Like Migno, Acosta was launched over the prone Honda, skidding along the side of the track and clipping the armco.
It was a horrendous crash, sending a shiver of fear through everyone watching. With motorcycle racing currently haunted by a spate of deaths in support classes, we feared the worst. When the three riders involved stood up and wandered over to talk to each other about just how lucky they had been, a sigh of relief powerful enough to blow a hurricane back out to see emanated from the paddock. There was a feeling that we dodged a bullet.
The long wait
Then the waiting started. Would there be a third attempt to restart the race? The very thought of it was appalling. The crash had left race fans sick to their stomachs, and in terror of what might happen, let alone the riders involved. Each rider reacted in their own way, as was visible from their faces on the TV screen. Pedro Acosta, at 17 still feeling the invincibility of youth, sat comfortably and looked ready to go again. The older, more experienced Andrea Migno looked drawn, and was shown on camera shaking his head, and signaling "basta" with his hands.
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