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Preview Grand Prix of the Americas, Austin, Texas
Posted by: newsla on Apr 09, 2014 - 06:35 AM
Preview Grand Prix of the Americas, Austin, Texas

After a near-perfect double-podium start to the new MotoGP season under floodlights in the desert at Qatar, Honda’s factory riders lead the trail west to Texas for round two, only the second visit to the spectacular new Circuit of the Americas outside Austin.


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For Repsol Honda RC213V rider Marc Marquez, it is a return to the scene of his first MotoGP pole position followed by his first win. In each case he was the youngest in history. Five more wins swept him to victory in the World Championship, and the greatest “youngest-ever” record available.

Marquez, who was honoured in the break after the last race with the Laureus sports foundation’s “Breakthrough of the Year” award, returns in the lead on points, after a thrilling victory in the opening round at Losail. It was the perfect come-back following six weeks of not being able to ride at all, after breaking his leg in a training accident.

Second Repsol Honda RC213V rider Dani Pedrosa consolidated Honda’s performance in the opening round with a solid third place, to make a strong start to his own championship campaign in his ninth season riding the factory Honda.

The pair qualified and finished first and second at the inaugural Texas race last year, with Marquez taking a narrow victory at only his second attempt. One aspect in his favour was that nobody had prior experience at the new circuit, which offers a tremendous and varied technical challenge over its 5.513-km (3.426-mile) lap. His more seasoned rivals were, like him, starting from scratch in not only finding the best cornering lines, but also the right machine set up, gearing and suspension.

This year all have one previous GP to rely on, with a mass of technical data to analyse and interpret.

Marquez’s Qatar triumph came after another pole position – his tenth in 19 MotoGP-class races, and after a fierce battle in the closing laps with multiple World Champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha). After missing two out of three pre-season tests due to a training injury, it was the perfect start to the year for the defending champion, who had previously won both 125cc and Moto2 titles before moving up to the premier class.

Pedrosa had to fight his way through a gaggle of fast riders to join the leading group. The former 125cc and double 250cc World Champion showed experience and race-craft to secure third place, while four of his erstwhile rivals crashed out trying to match his relentless pace.

One was satellite Honda rider Alvaro Bautista (GO&FUN Honda Gresini RC213V), after qualifying on the front row, and moving up to second as he set fastest lap. The Spanish former 125cc World Champion has a special role race-developing Japanese Showa suspension and Nissin brakes for companies with strong links with Honda, and took comfort from his speed and strength before he became another victim of the treacherous surface of the desert circuit.

Bautista qualified seventh and finished eighth at Austin last year, and is confident of a significant improvement on this visit.

Another to fall was German LCR Honda RC213V rider Stefan Bradl, who took over the lead on the first lap, and was still in front when he slipped out of contention after eight of 22 laps. The former Moto2 World Champion learned important lessons from his spell up front, as he consolidates his potential in his third MotoGP season. He qualified and finished fifth at the Texan race last year.

New for 2014 “Open” category bikes will race for the first time at Austin. Unlike “Factory Option” machines like the Honda RC213V, these lower-cost machines must use control electronics supplied by the organisers. In compensation, they get 24 rather than 21 litres of fuel for each race, and access to a softer tyre option, among other technical allowances.

The new Honda RCV1000R MotoGP production-racer is prominent among the new generation – effectively prototypes for 2016 rules when all bikes will use control electronics – with four customer bikes on the grid.

The best of these laid on a stirring battle for seventh, with class rookie Scott Redding (GO&FUN Honda Gresini RCV1000R) defeating veteran Nicky Hayden (Drive M7 Aspar Honda RCV1000R) by 0.03 seconds. English rider Redding, the youngest-ever grand prix winner, has moved up to the premier class after finishing second overall in Moto2; Hayden was MotoGP World Champion in 2006, riding a Repsol Honda; he will be anxious to redress the balance when the pair meet again at Texas, the first of two home GPs for the American rider.

Hayden’s team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama was 11th; the Japanese rider won the final 250cc World Championship on a Honda in 2009, and has returned to the marque this year. Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing Honda RCV1000R) was 13th, meaning points for all Honda finishers. Czech racer Abraham, who crashed out in qualifying here last year, is still recovering from major shoulder surgery that cut short his 2013 campaign.

The Moto2 class guarantees close and reliable racing, with all entrants powered by identical race-tuned Honda CBR600 engines provided by the organisers. Qatar was no exception, with an ultra-close finish between winner Esteve “Tito” Rabat (Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex) and Japan’s Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia Kalex).

A shock announcement after the race however disqualified Nakagami for a minor technical infringement, moving Mika Kallio (Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex – barely a second adrift) – to second, and promoting Swiss former 125cc World Champion Thomas Luthi to the final podium position.

It was a great race for class rookies. Reigning Moto3 World Champion Maverick Vinales (Pons HP 40 Kalex) followed veteran Luthi toward the front, and claimed a debut fourth, complete grand prix newcomer, Sam Lowes, made a sparkling debut in sixth.

Former 125cc World Champion Nico Terol (Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2 Suter) claimed his first Moto2 win at Austin last year, and returns with the same team hoping for a repeat. With the season just two races old, results are even harder to predict than usual in this volatile class.

The Moto3 class sees rival manufacturers field entries with strictly controlled 250cc four-stroke engines, and again the new Honda RS250FW made a brilliant debut at Qatar, claiming two out of three rostrum places with another Honda fifth, in a race so close that only a photo-finish could establish the final order.

Best of the Honda riders was Mark Marquez’s younger brother Alex, Estrella Galicia 0,0 team, now in his second full season, who finished second behind race winner Jack Miller (KTM). Saxoprint-RTG Honda rider Efren Vazquez was third. Marquez’s team-mate Alex Rins – winner at Austin last year – was fifth. All three are new to Honda this year.

Two more Honda riders finished in the top 15 to open their championships: Alexis Masbou (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda) was seventh; and John McPhee (Saxoprint-RTG Honda) eleventh.

Last year’s inaugural Moto3 race in Texas was red-flagged after an accident, and re-run as a hectic five-lap sprint. Rins was the winner of the first leg, and took victory by two tenths of a second in the restart. Zulfahmi Khairuddin (now on an Ongetta-AirAsia Honda) was seventh, and Masbou eighth.

The Circuit of the Americas is the first circuit in the US designed specifically for World Championship racing, and was completed in 2012. COTA was inaugurated as a World Championship venue by MotoGP last year. It offers a great variety of challenges over the lap, starting with a dramatic 134ft (40.2m) climb from the start to the first corner.

Top international race-track designer Hermann Tilke had help from former 500cc World Champion Kevin Schwantz in devising the layout, which has sections reminiscent of a number of other circuits. Early in the lap a continuous series of sinuous swerves reminded riders of Britain’s Silverstone; while a long 1.2-km (0.746-mile) straight culminating in one of several slow corners puts a premium on braking and acceleration. There are 11 left-hand corners, and nine to the right.

After the race in Texas, MotoGP makes a long-delayed return visit to Argentina, to the new Termas del Rio Hondo circuit in the hinterland.

Honda MotoGP rider quotes

Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez says:
“Since Qatar I’ve been focusing on getting my leg stronger and my body fitter in preparation for the Austin race this weekend. This track is one of my favourite tracks, I had a good race here last year where I have good memories of taking my first win in the MotoGP class. We’ll have to wait and see the situation with the new rules for this year, but anyway we will be focused on our work. Thankfully the majority of hard turns are left handers at this track which is easier on my leg as I’m still not 100 percent fit.”

Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa says:
“I’ve had a good training week at home and now I’m looking forward to getting to Austin, to see the team and ride at a track I like. We had a good race there last year and we’ll have to see how the bike works there this year. I hope to ride well and that we are greeted by the usual good atmosphere in America at this second visit to Austin for the Red Bull GP.”

GO&FUN Honda Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista says:
“Despite suffering a fall, the entire race weekend in Qatar was very positive, so we head to Texas with a great optimism. Unlike last year, when we raced there for the first time, this year we already have some data from 2013, although Austin still remains a complicated track in terms of finding a good set-up. We will have to work well if we want to find a good compromise between the first part, characterized by many quick changes of direction, and the slower part, where there are three or four very tight corners. Last season we struggled a lot, not being able to find a good compromise, but this year we can count on a very good package, so we are confident. The goal is to try to stay with the fastest from the first practice session, like we did at Losail, then we will give our best, as always, hoping for better fortune this time.”

GO&FUN Honda Gresini rider Scott Redding says:
“Riding a MotoGP bike at the Circuit of the Americas will be very interesting. I feel very comfortable on this track, in fact last year in Moto2 I was really fast, setting pole position with a 0.6s gap on everyone else. I also think that the track could suit our bike’s characteristics well, both in terms of handling and of stability under braking. We will also focus our work on the tyres, because this track is quite demanding from this point of view, so probably we will need to start to work more on the hard tyre for this race, rather than the softer option, which we used in Qatar.”

LCR Honda MotoGP rider Stefan Bradl says:
“I am really looking forward to the Austin race week end. It’s a fantastic race track and I like the atmosphere in the US. Last year it was a great week end for me, finishing fifth, and after our short but impressive performance at Qatar, the expectations are high, and also the will to be up in the front pack again. Three weeks break was too much for me… when you lead a race for almost nine laps and you suddenly crash, you just want to be back racing as soon as possible. We are strong as we demonstrated at Losail, so if we can better manage the tyres situation, we could go for another strong result.”

Drive M7 Aspar Honda rider Nicky Hayden says:
“A home Grand Prix is always something very special and I really look forward to getting there, seeing all the fans that support me so much and getting back on track. Austin is really a great track, it is a very state-of-the-art facility – safe, long, and wide but honestly last year there I didn’t get on with it great and was never able to be fast, especially in the first half of the track. That’s got to change this year and even though I know the acceleration off those slow corners won’t be kind to us all the changes of direction should suit me and this bike well. So let’s hope we can get a result to make the home crowd proud!”

Drive M7 Aspar Honda rider Hiroshi Aoyama says:
“The result at the first race of the season was pretty positive. Even though we had a few problems with the bike at the start of the weekend we found the right way forward. This is only the second time any of us have been to COTA so that should level things out a little amongst the riders. I think the final part of the track, with its flowing corners, should suit our bike and the chassis should allow us to feel comfortable through the tight turns. Sunday night in Qatar was a boost for us and the objective is to keep this going and to continue improving the bike. I think we can take another step forward in Austin. It is a demanding circuit from a physical perspective so I put some extra training in last week and even had a medical so I definitely feel ready.”

Cardion AB Motoracing Honda Karel Abraham says:
“My shoulder is recovering but still in Qatar I was having trouble with the slow left-hand corners, and Austin is a left-hand track, which makes it difficult. The new bike is good. We have to go faster, but the potential is there. Last year I broke my collarbone at Austin, and this year will be even harder with the shoulder injury – but I have been working really hard in the break to be in better condition for this race.”

Moto2 Rider quotes

Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex rider Esteve Rabat says:
“It was good to start with a win in Qatar, but that was only the first race of what promises to be a very long season. Now we need to focus on Austin, then Argentina and then each race as it comes. We need to go into every weekend with the aim of winning. Even if it’s impossible to win every race, this is what we need to fight for. The Austin track is an interesting one in terms of finding a good set up, but I’m confident my crew will find exactly what we need from the bike this weekend. I improved in every session last year, eventually finishing second in the race, and I hope we can do the same again this time around, but maybe one place better.”

Marc VDS Racing Team Kalex rider Mika Kallio says:
“Qatar was a great way to start the season, but now we need to carry that momentum into the Austin weekend. We struggled a little with set up for the Circuit of the Americas last year, because you need to find a good compromise between stability for the four or five hard braking areas and the agility needed for fast changes in direction. We didn’t manage to find this compromise until the Saturday night last season, so we need to focus on this during the first free practice sessions on Friday. It would be great to repeat the result from Qatar, with the positions reversed of course, but I think the other riders may well have something to say about that!”

Interwetten Paddock Moto2 Suter rider Thomas Luthi says:

I don’t have good memories of Austin. Last year I was still trying to come back from injury and I had to pull out after practice. This year my conditions are a great deal different. I am physically fit, and straight from a strong third place at Losail. I’m looking forward to getting to know the track.

Honda Moto3 Rider quotes

Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda rider Alex Marquez says:
“Last year we struggled a bit at this circuit. We weren’t happy with the set-up, and I did not feel very comfortable. This year I hope it will be better on the Honda, though I will have to be concentrated as much as possible and give my best in every practice session. The fact that we were second in Qatar further motivates us to work hard. It is a fast circuit, and also needs good acceleration. I think our new bike can adapt quite well, and be a favourable circuit for us.”

Saxoprint-RTG Honda rider Efren Vazquez says:
“Last year in Texas, we didn’t have a great experience, but my first Moto3 rostrum at the first round in Qatar has boosted my confidence. I have more experience with the new Honda, and the team knows how to make the bike work at its best … so, why not? I’ll be looking for another good result.”

Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda rider Alex Rins says:
“Austin is a circuit that treated us pretty well last year. Perhaps this season will cost us more, as we arrived with a brand-new bike, and have to find the set-up. Hopefully we can adapt quickly. I think at the Circuit of the Americas the Honda should go well; it has very good corner speed mid-curve, it turns quite well, and it has good acceleration – so we’ll see in Friday’s first sessions.”

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