The third round of the MotoGP World Championship at the rollercoaster circuit of Austin in Texas saw a number of riders have there fair share of ups and downs and there were a lot of talking points as the teams began to pack up and look ahead to the European season.
Marc Marquez sensationally crashed out whilst comfortably in the lead, Valentino Rossi was backed to his best, and Ducati struggled but for Alex Rins and Suzuki, it was a weekend to remember as the Spaniard swept to his maiden victory in the premier category.
Rins wins – at last
23-year old Rins scored more points in the final five races of 2018 than any other rider, even Marquez, and was tipped by many to do well this season including here on these pages.
Quick throughout winter testing, question marks still remained about the competitiveness of the GSX-R given they’d be losing all their concessions of previous seasons but fourth in Qatar, just a whisker off the win, proved that theory wrong and although Rins could only manage 16th in qualifying in Argentina, he rode an excellent race to claim fifth at the chequered flag.
However, it was in America where he came of age as he hunted Rossi down and pounced at exactly the right moment, opening up enough of a gap to ensure the veteran Italian could find no way back in the closing stages.
Second and third in the 2013 and 2014 Moto3 World Championships, Rins then took the same results in the 2015 and 2016 Moto2 World Championships which meant he arrived in MotoGP with a ‘nearly man’ tag but his performance on Sunday was that of a champion and although there’s still an awful long way to go, he has to be now considered as a serious title challenger.
Rossi on fire
What can you say about Rossi – 40 years old and still challenging for the race wins!! Fresh from his second place in Argentina, the Doctor was at it again in Austin and, as soon as Marquez crashed out, the majority of those watching would have expected him to take his 116th Grand Prix victory.
It wasn’t to be though as the flying Rins put paid to those hopes but what the season has shown so far is that Rossi is as hungry as ever and has as much of a chance of World Championship glory as he ever has. The ailments of the Yamaha M1 appear to be in the past and, aside from a poor qualifying performance at the opening round, he’s been at the sharp end throughout.
Only time will tell if the problems have gone for good but what isn’t in doubt is the fact that Rossi has taken two successive second place finishes to sit three points behind new Championship leader Andrea Dovizioso and with the European circuits having long been a happy hunting ground expect more of the same from Jerez onwards.
Horror show for Honda
Before the weekend got underway, Marquez had, astonishingly, never lost a Grand Prix race in America since 2010 when he came tenth at Indianapolis in the Moto 2 category.
A year later he took his first win and from then right up until 2018, first place was the only position he’d finished in but that all came to an end on Sunday when he crashed out of a 3.5s lead on lap eight. On course for a seventh successive MotoGP win at Austin, the Spaniard later said he was mystified by the crash with an analysis of data showing he’d taken turn twelve no different to how he had done a lap earlier.
It added further misery to Honda’s day that had already taken a turn for the worse at the same corner on lap six when Cal Crutchlow went down. He lost the front under braking subsequently saying it’s an area that Honda need to seriously look at with the RC213V suffering from considerable instability on the brakes.
Just to make it a truly terrible day for the Japanese giant, Jorge Lorenzo’s Repsol Honda ground to a halt with nine laps to go leaving Takaaki Nakagami as the only Honda finisher in tenth.
Damage limitation for Dovi
If Honda’s weekend got gradually worse, the opposite was the case for Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati with a poor showing in qualifying seeing him fail to make it out of Q1 and only start in 13th on the grid.
With Marquez storming ahead at the front, it looked like Dovi would lose a great deal of points to his rival but the Repsol Honda rider’s crash left the door open and whilst fourth place was a fair distance off Rins and Rossi, and nowhere near what we’ve become accustomed to, it was a result that the Italian wouldn’t have expected on Saturday afternoon.
Team-mate Danilo Petrucci also struggled but pulled through to sixth on Sunday, his third successive sixth place, but the 13 points for Dovizioso, which saw him regain the title lead, could well prove to be some of the most crucial he’ll score in 2019.
Petronas Yamaha pairing impress
Whilst Rossi was grabbing all the headlines for Yamaha, the satellite Petronas Malaysia team enjoyed an equally enjoyable day with Franco Morbidelli taking a career best fifth and rookie Fabio Quartararo only two places further back in seventh.
Although new to the class, the team have a wealth of experience amidst their ranks including Lorenzo’s former crew chief Ramon Forcada and long-time Yamaha team manager Wilco Zeelenberg and the two riders had impressed greatly in winter testing.
Quartararo took fifth place in qualifying at Qatar only to stall the bike on the grid which ruined his race (although he did claim the fastest lap as he fought his way back) and Morbidelli then crashed out on the last lap in Argentina when on course for a top six position.
However, the former Moto2 World Champion put together a strong weekend in America with his fifth place going largely under the radar such was the extent of events at the head of the field. And with Quartararo in seventh, the team have plenty of reasons to smile as they look forward to the European season getting underway.
Jump starts still at the forefront
Two weeks on from Argentina, Crutchlow’s controversial jump start penalty was still very much a topic of discussion up and down pit lane and with series organisers Dorna informing everyone that rolling – by however big, or small, a margin – before the lights turned green wouldn’t be tolerated.
Sure enough, the issue cropped up again with not one but two riders found guilty and, just like Crutchlow had his race ruined, so too did Maverick Vinales and Joan Mir. The ride through pit lane penalty hit them both hard but Vinales lost even more time as he took the ‘long lap’ route on two occasions before finally realising he needed to come into pit lane.
The precedent has now been set though both in terms of the crime itself and the punishment given out so it will be interesting to see how many more riders get penalised during the season.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.