COTA Turns Up the Heat

Alex Rins won his first-ever victory at the Austin MotoGP, barely holding off Valentino Rossi, who took second. This race marks Suzuki’s first win since 2016. Rossi kept the lead until the third to last lap, when he was overtaken by Rins.

Perhaps the most shocking moment of the race came when Marc Marquez fell at the end of the back straight while holding a 3.6 second lead over Rossi. Up to this point, he had been unbeaten on U.S. soil and the fall destroyed any hopes he had of achieving a seventh successive victory.

Jack Miller rounded out the podium at third, his first time back since his wet 2016 Assen victory. “It’s great to be back here,” he said. “Long time between drinks, that’s for sure!” Miller smiled. Early on, Cal Crutchlow took a spill while competing with Rossi for second place, allowing Miller to gain a place. He held at third after Marquez’s fall.

Overall, Andrea Dovizioso now leads the racers this season with 54 points, then Rossi with 51, Rins with 49, Marquez with 45, and Danilo Petrucci with 30 points.

The 5.5 km Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Texas is one of the season’s most popular events. It features a staggering 133-foot climb followed by a sharp blind left into turn 1, which is right in front of the grandstand.

Some racers like Aleix Espargaro had concerns about the safety of the track itself. “[It’s] super dangerous,” he said. “I’ve never ridden a track like this. It’s not at the level of MotoGP. Not at all. I don’t think we can race here one more year with these conditions. Absolutely no way.” Espargaro said his steering lock broke two times on the back straight in FP1 because of severe bumps.

The weather was a little wet on Saturday and the morning’s Free Practice 3 sessions for MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 were cancelled due to lightning.

The COTA race reignited the penalty debate over jump starts when Maverick Vinales and Joan Mir moved slightly before the red lights went out. Crutchlow made the same mistake in Argentina not long ago. In all three cases, no significant advantage appeared to have been gained, which again called into question the severity of the ride-through penalty issued for these early starts.

When asked about the penalty, Vinales said, “[It’s] very difficult to explain. I think on the start the bikes get hot and I think the clutch [engages] before it’s released. On the start I just put full gas [with the clutch engaged]. The first two to three seconds were okay, then in the last moment the bike started to move. I didn’t release the clutch, nothing.” Vinales eventually recovered from 19th to 11th after the penalty.

Showdown in Qatar

The 2019 season exploded into action on March 11 in Qatar at Losail International Circuit Sports Club. Andrea Dovizioso led the first seven laps, while Alex Rins and his Suzuki led the pack for the next three. Dovizioso regained his lead until lap 21, when Marc Márquez took over briefly.

“[Rins] wanted to be faster too soon, and that was bad for the tire,” said Dovizioso. “Fortunately, I had more power on the straight. I lost a little bit of time in the middle of the corner because his speed in the middle of the corner was amazing. But I was able to overtake him every time and continue to save the tire. That was the key to try to put Marc on the limit in the last few laps. It helped me to understand Márquez’s bad situation on the rear tire.”

In the end, Dovizioso took first, eclipsing Márquez by .023 seconds. LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow placed third and Rins was fourth. 40-year-old Valentino Rossi finished fifth, though he started in 14th place. He was just a 0.6 second behind Dovizioso.

All eyes were on Australian Jack Miller during the second lap when he had to slow down to deal with a loose seat unit on his Ducati. After throwing the seat out, he was able to climb back into the top ten. But without the grip of the seat to move his body properly, he had to retire from the race during lap 13. “The seat is glued on to the subframe,” he said. “And with the subframe being painted, the paint didn’t stick well enough and the glue ripped the seat and the paint off.”

In other news, rookie Fabio Quartararo had a rough start during the race. He had to begin from the pit lane after his Yamaha stalled on the grid. But despite this rocky start he was the fastest man on the track early on, and ended up finishing 16th in the race, just missing out on a point-scoring position. Quartararo, who showed promise during testing and throughout practice, was fifth in FP2 and FP4, qualifying fifth.

Following the race, it’s evident the Hondas are essentially even with Ducati where speed is concerned. Yahama on the other hand didn’t fare quite as well, though they have done well in Qatar in past. We can’t wait to see what the next race brings.