2019 Austin Friday MotoGP Round Up: The Paddock Hates The Bumps, Honda's Spoiler, Ducati's Steering Supports, And Remembering Nicky Hayden

It is becoming a familiar refrain. At the end of each day at the Circuit of the Americas, the riders express their admiration for the event, for the setting, for the venue. And they express their dismay at the state of the asphalt, at the bumps in the track – the most common comparison was with speed bumps put in to slow traffic – and at the danger that entails. The Grand Prix of the Americas is one of the paddock's favorite events at one of their favorite venues, at one of their favorite track layouts. It is also the race with the worst asphalt.

Despite this, opinions are split, though not diametrically opposed. There are those who think the track is dangerous now, and who fear we will not be able to return if the track is not resurfaced, and there are those who feel that the track is fixable, and not quite as bad as the more apocalyptic predictions suggest.

Not at Grand Prix level

Aleix Espargaro always wears his heart on his sleeve, and so predictably does not hide his concerns about the state of the track. "Super dangerous," was how the Aprilia rider described it. "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."

"It’s super bumpy in many corners," Espargaro said, but that was not the real problem. "In most of them, you can handle it. Corner two is a disaster but if you lose the front there, you are only at 120, 130 km/h." The real danger is in the straight, the Spaniard feared. "In the straight in sixth gear it’s super difficult to maintain the throttle open. It’s very dangerous and we are one-by-one. I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen in the race." He had broken both steering lock stops down the back straight, as the front end shook violently, he said.

Danilo Petrucci agreed with Aleix Espargaro. "I think this doesn't reach the standard for a MotoGP track," he said after FP1. "I mean, it's unbelievable why we are riding here. The track and the circuit in general is unbelievable in a positive sense, but the asphalt is unbelievable in a negative sense. It's a shame, because it could be very, very much faster, but you have to ride trying to deal with the bumps."

Isle of Man vs Circuit of the Americas

The bumps were now so bad that he could not keep the throttle pinned down the back straight, the factory Ducati rider said. "The main problem is that we checked the data from last year, and in some parts we were able to keep the throttle open, this year it is impossible. The risk is that on that part, you change gear, and if you hit the limiter when the bike jumps, when the rear tire jumps, and if you hit the limiter too much, the problem is that you can break your engine."

Jack Miller had a different perspective on the track. When he was asked whether he agreed with Espargaro and Petrucci that COTA was not a Grand Prix track, he suggested wryly that they just needed to be riding faster. "I passed both of them around the outside and the inside down the back straight this morning. No dramas," the Australian commented. "It's a Grand Prix track. It's one of the best on the calendar, it just needs to be fixed a little bit more."

The bumps may well be intimidating when you first take them in FP1, Miller said, but were not so bad once you had had a session to wrap your head around them. "For sure when I came here this morning I was thinking, 'alright here we go' on the first lap. I kept it flat down there and went to the smoothest point last year and that's now one of the bumpiest spots, so had to switch that up. But it's not too bad."

The mediator

Cal Crutchlow struck some middle ground between the two extremes. He suspected that Miller's comments had more to do with the fact that the Pramac Ducati rider is extremely competitive in Austin. "Jack would say it’s fine," Crutchlow commented wryly. "I think he’d prefer it. It’s not bumps it’s weaves! Huge weaves. If Jack has a bad day or doesn't finish the race because of the bumps he’ll say it was a disaster."

Crutchlow's issue with the track was the fact that it was getting worse every year. "The problem is that I rode here in 2013 when it was like a millpond and it was amazing," he said. "Now it is just getting stupid. I completely agree with Jack in that it adds fantastic character, in some of the places where you have to manage a lot and the bike is shaking. It makes riding a MotoGP bike…thrilling. But it is dangerous as well, there are no two ways about it."

That thrilling mixture of bumps, high speeds, and fear made the back straight into a unique experience, the LCR Honda rider explained. "The straight is mad, honestly," he said. "There is not another straight like it, not even in BSB or something like that. I’m used to riding on these circuits so to me it doesn't make much difference, and I love the Isle of Man TT as you know so I cannot really complain. It sounds like I am complaining but I’d like it smoother."

Where do the bumps come from? The ground beneath the circuit keeps shifting, a consequence of being built on what was once a lake, many eons ago. The track is built on clay, and when severe storms hit the area, heavy rains mean that the layers the track sits on start to move. You can see it in some of the roads which surround the area: there, once-flat roads suffer from heavy undulations, taxing the suspension of hire cars on their way to the circuit.

Fast anyway

Despite the state of the track, times were faster in FP2 than they had been here last year. That is a consequence of two things, perhaps. Firstly, the asphalt has more grip than it did last year, the bikes throwing up a lot less dust than they did after the track was ground down last season. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, because heavy rain is expected for Saturday morning, creating an imperative for the riders to set a fast lap time now, in the almost certain knowledge they will not improve their lap time on Saturday morning.

It was Maverick Viñales who ended the day as fastest, fractionally ahead of Marc Márquez. But Márquez' second place might have been a first, had he not been pushing so hard that he nearly managed to highside himself.

The group going directly through to Q2 were an interesting bunch. Both factory Yamahas were in the top three, Viñales and Valentino Rossi sandwiching Marc Márquez. Jack Miller just edged out Cal Crutchlow, both of whom were very close to the leaders. Alex Rins headed up the second group in sixth place, a fraction quicker than an impressive Pol Espargaro on the KTM. Rins could have been closer to the front had he not been held up by Aleix Espargaro on his final lap, while Pol Espargaro was just delighted to have found a quick lap out of the RC16.

History repeating

The big news – or is it? - of the day from a technical perspective was the appearance of Honda's swing arm spoiler, modeled along the same lines as the Ducati's. But Honda's uses just a single vane to control windflow, rather than the most subtle triple-vane construction used by the Desmosedici GP19.

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Honda's spoiler. Single vane, not a triple vane like Ducati

A post shared by David Emmett (@motomatters) on

 

Officially, the spoiler is for bracing the swing arm to increase stiffness, but even Marc Márquez could not deliver that line without breaking into laughter. "Yes, of course it's obvious, you saw, we tried something on the swing arm for the 'stiffness'," Márquez laughed as he explained it."But I felt something there that was interesting, but sometimes it's better to come back, just try to analyze, try to understand, and of course we need to take more information about this."

The Repsol Honda rider spoke freely about the purpose of the spoiler, and the differences he felt with the device. "One of the differences is the braking point," he said. "It's downforce. So it's an aerodynamic thing, but still we need to analyze more. Because it also has some negative points, some positive and some negative points, so we need to understand which is better for our riding style."

Why was the Honda spoiler ruled legal? "It complies with the guidelines," was the answer I received from Danny Aldridge. And that was all the information he was willing to supply on the issue.

Braking support

That wasn't the only tech update on display on Friday. There were a whole range of tank support pieces from multiple manufacturers, each looking slightly different, and presumably performing a slightly different function.

 

For Ducati, the tank support is aimed at making the bike more controllable, Danilo Petrucci said. "We are trying some different shapes to make the bike more comfortable," the factory Ducati rider explained. "It's not bad. For sure I tried many solutions to make the bike more easy to ride. But it's half and half. It's not day and night. For Jorge it was different, because he sat in a different position compared to me, and it was more helpful for him. But for me, sincerely we are trying to do our best, but I ride this bike since 2016, so..."

The idea is to give the rider more control of the bike through his legs, especially under hard braking, Petrucci explained. "It helps to move the bike," he said. "Our proposal is to move the bike with the legs, but it's quite difficult to do it. But we are trying everything, because for example in the Argentina race, the average difference between me and Dovi was 4 hundredths a lap, so it's the details which make the difference, so we are trying everything. Fortunately for this race, we don't need details, we need something more."

In memoriam

Finally, there was a ceremony in which the entire Hayden family gathered to see Nicky Hayden's number retired from MotoGP. The number 69 will forever remain linked with Hayden until the end of days.

But the ceremony in the press conference room was not the real celebration of Hayden's life. Later, after the action on track had ceased, the many denizens of the paddock filed out to Turn 18, now rechristened Hayden Hill, to celebrate the life of America's last MotoGP champion. Marshals, mechanics, media, and more all gathered to mark the life of the rider who touched so many hearts in life, and remains as strong a symbol of what a racer should be, both as a human and as an athlete.

Nicky Hayden meant so much to so very many people. To see so many people gathered to celebrate him is the most fitting tribute imaginable.


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Total votes: 48
Total votes: 12

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Comments

A nice touch from Dorna and all those who attended the gathering at turn 18.

Total votes: 5

Did you see the new sponsors they put on the much photographed tire cooler?
One side is wind tunnel rentals
The other an attorney's office

New hole shot device for Cal? Turn the knob and it compresses his feet to the ground until the clutch closes.

Yamaha is making progress. Sincere nod. Great session for some hardy scrappers. The rough track condition is bringing out the brave. Aggressive riders are fun to watch here. Visually, Miller and Vinales in particular, they are just CHUCKING their bikes in and out of corners mercilessly. It doesn't ook easy/smooth in the slightest. One obviously dirty section of the track, not as bad as last yr. The bumps? WAY worse, and in some really inopportune places. REALLY bad!

Onboard tail cam facing forward really shows the number of big bumps, rider bums up and down off the seat. Engines sound like they have a Jimmy Hendrix wah wah pedal. Biggest moment in FP1 looks to be Marquez cresting a rise and getting WAY out of shape, a save. A mechanical hindered Dovi, engine quit (no smoke/oil).

Vinales deserves praise. Yet, there is a reason no rider has ever been praised with "he's a real Friday guy!" Rossi was right there too this afternoon, two days early and with visible momentum from last round.

Any fun watching them skitter around is outweighed by concern. Something interesting will come Sunday. The race will be a bit of an outlier.

Addendum
It would be a regrettable shame to miss mention of something very important today.
THE #69 HAS BEEN RETIRED. Nicky Hayden and his family are an American treasure. Nicky had a deep and robust love for racing motorcycles. He lived for it, and by it. He worked so VERY hard. The sheer number of laps in testing, we all took notice didn't we? The Kentucky Kid had HEART.

The 2006 MotoGP title, it was quite a journey. Nicky was gifted, sure, but this was not the ground of his doings. His family? They lived and breathed motorcycles and racing them. His father sold used cars. Every penny and more went in to his children racing bikes. There is no separation of motorcycle racing and Nicky Hayden. They had their way with each other. Co existing. His story is one of relentless grind. With a joyful smile too, but primarily one of compelling adherence.

I remember vividly being at Laguna Seca 2005, his first MotoGP win. It is a well documented event, if "The Doctor, The Tornado and The Kentucky Kid" is something you haven't seen you should.

His father Earle deserves specific mention. He and Nicky shared this complete confluency with the sport. Earle contorts himself into crossed fingers and a stopwatch, listening for the V5 sound to climb the hill after T11. The flat track style victory ride they share, at no slow speed mind you, says much of their shared venture.

Nicky rode a motorcycle with PASSION. Relentless focus. He was oh so human, one of us. The Earthling whose efforts managed to grab what was not on offer, from the realm of Aliens.

So startling and unreal that a bicycle training incident with a car took him from racing. Not the 230mph missile he bent around pavement impossibly, but his fitness regimen. Just as unlikely as Nicky himself climbing atop the highest point of motorcycle road racing. How ever did he fantastically get where he did? Wow, such an inspiration! However did he disappear suddenly the way he did? Such an unlikely and tragic turn of events.

Now the dream is him. Just like it always was, really. I am going find what I don't know I have in order to put some extra laps in. Great work Nicky. #69 is yours, and everyone's now too.

*
(And cheese d*ck one * sniper that always visits articles and comments here but offers nothing, you are behaving like an Illmore. The one asterisk? It literally looks like an A-hole. I see it as a repeated declaration of your experience of yourself and the world. Come join humanity, even if it is to share your contrary view).

Total votes: 34

Nicely summarized as always Motoshrink. David really should put you on the “payroll”!

Total votes: 9

Thanks David. Nicky Hayden 69 such a tragic loss to the world of racing.

Good to hear Aleix Espargaro tell it the way he sees it.

Jack Miller doesn't mind bumps & a bit of dirt. JackAssen has done plenty of racing on the dirt.

Go Cal, any MotoGp rider who mentions the Isle of Man TT has got to be cool.

Pol Espargaro quick also, go the asparagus brothers.

Seems like other factories like some Ducati innovations, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

Has anyone at Cota heard of pavement stabilization? It is cheaper in the long run to spend a bit more & get it right the first time. More expensive to fix it after only a few years

Total votes: 4

Feels that we should start with Hayden. It's a great gesture from Dorna that his #69 was retired. It seems that everything about Nicky has a story - his father chose the number so when he had an off everyone could read the number upside down as well as right way up. I'm sure you all knew that. 

The biography "The Haydens" is full of more stories that aren't covered so much, highlighting the struggles and love of motorbike racing he and his family have - being held up by his father on the starting grid, last, as his feet couldn't touch the ground yet as he was still so young he hadn't grown big enough for the bikes he was racing  on...and winning on. Turning up at the hospital and having to convince the medics to patch him up as he went there so often they knew full well he'd be in there again a week later. I won't spoil more of your reading, so go and get that book.

He deserved his title (duh), beating a Rossi as dominant as Marquez is now, and his work ethic is what every rider now has to emulate...David writes it a lot, that talent gets you only so far. Hayden helped to kickstart that change so we get the ultra competitive, professional MotoGP we have today.

Which brings us to today. Marquez still looks strong, but there is definitely the group of 5 riders (Viñales, Rossi, Miller, Crutchlow to add to Marquez) that look on the money. We don't know what Marquez will bring tomorrow and Sunday, but it's promising to see he's not started out half a second ahead of the field. Rossi can fall away on a Saturday, but normally we get a hint of that in FP2. And he finds four tenths every Sunday anyway.  Miller and Crutchlow, well, if we look at this year then they should end the weekend strong.

It's Viñales I want to see stay strong on the Sunday, because he's shown pace everywhere since preseason, a part from on Sunday afternoons. And I want to see a COTA race where Marquez is at least challenged. It feels that if by turn 10 someone - anyone - other than Marquez is in first, we might get the fight we wanna see. I don't care who wins. I, and hopefully quite a few others, only care how the winning happens...

And Miller is definitely in one those moods. He's brimming with confidence. You could put oil slicks on the track and as soon as he heard the complaints of the others he'd find a way to go fast anyway and rub it in their faces, unsure if he's enjoying the beating of them more than the winding up. On that Ducati I can see a win for him, at the latest Phillip Island, but if it rains, surely he'll barely sleep wirh excitement (assuming the new Duke is a duck like its predecessors).

Total votes: 8

Crowds felt bigger here in Austin yesterday.  Friday was buzzing, and I don’t recall it being as big in previous years.  The procession of modded/rod-ed/handbuilt gas combustion vehicles up and down S. Congress last night was more than I’ve ever seen here.  The spectacle of this whole event is fantastic.  

Millions in subsidies on the line for COTA.  This weekend’s event should help solidify the legitimacy and importance of continuing to support this event.

 

Total votes: 1

...fans were excluded from the event yesterday afternoon. We kept getting pushed back, then they allowed the track workers inside the tape, effectively blocking out the small but passionate group of fans. The Nicky Hayden Foundation had announced this was also for fans last week on Instagram, but the post was removed.

Having spoken to Nicky and the rest of the clan several times throughout the 30+ years I’ve been attending races, it was pretty disheartening to be treated like unwelcome plebes by the Dorna officials. 

Total votes: 8

I forgot what year it was, maybe 2013.  I had traveled out to Laguna Seca to watch the races and stayed an extra night. I went to a small bar off the main drag by myself in Monterey and sitting at a high-top bar table was #69 having a drink with #46. I felt bad approaching but i did anyway. I asked Nicky how his dad was doing (his dad was sick at the time with cancer (i believe) and congratulated him on a his race. He thanked me for asking, said he was doing alright and we shook hands. I Gave Vale a fist bump/ shook his hand and walked away. The entire exchange was less two minutes (later, On the way out i walked by Dovi, saw Lorenzo standing on top of a bench and talked with Bradl for a very long while (he was on the podium that day). I left thinking how cool #69 was and what a surreal experience i had just had. My motogp junky friends never believe me, but it happened. I got to meet grestness and my heroes. 

To motoshrink’s point - #69 seemed like ‘one of us.’ His passion for racing, the love for his family and his ability to slay the #46 dragon while in his prime are the stuff of legend. God Bless COTA, Dorna and the FIM for their kind gesture and recognition. 

Total votes: 8