Superpole one had nine riders competing for two spots to qualify for Superpole two. Loris Baz and Toprak Razgatlioglu were the quickest two riders of this second group heading into this session. The track was a bit cooler than yesterday. Jake Gagne, after a bruising crash in Free Practice two yesterday, sat this session out, and his team announced on Twitter that he would be missing the Saturday race.
There was good news and bad news for the MotoGP paddock after the first day of practice at the Circuit of the Americas. The good news is that the work done to the track to try to remove the bumps had not made the track much more abrasive, as some had feared. Tires are wearing normally, so pit stops or worse will not be needed.
The bad news is that the work done to try to remove the bumps has not done anything to remove the bumps. It has moved them about a little, improved them in some places, made them worse in others, but the net effect has been zero, or worse than zero. What's worse, the process used has generated a huge amount of dust, bikes coming down the back straight billowing clouds of dust in their wake.
"It's worse than Qatar," Jack Miller said. "I said to the guys, 'I hope you've got the air filter in from Qatar, because you're going to need it'." At the first race of the season, the teams have to run a special air filter to prevent the desert dust from entering the engine and causing excessive wear. "The dust is far worse than Qatar, it's that crappy concrete dust," Miller explained.
With arguably the best track conditions of the first day of practice, Miguel Oliveira managed to do something that Marc Marquez didn’t: hold on to the lead of the session until the flag dropped. The KTM rider posted an early time that gave him four tenths of a second to play with and that cushion proved to be just about enough to hold off a fast charging Sam Lowes. The British rider only had another two hundredths of a second to find but ran out of time and settled for second.
Green light, Marquez unleashed, business as usual. The Repsol Honda man had a pretty standard session, jumping to the top of the timesheets right away, sliding out in turn 11 halfway through the session and then resuming action on a used hard rear tyre to post an even faster time. The Spaniard would’ve had the perfect day if Andrea Iannone had not put on new tyres at the right time to snatch one of the rare sessions held at the circuit not to be topped by the reigning world champion.
The big cloud of dust that surrounded the riders in FP1 was largely dispersed by the three morning sessions and the lightweight class benefited immediately by dropping the benchmark by two seconds. The first man to achieve that was Enea Bastianini, the Italian holding an early eight tenth advantage over the championship leader.
Under the blue Texan sky, Miguel Oliveira pulled a Marquez at COTA special to shoot into the lead of FP1 by seven tenths of a second and kept his rivals at arm’s length for the duration of the morning session. The gap did come down significantly after an actual Marquez – Alex, as it happens – patiently build up his speed to trail the Portuguese rider by only four hundredths of a second.
Who is that making his way through dust as dense as a rainstorm faster than anyone else? Well it is Marc Marquez of course, dancing with arguably his favourite piece of tarmac. The Spaniard comfortably put a second into his pursuers as soon as the light went green and supervised the rest of FP1/track cleaning operation from the top of the timesheets. While his occasional rodeo did come with impressive pace at a track where he always seems to be one step ahead, the gaps throughout the field will come with a pinch of salt, as the morning session did not serve for much else than dealing with a very dirty track.
Michael van der Mark heads to Saturday in provisional pole position, ahead of Marco Melandri and independant rider Michael Ruben Rinaldi. Jonathan Rea was unable to improve on his earlier time. Loris Baz and Toprak Razgatlioglu are the favourites for promition in Superpole one, with Jordi Torres knocking Baz to eleventh place with his time set in Free Practice two.
Remember that pesky rain setting the scene for all kinds of trouble last time around? None of that in Austin, at least on Friday, but what was lacking in rain, COTA was making up in dust. That did not hinder the lightweight class too much and the first to tame the bull was perhaps predictably Jorge Martin, the Spaniard enjoying the sunshine from the top of the timesheets.
Luke Stapleford in fourth and Raffaele De Rosa in fifth were the quickest non-Yamahas, behind Randy Krummenacher, Sandro Cortese and Jules Cluzel. Lots of laps were deleted after riders rode on the green paint on a couple of corners trying to find a fast lap. Everyone in the top ten improved on their times from this morning with Sheridan Morais and Ayrton Badovini in the favourite spots for promotion in Superpole two.
Ant West's crash this morning has ruled him out for the remainder of the weekend.