It never rains, but it pours. Especially around Austin, where warm damp air blows in from the Gulf of Mexico, and the rising terrain of the start of Hill Country generates turbulence which causes the towering clouds to dump their burden of moisture onto the earth below. That happened early on Saturday morning, when the heavens opened and a torrential rain drenched the ground, causing deep puddles and running streams throughout the area east of Austin which houses the Circuit of the Americas. And it happened again in the late morning, a brief but enormously intense storm dumped another centimeter or so of rain onto the track in the space of a quarter of an hour.
Both rainstorms were accompanied by thunder and lightning, which caused the most problems for the organizers. Lightning poses a significant danger, not just to anyone foolish enough to try to race a motorcycle in a thunderstorm, but to corner workers, the fans and the staff who work around the track. Lightning strikes regularly claim lives in Texas, so when a thunderstorm hits, it gets taken very seriously indeed.
It never rains but it pours in the metaphorical sense as well. After Friday's raft of complaints aimed at the bumpiness of the Austin track, Saturday started off with track action being first delayed, and then canceled, and fans being locked out of the circuit for safety reasons. It was very much an inauspicious start to the weekend.
No track time, no experience
Marc Marquez sent a friendly reminder to Maverick Vinales and the rest of the field on Saturday that his second-place showing in FP2 was a simple setback and not a trend at the Circuit of the Americas track in Texas. Marquez's 2'05.478 beat Cal Crutchlow's best lap by nearly two seconds in mixed conditions that saw the field start the session on rain tires and end it on slicks.
After rain and lightning provided early morning action and a two hour delay to FP3 sessions, a decision was eventually made to cancel all practice sessions for the three classes due to lightning in the area surrounding the circuit. Qualifying schedule will be subject to weather conditions so fingers crossed.
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."
The final session of the day saw the intermediate class benefit from the added grip of a full day of action but Xavi Vierge quickly became the first victim of the bumps in FP2, sliding out in turn two before even setting a lap in anger. Tom Luthi had no such problems and set camp at the top of the timesheets early on, with only Sam Lowes within half a second of his benchmark for most of the session. The calm before the storm allowed a false sense of security but Marcel Schrotter’s FP1 domination was back in the final time attack and the German rider took the lead by half a second.
Things hotted up literally and otherwise throughout the premier class’ second session of the day, given the unstable weather threatening Saturday’s proceedings. With FP1 times obliterated in the very first minutes of the session, Marc Marquez not only dipped but almost sunk into the 2:04s before retreating to the pitlane once again. Between finding the perfect setup for the bumpy Texan track and keeping safe in the top ten, teams had a lot on their plate in FP2.