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.
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.
The announcement that the official MotoGP.com website were to stream the Thursday media debriefs of Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi live raised some hackles in the paddock. The objections to the move differed with the interests of those complaining. The print media complained that there was no point in flying half the way around the world to cover the series if everything was going to be streamed live anyway. Rival factories complained that the media debriefs of their riders were not being streamed live. Some fans and journalists complained that by showing the debriefs, Dorna were merely fanning the flames, where they should be trying to calm the situation down.
In the end, there wasn't much of a situation to calm down. Sure, the media debriefs of Márquez and Rossi were streamed live. But both men went out of their way not to say anything of interest. The feud lives on, but we didn't notice because we lost interest in what the protagonists were saying about halfway through. There is much to be said for trite media speak.
To an extent, this is probably a good thing. Aleix Espargaro, whose media debrief really should have been streamed live, as it was a great deal more entertaining than all the other rider press conferences put together, pointed out the irony of the situation. "Everybody is talking about the Argentina clash and nobody is talking about the tarmac of America, which is more important!" the factory Aprilia rider complained.
Normally, the Grand Prix of the Americas, as the MotoGP round at COTA in Austin is known, is a straightforward affair. 24 MotoGP riders line up on the grid, and 23 of them stage a fierce battle over who is going to come second behind Marc Márquez. The Repsol Honda rider has won every single one of the five editions staged at the Circuit of the Americas. In fact, the Spaniard has never been beaten in any of the nine MotoGP races he has contested on American soil, at Laguna Seca, Indianapolis, or in Austin.
Will someone finally break Márquez' winning streak in the US? On the evidence of the 2018 season so far, the only person capable of beating Márquez at one of his strongest tracks is Marc Márquez himself. In Argentina, the Repsol Honda rider managed to thoroughly sabotage his own race. First by stalling his bike on the starting grid – a grid already thrown out of kilter by the changing weather. Then by trying to make up for the time he lost serving a ride through penalty for a multitude of infractions at the start by charging through the field like a wrecking ball, slamming into one rider after another, taking out his arch nemesis Valentino Rossi, before being hit by another penalty, this time adding 30 seconds to his race time and demoting him out of the points.After the race and in the intervening days since, Rossi has gone on the attack, calling Márquez a dangerous rider who is a threat to everyone on the track with him. He doesn't feel safe on the track with Márquez, Rossi said. Rossi's remarks, while understandable, should be seen within the wider context of his vendetta with Márquez, after he lost the 2015 championship, which Rossi blames entirely on deliberate interference by Márquez. Further stoking the fire, Rossi was pictured in a social media post with a framed picture of the Argentina incident lying on a sofa at his dirt track ranch.
Whatever the root of Rossi's remarks, there can be no doubt that they are a distraction, both for Márquez and for Rossi himself. When the pair arrive at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, they will face questioning on one subject only. And that won't be Márquez' chances of winning on Sunday.
The Repsol Honda team issued the following press release on Dani Pedrosa's surgery to fix his right wrist:
Dorna issued the following press release confirming the shortening of races in all three Grand Prix classes, as we reported earlier.
Seven MotoGP races are to be shortened for the 2018 season onwards. The MotoGP races at Austin, Le Mans, Barcelona, Brno, and Misano are all to be cut by a single lap, the race at Jerez is to lose two laps, and the season finale at Valencia is to be reduced by a whole three laps.
The reason for the reduction in length is to bring the races into line with the remainder of the calendar, and create a consistent time schedule. Previously, the MotoGP regulations specified a minimum and maximum length for races (between 95km and 130km), but for 2018, the specification of distance has been dropped. Race distance for all events is now to be determined by the Permanent Bureau, consisting of the FIM and Dorna.
The old race distances caused a large variation in race duration. Races could last anywhere between 40 and 45 minutes, making scheduling for TV problematic. It also meant that if there were delays at the start, or if races were wet, they could overrun the allotted TV slot, causing major headaches for broadcasters. It meant that audiences were never sure whether they would get to see the Parc Fermé interviews or podium ceremonies.
|18 March||Qatar*||Losail International Circuit|
|08 April||República Argentina||Termas de Río Hondo|
|22 April||Americas||Circuit of The Americas|
|06 May||Spain||Circuito de Jerez|
|20 May||France||Le Mans|
In many ways, the MotoGP season is structured like a Hollywood action blockbuster. There is preseason testing, the opening sequence in which we are introduced to the main cast of characters. After the opening credits, we start off by flying across continents to a range of exotic and colorful locations, where the first threads of plot are laid out, some of which will turn out to be red herrings later in the season. There then follows a regular sequence of dramatic action sequences, the narrative of the season taking dramatic twists and turns along the way.
If MotoGP is a Hollywood blockbuster, then the Pacific triple header of flyaway races is the frantic last 10 minutes, where the protagonists face off again and again leaving the audience barely a moment to catch their breath. It is where the battle for MotoGP reaches its crescendo, the drama of the season raised to another level and compressed into the briefest of windows. The flyaways are intense.
If the fans feel the triple header takes its toll on them, just imagine what it's like for the riders. Back-to-back races within Europe are usually manageable, as the riders are only a few hours away from their homes, and spend the weekends in their motorhomes, which are a home away from home. For the flyaways, the riders spend four weeks on the road, moving from hotel to hotel. They kick off the trip with a 15-hour flight to Japan, follow it up with an 11-hour flight from Japan to Melbourne, then another 9-hour flight to Malaysia.
The provisional calendar for the 2018 MotoGP season has been released, and as expected, there are few surprises. The schedule has been expanded to 19 races with the inclusion of the Chang International Circuit in Thailand, which has a contract to host a race through 2020.
The addition of Thailand hasn't altered the schedule much. The 2018 schedule is almost identical to this year's calendar, with just a few minor variations. The season kicks off a week early in Qatar, and to accommodate that earlier start, the time of the race is to be changed to 7pm local time. Starting earlier will mean that MotoGP avoids the evening dew that can render the track so treacherous.