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.
The Kawasakis of Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes were the quickest in the second session, with Marco Melandri third quickest, albeit slower than Michael van der Mark's morning time. With only one timed session remaining later today, van der Mark, Leandro Mercado and Jake Gagne were the only riders unable to improve on their earlier times.
Randy Krummenacher and Sandro Cortese were the quickest pair in a session where a crash by Ant West brought out the red flag. West was taken to the medical centre where he was described as concious and stable.
Jonathan Rea and Michael van der Mark were the only riders under 1'36, while Xavi Fores was the quickest Ducati.
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.
Assen is a circuit unlike any other. The rich history of the Assen TT Circuit goes back almost 100 years and with over 50 WorldSBK to its name only Phillip Island has seen more Superbike track action although arguably no circuit has seen more exciting action than Assen.
Whether it's Carl Fogarty or Jonathan Rea, the heroes of WorldSBK love Assen to a rider. It's fast and flowing and is a circuit that can be ridden any number of ways. There is no ideal way to lap the 4.542km circuit but there are some secrets to unlocking the speed. Pata Yamaha's Alex Lowes sat down with MotoMatters.com to offer his insight.
“You come across the start finish straight in fifth gear and as you approach Turn 1 it's tighter than you'd think,” explained Lowes. “The apex is slightly blind because the track drops away ever so slightly so you aim for a point and with experience you learn that it's that little bit tighter than expected. You're in second gear through the first corner so you'll short shift into third for Turn 2, but this is a section where the bike is always sliding and if you're not careful at the start of the race to manage this you'll pay for it at the end of the race with tire degradation.
Press releases previewing the upcoming Dutch round of WorldSBK at Assen:
Home heroes and history makers: Assen Awaits
There’s magic in the air as WorldSBK heads to The Netherlands
Just in case you think motorcycle racers used to be different, here’s something I wrote back in 2003
“This is bike racing, not classical music,” opined former 250cc world champion Max Biaggi after Doriano Romboni accused him of dirty tricks on the last lap of the 1994 250cc German Grand Prix.
Pretty obvious, really, because there’s not a half-successful racer in the world who doesn’t get up to some kind of mischief in his quest for glory.
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.
There are few crew chiefs in MotoGP quite as revered as Cristian Gabarrini. And with good reason: the Italian has worked with some of the most successful riders in the history of the sport. After a spell as data engineer for the LCR team in 250s, Gabarrini moved to Ducati to work on electronics. In 2007, he was paired with Casey Stoner after then Ducati team manager Livio Suppo had dropped Sete Gibernau in favor of Casey Stoner.
It was a match made in heaven. The pairing of Gabarrini and Stoner proved a formidable one, Stoner winning his first race on the Ducati Desmosedici GP7, and going on to take the title at the first attempt. Gabarrini moved to Honda with Stoner for the 2011 season, where they repeated the feat, winning the championship that year as well.
After Stoner retired at the end of 2012, Gabarrini stayed on to work with Marc Márquez and his crew chief Santi Hernandez, helping the pair adapt to MotoGP. After a year as an engineer for HRC, we was paired with another Australian, this time working with Jack Miller to help him make the massive jump from Moto3 straight to MotoGP.
Six races into a new era of WorldSBK and it seems as though we've seen a lot has changed without anything changing. Ducati and Kawasaki are still doing the winning with Yamaha the only manufacturer to upset the podium hegemony enjoyed by the leading manufacturers.
Everyone's a winner