Perhaps the rollercoaster metaphor has been abused over the years in Austin, but in everyone’s defence, COTA took it a bit too seriously and put us through quite a mix of highs and lows over 20 long and hot laps. At the end of the ride, Alex Rins celebrated LCR Honda’s 100th podium in style, with his first victory for the team and ending a long wait for Honda to grace the top step of the podium once more. The joyous celebrations continued in second place, with Luca Marini securing a maiden grand prix podium in MotoGP, while Fabio Quartararo climbed onto the podium for the first time this year, in third place.
The start of the race told a somewhat more likely story, with Pecco Bagnaia making a strong start from pole position ahead of Rins and Marini. After some minor threats from Rins on the opening lap, Bagnaia tried to get a bit of breathing room, but the Spaniard had other plans, stringing together red sector times to quickly reel in the poleman. Jack Miller didn’t seem to be missing much the Ducati’s holeshot device, as he made just as impressive of a start on the KTM, joining the leaders after a couple of corners, with Quartararo and the Mooney VR46 duo in tow. The drama started quite early, when a poor start from Alex Marquez put him in Jorge Martin’s way when the Pramac man slid out on cold tyres at turn three and took his compatriot into the gravel with him. Aleix Espargaro joined them on the naughty list by the end of the opening lap, tumbling out of the top 10 at turn 12, leaving Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Brad Binder and Maverick Viñales inside the top 10 – the latter plagued once more by issues getting off the line.
With Bagnaia and Rins starting to look quite untouchable early on, Miller was best of the rest and not yet out of contention but struggling to reduce the one second gap to the leading duo. Bagnaia could not shake Rins off in the first handful of laps but the threat from behind reduced two laps later, when Miller crashed out of third place. Disaster struck once more on lap eight, when Bagnaia made a surprising(ly costly) mistake at turn two, crashing out of the lead and changing the podium configuration once more. In the blink of an eye, Rins found himself as the sole leader and with a two second gap to manage over Quartararo and Marini.
Twelve laps seemed like a long time to hold back a Ducati, but Rins’s advantage still hovered around the two second mark going into the second half of the race, while Quartararo’s full attention was on preventing said Ducati from gobbling him up. Marini inevitably blitzed past the Yamaha on the back straight a couple of laps later and Quartararo had no response, allowing Marini a reasonably comfortable gap. The move was just as much of a worry for Honda as it was for Yamaha, as the gap to the leader promptly dipped under two seconds, but Rins immediately got the message and picked up the pace to enter the final five laps with two and a half seconds in hand. Marini gave it a final push but had to let Rins go in the last couple of laps, the LCR man taking the chequered flag over three seconds clear of his main rival.
There wasn’t much of a threat to rest of the podium positions in the closing stages, with the chasing group over three seconds back, but Bagnaia did get some unexpected help as both Viñales and Oliveira were keen to show Bezzecchi the talents of the Aprilia and eventually demoted him to sixth place. Johann Zarco, Franco Morbidelli, Fabio Di Giannantonio and rookie Augusto Fernandez held on tight to complete the top 10, while the likes of Joan Mir, Brad Binder and Takaaki Nakagami made unceremonious exists in the various gravel traps around COTA. Binder at least got some points out of it, having remounted at the back of a field of only 13 finishing riders.
MotoGP leaves Texas with Bezzecchi still in control of the world championship by 11 points from Bagnaia, while Rins climbs significantly to trail the leader by 17 points. Viñales and Zarco complete the top five, with Marini also making up ground in sixth, 26 points behind his teammate. Quartararo’s return to the podium got rewarded with a progress of four positions, up to 7th, 30 points off Bezzecchi.
|9||49||Fabio Di Giannantonio||Ducati||27.981|