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Valentino Rossi at the 2019 Grand Prix of the Americas

MotoGP: Riding COTA and how Austin packs a punch

Apr 152019

Built in 2010 and 2011 and across a section of wild land a short distance from the Austin International airport, the Circuit of the Americas was a bold and ambitious project that fully delivered in terms of the layout, the stage and the spectacle. “When I first came here in 2013 it was fantastic. I said it was the best track I had ever ridden,” confirmed LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow. MotoGP had found a spiritual home and one that fitted the strength of the show that is routinely filtered through screens to an enrapt global audience.

The most-watched motorcycle racing series on the planet had pushed limits at Laguna Seca in California and tried to blend with steep American racing history at Indianapolis in the past but ‘COTA’ was idyllic: fast, curving, dropping and rising, long and unrelenting.

Much to the dismay of the MotoGP field the trajectory turned into a one-rider domain – an incessant hunting ground - for the technique and speed of Marc Marquez as the Spaniard marked the territory with six Pole Positions and six wins prior to the 2019 edition of the race. The Honda man’s unrivalled potency at COTA was evident again for what was round three of nineteen at the weekend. A seventh Pole fell on Saturday…but then – inexplicably – so did the world champion on Sunday.

The last incarnation of the Grand Prix of the Americas carried a slight twist - or several literal ‘bouncers’ - for the riders themselves. In spite of corrective work, the Texan asphalt had rippled and weaved into a bone-jarring and handlebar rattling collection of bumps. Watching trackside and through the lenses of the many MotoGP cameras (both rebounding on the bikes and panning with the action) the sight of the motorcycles bucking and bottoming gave amazing context to the limits being push by the riders: it was edgy and (non?) gripping stuff. For the athletes the ride was the wrong side of thrilling.


“It's a great shame because the track is fantastic and also quite new,” said Valentino Rossi on Thursday; with a feeling that would not impede his fantastic race on Sunday and another near-miss for a career 116th victory.


“Maybe something happened from underneath,” he added in reference to the geology that hearsay determines is responsible for the shifting state of the tarmac. “In three or four parts they are very big.”

“It’s a very physical track,” said Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales – a rider who vied for the fastest chrono in practice and whose potential for a podium was ruined by mere centimetres in his jumpstart. “It’s hard for twenty laps I think. With the shaking of the bike and the bumps you have to be very precise and try to make life as calm and as smooth as possible.”

Speeds reach almost 350kmph (nearly 220mph) and the harshest braking point for one of the several slow turns will see riders dealing with forces close to 2G and reducing speed from 300kmph down to 60 in a matter of metres. It was this differential and the effects on front wheel adhesion that scuppered the races of Marquez and brandmate Cal Crutchlow.


The strong gusts of wind on Sunday made matters more complicated. “I had quite a good opportunity to pass Cal at the end of the back straight on the first lap, but I wasn’t going to pull out and try and pass with the wind because the front wheel is bouncing up and down,” said podiumee Jack Miller, the fastest of the Ducatis. “When these bikes come past each other in close quarters, it blows like that and that’s the last thing you want at 340k an hour. So definitely something needs to be done. My groin is hanging off now because the bike is so fast!”


At 40 years old Rossi told the press on Friday that his fitness has improved for the 2019 season but he was still only capable of one single fast lap time attack in practice and qualification. The demands of COTA were not an issue for the Italian who thrives (and excels) when it comes to the Grand Prix’s crucial moment: Sunday. “Our bike is quite stable and on this track the last years we are strong for me,” he said. “Also because the bike on the bumps is quite good. I think maybe this is a characteristic of the [Yamaha] M1.”


#46 might be the grizzled veteran of the bunch but he is still able to be one of the meanest dogs in the cage. The fight he showed in Austin and the fact that he is right at the peak of the standings and the early championship hunt means the picture will get even more interesting when MotoGP comes back to Europe. The fourth chapter of the 2019 saga will venture into Jerez: a small, short, compact and atmospheric track somewhat the antithesis of the open and exposed speed bowl of the Circuit of The Americas. All part of the exotic appeal of MotoGP.