Bagnaia. Quartararo. Marquez? MotoGP™ saddles up stateside
It’s getting close to crunch time in the title fight, but Texas may welcome a certain eight-time World Champion back to the front…
Monday, 27 September 2021
A lot has changed since the last time MotoGP™ raced at the Circuit of the Americas, not least of all the winner in the last two races: Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), who went from maiden victory to back-to-back hero in a week. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) remains the points leader, the Frenchman only just defeated at Misano, and this time as we saddle up in Austin there are only three races left thereafter. But despite the very different landscape and the drama of the last year and a half for eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), there surely remains one lone star to be expected in Texas. So can he do it?
One thing we can probably guarantee is that he’ll try. It’s not, however, going to be easy. Where before the MM93xCOTA collab seemed more unstoppable force and immovable object all in one, this season is different after a tougher return than many expected for the history-making Spaniard. There has been some solid progress and some good results since those first emotional laps back on a MotoGP™ machine though, and even earlier in the year when everything was far from going right, Marquez showed he remained the king of going left. His win at the Sachsenring was an emotional one, for him and Honda, and it also unearthed a self-confessed margin. The risk that day was worth the reward, and life remains a little easier going anti-clockwise: it allows for a little more to be unleashed…
Fast forward to Aragon and another anti-clockwise hunting ground of choice, and again the number 93 was straight back at the front. This time, though, it wasn’t on the top step – but it wasn’t through lack of trying. Marquez was the only rider able to stay in Bagnaia’s postcode on Sunday and the two staged a truly spectacular duel, the existence and outcome of which make two different points.
The existence underlines that Marquez should not be counted out at COTA, that he retains a splash of magic even as he fights back to fitness, and that left is still not only his speciality but also an extra help in that tussle back to the top. And the outcome? That says Bagnaia is probably a little less overawed by the record books in Texas, something that could prove powerful unto itself: unflappable in the face of Marquez is no mean feat.
There was also a time when a Ducati track meant one thing, but those days are over. The number 63’s poetry for Borgo Panigale, added to clear improvements in their previously ‘weaker’ areas, make one serious package of man and machine. So there’s no reason to expect a serious drop of form in Texas, and that puts a little more pressure on Quartararo than the Frenchman likely expected a few races ago. Because COTA has also never been Yamaha’s favourite territory either…
The Iwata marque have, however, had some good results, and Quartararo praised some good improvements at the Red Bull Ring, which had also previously been a tougher one. So is it an assault on the win, an exercise in damage limitation, or simply a numbers game? 48 points of advantage at the top allows for each of those options.
Behind the Championship top two and the Marquez narrative though, there’s another for Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) too. 67 points off the top, and 75 left on the table after Austin, make it a long shot for the reigning Champion to defend his crown. But that also takes some pressure off, and it was a Suzuki on top at COTA on the single occasion Marquez faltered. Then it was Mir’s teammate Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Estar), who crashed out at Misano, but can the Hamamatsu factory find that frontrunning form again? There was also some high praise from both riders following the Misano test, so the grid were warned.
Texas is also now serious crunch time for the riders just behind Mir in the standings: Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) and Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team). The former arrives from arm pump surgery so is likely expecting to move back forward, but the latter also praised the two days of testing on the Riviera di Rimini and is only one point further back. What can they do? Miller was also on the podium last time we saddled up in Texas.
Then, he was ahead of an intriguing Yamaha-Ducati lock out from second down to seventh. Valentino Rossi, now at Petronas Yamaha SRT, was the lead Yamaha only half a second off the win, and he’ll want to go out swinging in the States as he races there for the final time. Quartararo will take heart from that too as we return. Then came Miller, and then came Andrea Dovizioso, who is now taking it on on a Yamaha – the same Petronas Yamaha that in 2019 came home behind him in the hands of Franco Morbidelli, now at Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP. With the state of play looking pretty different in 2021 as every one of that group arrives in a different seat, track records don’t tell the future but the shuffle continues to create some interesting stories as some return, some prepare to depart and others fight back.
Speaking of, Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) will want to do just that at COTA as the rookie race winner now finds himself under a little more pressure in the fight for Rookie of the Year. He’d pulled well clear despite his injury struggles earlier in the season, but a first premier class podium for Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) at Misano – with race-winning pace – means it’s now just ten points the Italian trails the Spaniard, so it’s game on in that showdown too.
There will also be plenty to watch out for at KTM and Aprilia, with both factories gearing up with pretty different machines as we return stateside for the first time since early 2019. Then, KTM hadn’t won a race and they’ve now won five. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is also sixth in the Championship, only 16 points off Miller, and the South African has continued his Sunday charges to varying degrees in the last few races. Where will KTM shuffle into the pack in Texas?
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), meanwhile, is the rider on Binder’s heels and the Noale factory will want more than what they got at a slightly muted Misano. Maverick Viñales scored his first few points with the marque last time out though, so that narrative keeps retaining headlines. How will the all-new RS-GP fare at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas?
Bagnaia arrives on the crest of a wave, Quartararo retains his advantage in the points, and Marquez is six for seven in Texas. What awaits as MotoGP™ saddles up stateside in 2021? The only thing we can guarantee is another fantastic horsepower rodeo, so tune in for more at 14:00 (GMT -5) on Sunday the 3rd of October.
Before the track action begins, there are some other events to keep an eye out for too. On Wednesday, Marc Marquez faces down against Jett Lawrence as the eight-time World Champion and 2021 MX 250 AMA Champion test their skills against each other, riding Honda NSF100’s on COTA’s karting track in a high stakes time trial challenge and only one can win.
In addition, the competition may be over for the 2021 FIM Enel MotoE™ World Cup, but the electric presence continues in the paddock! There’s a parade planned at COTA for Saturday as Energica continues to take centre stage, this time stateside, with bikes on track from 11:50 local time.
MotoGP™ Championship top five:
1 Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 234
2 Francesco Bagnaia – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 186
3 Joan Mir – Team Suzuki Ecstar – Suzuki – 167
4 Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – 141
5 Jack Miller – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 140
*Independent Team rider
Will Austin stage another Red Bull KTM Ajo rodeo?
The duo were an unstoppable force again at Misano, so will COTA prove any different?
Another race weekend, another ace for Red Bull KTM Ajo. But it’s far from boring watching Championship leader Remy Gardner grapple with teammate Raul Fernandez at the top of the table, with the two embroiled in a chess match modern classic of a season. Gardner retains a sizeable 34-point lead over his rookie foil but Fernandez arrives from two wins on the bounce… just, as the veteran Aussie made a late charge at Misano. So can anyone catch them at COTA?
Since the form book has had little respect from the duo thus far, they must remain the favourites. Gardner could have a small edge from experience, too. But as easy as they’ve made it look at times, it’s far from it on track… and a likely suspect for some good speed to rival them could be Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team). The Brit took his first ever win at the track and has another podium, so there are some good memories.
Lowes though, like Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) ahead of him, will need to find some time to break the Red Bull KTM Ajo deadlock at the top. Bezzecchi was the last to do it at the Styrian GP, but then you need to rewind all the way to Jerez for the last time a non-Ajo machine was at the front in parc ferme, which is pretty staggering. So it’s an ask. For Bezzecchi it’s also likely crunch time to stay in contention, with 75 points available after Austin and his deficit to Gardner currently 81. Lowes, meanwhile, is already ruled out from the crown.
There’s a tight fight for fifth overall too, and it could still gain on Lowes for fourth, as Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team) locks horns with Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team). Canet took a podium last time out as the number 37 had a tougher race, but both have been threats at times. Canet’s shown speed at COTA too, something that bodes well, and he arrives on form.
Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), meanwhile, isn’t far off that battle and he’s the aforementioned winner at Jerez. He’s also shown some pace in the Lone Star State, and will want to move back up as his move to MotoGP™ gets closer and closer. Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) remains barking at the heels of the veteran too, no mean feat for a rookie, and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in Texas.
On home turf though, there’s a lot on the line for Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) and compatriot, and rookie, Cameron Beaubier (American Racing). Roberts’ best so far this season is a fourth – denied a podium by a penalty – and he needs an upturn in form after a tougher run after summer break, but he knows the sharp end. Beaubier’s best of P8 at Mugello and another top ten in Germany are impressive too for the American, but it’s been a tougher run thereafter. With some home knowledge and the home crowd cheering them on, what can they do at COTA?
34 points is a good margin for Gardner, but it’s still only one DNF on a good day for his teammate for a single podium to cover the difference. But on the flip side, 34 points is a big ask for a rookie to make up in four races – even if said rookie is equalling some of Marc Marquez’ records in the class. Will COTA be another incredible Red Bull KTM Ajo rodeo, or could we see a shake up? Find out on Sunday the 3rd of October at 12:20 (GMT -5) as the lights go out in Austin for Moto2™.
Moto2™ Championship top five:
1 Remy Gardner – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 271
2 Raul Fernandez – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 237
3 Marco Bezzecchi – Sky Racing Team VR46 – Kalex – 190
4 Sam Lowes – Elf Marc VDS Racing Team – Kalex – 140
5 Aron Canet – Inde Aspar Team – Boscoscuro – 119
Can Moto3™ make experience count at COTA?
It’s a while since we raced in Texas. And for some, this is first contact. So can Foggia keep the hammer down?
As the paddock arrives in Austin for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, there’s plenty to talk about in Moto3™. The vast, fast COTA awaits and the lightweight class may once again negate the need for a preview as so much is often won and lost in few so corners, but there could be something to the tea leaves ahead of Texas. Form and feeling can play a big role and there’s only one person who’s had a near-perfect balance of both on the way in: Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing).
The last time the Championship took on a venue where points leader Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and former closest challenger Sergio Garcia (Solunion GASGAS Aspar Team) had a little less experience, back at Silverstone, the podium was a veteran one: Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia VR46 Academy) and Foggia locked it out. Could COTA be a similar story? Getting to grips with the venue certainly adds an extra challenge for Acosta, but recent form, regardless of whether the track was a fresh challenge or familiar hunting ground, is an interesting read.
In the last three races, the average points scored by some of the key players make for a stark contrast. Foggia has averaged 22 points per Grand Prix, hence his move into second overall. Antonelli has taken 17, despite his injury struggles and Fenati, despite his crash out the lead at Misano and his dose of bad luck at MotorLand, still took an average of 9. Acosta, meanwhile, has taken just 4.67, and Garcia just 4.33. If a rate even close to that continues, its very much game on for Foggia for a title charge.
The Italian did point out after his Misano win that he hadn’t ridden the Honda at COTA before, but he must surely remain the favourite as he continues to shine a light on how to escape the melee in Moto3™. Antonelli too, and Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team), whose average takes a hit from his mechanical DNF at Silverstone. And then there’s Fenati.
The number 55 has two previous wins at COTA, and they were both breakaways. One purely on pace, and one holding his nerve as then-rival Aron Canet suffered a crash in their duel at the front. If not for his fall from what was genuine poetry, pace and grace in lead at Misano, surely Fenati would be the favourite? So can he reset, reload and shake off that error to get himself back into contention?
Moto3™ is more than a gaggle of veteran Italians with Acosta and Garcia in their midst, however. Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is coming on consistent and was on the podium on our last visit to COTA, Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech3) had some serious chops mid-2021 before a tougher weekend and big crash at Misano… Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing) will want more than his recent finishes, and Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3) another podium following his Aragon rostrum. Can they spoil the party?
5.5km, 17 times, with 25 points on the line. A quarter of those remaining on the table in 2021. Will it be hold, fold or something else entirely as Foggia homes in? Find out on Sunday the 3rd of October as the lights go out for Moto3™ at 11:00 local time – that’s GMT -5.
Moto3™ Championship top five:
1 Pedro Acosta – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 210
2 Dennis Foggia – Leopard Racing – Honda – 168
3 Sergio Garcia – Solunion GASGAS Aspar – GASGAS – 168
4 Romano Fenati – Sterilgarda Max Racing Team – Husqvarna – 134
5 Jaume Masia – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 122