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MotoGP: Americas Preview: Weird in Austin

Credit: MotoGP.com

Let’s be honest, MotoGP has been weird this year. It has been weird in the sense of unpredictability, weather, results and even in terms of we are arriving at round three, with no clear indication of who is going to be the champion in any class – something that, for the past two seasons, has not been doubted. And, MotoGP is set to get weirder this weekend as Austin approaches – the weirdest city in Texas, whether that be politically, culturally or entrepreneurially. So, for all my weekend, I’ll be watching MotoGP America…

Cal Crutchlow is the championship leader. Nope. Don’t panic. Your screen hasn’t gone wonky, Britain’s Cal Crutchlow heads to America in the lead of the MotoGP championship. Being British, I am going to relish and cherish this moment. However, we must be realistic and not expect this every weekend. ‘Our Cal’ has been in fine form and could be on for his fourth consecutive top-10 finish – something that he hasn’t achieved since 2016, at Misano, Aragon, Motegi and Phillip Island. Already writing his names in record books, he is the first Brit to lead the premier class championship since Barry Sheene in 1979 and could be the first Brit to win back-to-back races in the premier class since Barry Sheene at the Swedish and Belgian GPs in 1977 – both races of which are no longer staged. 41 years is a long time to wait, but don’t write Cal off just yet!

Andrea Dovizioso slipped to 2nd place in the championship standings following what was a damage limitation event in Argentina. The Italian is right in the hunt for the championship, with just three points separating him from his ex-teammate at the top of the standings. Looking for his 10th premier class win and his 19th win overall, it would be fair to say that Dovi has a chance at COTA, albeit not a massive one, nor a slim one. When he has finished at the circuit, he has been no lower than 7th. A total of two podiums but no wins mean that the 32-year-old could well be out to prove a point. Can he give Ducati their first win in the USA since 2007, when Casey Stoner blitzed the field at Laguna Seca.

Flying the French flag in third place is Johann Zarco, who has been nothing short of admirable in the way he has carried on his form from 2017. The double Moto2 champion is 10 points behind Crutchlow but is in sublime form. He has 19 consecutive point-scoring finishes, of which the last seven have been in the top ten. Of those last seven, he has been on the front row in the last six races and converted three of them to podiums. Still chasing that elusive first premier class GP win, Zarco may well pull something out of the bag in America. He has been no lower than fifth at the COTA circuit since 2015 and will hope to make it four podiums in the last five starts. Could he become the first French rider EVER to win a GP in America?

Maverick Vinales was on top of the world coming into COTA last year, with a perfect 50 points and the championship lead. However, his season soon unravelled and it all started at turn 18 of the COTA circuit. Now Vinales’ mentality is different, he knows that he needs to win in order to stay in the title hunt for Yamaha. 17 points adrift of Crutchlow and 29 points down from the same point last season, Vinales is struggling. If he fails to get on the podium at the Americas GP, it will be his fifth consecutive race without one – the first time since 2016 that he would’ve gone this long without Sunday silverware. Vinales is a winner at the track though, with a masterful Moto2 victory in 2014. His best premier class GP result is 4th on a Suzuki in 2016 and COTA is one of eight circuits he is yet to get on the premier class rostrum. Will he correct that?

Captain America, Marc Marquez has been nothing short of headline-grabbing since Argentina but in the USA, he has been nothing short of record-breaking. He has won the last 11 races he has taken part in the USA, with the last time he wasn’t a winner being in 2010 at Indianapolis, when he was 10th in the 125cc class. He has been on pole in every single COTA race and has looked uncatchable in each race. Whilst Marquez may be able to take his 12th GP win in America, Valentino Rossi’s record of 21 in Spain seems like it may live a bit longer. However, with his form at the circuit, we may as well rename the USA ‘Ameriquez’.

Plucky, unlucky and gutsy Jack Miller is sixth in the MotoGP standings, following his heroic efforts in Argentina. The popular and charismatic Australian dazzled everyone with his rodeo-style riding at Termas de Rio Hondo but it’ll be interesting to see how much MotoGP’s latest Cowboy adapts in Texas. Miller hasn’t got the most sparkling track record at Austin venue, with his best result in the premier class coming last year on the Marc VDS Honda, in 10th. If he manages another top ten, it will be the first time since 2014 that he has managed to get six consecutive top ten finishes and the first time since 2012 between Jerez and Assen that an Australian has done the same – it was Casey Stoner back then. Stoner was also the last Australian to win a MotoGP race in America, can Jack do it?

Danilo Petrucci is just behind his Australian teammate in the standings, placing a healthy 7th position. If he was to score more points at COTA, it would be the first time Petrucci has got five consecutive point-scoring finishes since 2015, between the Sachsenring and Misano. In 2017, he finished the GP of the Americas in 8th place which is his best result at the circuit so far. There is much speculation about Petrucci for 2019 already, with some saying he will be in the Factory Ducati team. If he performs again this weekend, he may well be heading to that set-up, especially if Jorge Lorenzo has another slump.

Valentino Rossi is 8th in the world championship standings, his lowest position since coming back to Yamaha in 2013. The Italian was caught up with Marquez in Argentina, leaving him 19th – his worst finishing position ever in GP racing. Having never won at COTA, his last victory in the USA was in 2008, at Indianapolis in torrential wind and rain. Rossi will want to be on the podium at COTA for a second season running, looking to go one better and take the victory should the opportunity present itself.

Dani Pedrosa is languishing in the championship, down in 12th after his accident at Termas de Rio Hondo. The Spaniard will race this weekend, despite a wrist injury, so expect him to be tentative and not to feature in the leading group. If he fails to finish the race on Sunday, it will be the first time since Phillip Island and Sepang in 2014 that he would’ve suffered back-to-back DNFs. Pedrosa’s last win in the USA was in 2012 at Indianapolis and he was 3rd in the race last year. A dark horse on paper but realistically, it is all about damage limitation for Dani.

Languishing even further in the championship is a seemingly bewildered Jorge Lorenzo, who, besides Xavier Simeon, is the worst performing Ducati in the championship. The Factory Ducati rider is rumoured to have an offer on the table at Suzuki and may well be inclined to take it if he can’t pick his results up this weekend. With only two podiums at COTA, he hardly looks likely to improve this weekend. 9th last year on the Ducati, Lorenzo was 2nd the year before – remaining his best result at the circuit. His last win in the USA came in 2010 at Laguna Seca – happy memories seeming a long time ago.

The Suzuki pairing of Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone are 9th and 10th respectively. Speculation is rife regarding who will be riding at the team next season and all indications point towards it not being Iannone. The Italian has one podium at COTA, in 2016 and also set the fastest lap in 2015 – which whilst not being a lap record, has not been bettered since the switch to Michelin tyres. Alex Rins on the other hand has always gone well at COTA. He missed the MotoGP race last year due to injury but is the only rider to have won a Moto3 and a Moto2 race at the circuit. Can he become the first ever rider to win a race in all three categories in the USA?

The KTM outfit got their first points in Argentina from Pol Espargaro, who heads the Austrian manufacturer’s charge towards the top ten. Espargaro’s best finish in the MotoGP class at the track is 6th, in his first year in the premier class. He didn’t finish the race last year but was 7th in 2016, so his form is good. Bradley Smith has yet to score points in the championship and if he fails to do so at COTA, it will be his worst start to a championship since his first ever season racing in GP, back in 2006. In his first three years in MotoGP, Smith finished 12th, 5th and 6th at COTA, although he hasn’t scored any points for the last two seasons at the venue. Can he join his teammate and break into the top 15?

Aprilia have not always gone well at COTA, however this year, with the likes of Scott Redding and Aleix Espargaro, they may be in the hunt for top ten positions. Redding was a pole-sitter in the Moto2 class in 2013, whilst he has finished the last two MotoGP races at the track in 6th and 12th. With 12th being his best finish to-date on the Aprilia, that will be his target. Aleix Espargaro’s target will be to finish a race in the points this weekend, as he is yet to do so in 2018. If he doesn’t score points at COTA, it will be his worst start to a season since 2006 in the 125cc class. Aleix’s best result at the track is 5th, on the Suzuki in 2016.

Avintia Ducati are enjoying a great start to the season with Esteve Rabat, who finished a career best 7th during the Argentine GP and is therefore 11th in the standings. The 2014 Moto2 champion comes to Texas with just a point between him and the top ten, and just six points between him and the top five. If Rabat collects more points this weekend then it’ll be the first time in almost a year since he has had four point-scoring rides on the bounce. Xavier Simeon is still learning at the foot of the championship but he has brought the bike home safely on each occasion. The Belgian has has been in the points in the last two Moto2 races at the COTA track and was on pole in 2015; had it not been for a collision with Zarco at turn two, he probably would’ve made it on to the podium.

In 13th place in the standings is Hafizh Syahrin, the Malaysian sensation making unbelievable progress on the Tech 3 Yamaha. If Syahrin scores more points this weekend, it’ll be his fifth consecutive race with points. Across all classes, he has finished the last 19 races, with his worst result being a 17th at Silverstone. His best result at COTA is 6th from 2015, whilst he was 11th last season – on both occasions, in the Moto2 class.

The Marc VDS squad are finding things a bit more difficult in 2018. Franco Morbidelli is, so far, the team’s only point scorer in MotoGP, having been 12th and 14th. Morbidelli dominated the Moto2 race at COTA in 2017, taking the win, pole and the fastest lap – which was also a new lap record. Tom Luthi, with the exception of 2013 when he did not start, has always scored points at COTA, with a best result of 2nd in the Moto2 race last year. Can he get his first MotoGP points this weekend, as well as Switzerland’s first points in the premier class since 1995?

The Angel Nieto team have had a bit of a tricky start to 2018 but in the races, Alvaro Bautista is seemingly able to just ‘get on with it’ and force the Ducati into or near the points. Apart from 2014, Bautista has always scored points at COTA, his best result being in 2013 on the Gresini Honda, in 8th. His teammate, Czech rider Karel Abraham, has not scored points at COTA since 2014, when he was 14th. A 20th in Argentina last time out was his worst finish in MotoGP since Misano 2015. He will not want a repeat performance.

Takaaki Nakagami is the last Independent rider we have not yet covered. The Japanese rider got his first points in MotoGP and heads to a track at which he was on the podium at last season. Besides the first season in 2013, Nakagami has been in the points every year at COTA and he will be hoping to carry that run on in MotoGP this weekend.

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