As the sun sets on the recent MotoGP test at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX, we can say it illustrated many things. Perhaps foremost, for a worldwide sport trying to survive in a suffering global economy, it gave further perspective on that which was already apparent; there is Honda, there is Yamaha, and there is everyone else. It’s not a coincidence that the two Japanese factories have the four best riders in the world, after all they have the biggest budgets and the best bikes. Distancing themselves from the Ducati factory team and the other satellite outfits has not been an issue over the past few years, and we need no more proof than flying to Texas for a three-day test while the rest of the MotoGP paddock limps (financially) only to Jerez for one more official test before the opening round at the Losail Circuit in Doha, Qatar on April 7.
Next, this test peeled back more of the veneer covering the massive talent of Marc Marquez. His ability to get up to speed at the previous two tests at Sepang in Malaysia was impressive, but considering he is still learning his way around Honda’s RC213V, this display at COTA was a show of genius. Marquez admitted that he thinks the Austin circuit suits his bike, saying, “I think it’s a good track for Honda, because it has many accelerations, and this may be the strongest part of my bike.” But remember, too, that he was faster than Pedrosa and Bradl who are also on factory Honda equipment. Marquez’s true colors will only come to light in the heat of competition, where fitness, racecraft, and pressure will make things more difficult. However, he told MC that he is confident about fitness and explained in depth his understanding of how racing a MotoGP bike is different than the ‘twist-and-go’ frenetic style of Moto2. Deep maturity for a man of only 20 years.
These few days at COTA also offered another peek into just how fickle MotoGP tires can be. Most tires came off the track looking extremely smooth and hardly worn, confirming suspicions that the Bridgestone rubber wasn’t getting hot enough to stick well, and wouldn’t stick well because it wasn’t getting hot enough; a vicious cycle. All of the riders noted that the track felt slippery, with Marquez and Pedrosa in particular saying that they believe traction will improve greatly during Round 2 of the championship when more bikes are circulating and laying rubber down on the racing line. When asked if he thought Bridgestone would need to manufacture a new tire for the COTA circuit, Pedrosa said, “I don’t know, actually, I expected more grip. It looks like the tire is not suffering, and we are missing grip. But, we are already using [a] soft compound.” That’s a head-scratcher.
Sharing data seems to be a priority for both factory teams at this point in 2013 as well. As was evident the last time Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo were teammates, there grew to be such animosity between the two riders that a wall was put up between the two factory Yamaha team garages (literally).
It could be that they have both matured, but more likely is that freshly-crowned world champion Lorenzo is more comfortable with the current hierarchy, in that he is seen as the A-rider, and the veteran Rossi is ironically the newcomer. The development of their relationship was demonstrated on Day 2 at COTA when Lorenzo actually walked over and squatted next to Rossi during a post-session debrief to trade notes. There were no smiles, but then again they were both glaringly adrift of Honda at the time.
“The development of their relationship was demonstrated on Day 2 at COTA when Lorenzo actually walked over and squatted next to Rossi during a post-session debrief to trade notes.”
Pedrosa and Marquez are also sharing data, and almost certainly for the same reason; both riders are comfortable with the pecking order in the team. Is there potential for tension to rise in a team with two Spanish riders and a Spanish sponsor? Almost certainly, but both riders refuse to make anything of it, and even the uber-candid Honda Team Principal Livio Suppo has too much faith in the nature of his riders to worry about such things. “For sure, it’s a dream for our sponsor (Spanish oil giant Repsol)” said Suppo. “As Honda, of course we care about the nationality of the riders, generally speaking, but of course the priority is the speed, and like it or not at this moment both guys are from Spain. And Jorge is Spanish [laughs]. So when your goal is trying to be, as much as possible, competitive, you need to forget about the nationality and try to find the best guys.”
And that brings us to the Italian. Can Rossi rise from the Ducati ashes and yet again stake a claim at the pinnacle of the sport? After two multi-day tests at Sepang, his prospects were good, even HRC man Suppo admitted he was impressed with how quickly Valentino was up to speed. But two days at COTA seemed to illustrate that he may have hit the ground walking instead of running. What does seem clear is that his spirits are lifted, and he has renewed confidence in himself and his ability to compete. His rivals are too proud to admit fear, but when asked if they would rather Rossi was on a competitive bike than not, both Honda men were cautiously respectful. Marc Marquez, new to MotoGP, also played the respectful card, saying “I ride some laps behind him [Rossi] in Malaysia, and I saw that… he has many kilometers on that bike,” then laughed politely at his own joke. Pedrosa simply smiled and said, “I’m sure he [Rossi] is more glad than me.”
Whether or not Rossi’s resurgence comes to fruition remains to be seen. There are no fewer than three Spanish obstacles in his way. Being that Dani Pedrosa won six of the final eight GPs in 2012, many are calling him the favorite, not least of whom is Yamaha Tech 3 MotoGP rider Cal Crutchlow. In our interview with Crutchlow a few months ago he called Marquez “the fastest rider in the world” and Pedrosa the favorite for the 2013 MotoGP World Championship. When told at COTA about Crutchlow’s comments, Dani laughed and said quickly, “Yea, he’s a funny guy.”
Check back for full interviews with HRC men Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, and Livio Suppo. And for more photos from the COTA MotoGP test, check out: http://on.fb.me/15RqLbY
MotoGP Austin Day One test times:
1. Marc Marquez (SPA) Honda 2:04.619
2. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Honda 2:05.047
3. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Yamaha 2:05.291
4. Stefan Bradl (GER) Honda 2:06.053
5. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Yamaha 2:06.507
MotoGP Austin Day Two test times:
1. Marc Marquez (SPA) Honda 2:03.853
2. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Honda 2:03.976
3. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Yamaha 2:04.351
4. Stefan Bradl (GER) Honda 2:04.640
5. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Yamaha 2:04.960
MotoGP Austin Day Three test times:
1. Marc Marquez (SPA) Honda 2:03.281
2. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Honda 2:03.898
3. Stefan Bradl (GER) Honda 2:04.225