MotoGP 2018 COTA Preview

Now that we’ve had 10 days to assess the Argentinian misadventure, a consensus seems to have formed around the BS being widely peddled by a petulant Valentino Rossi that Repsol Honda head case Marc Marquez should be put in front of an Italian firing squad and summarily executed. Marquez, it is true, may need to reconsider his approach to racing. This weekend could offer the opportunity he needs for a solitary retreat off by himself for a while, to ruminate on the sport and his place in it, and take the checkered flag when he’s done.

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Marc Marquez arrives in Texas with a target on his back. Being at a track where he has never lost will help.

For Marquez, a typical weekend getaway in Austin would feature him on top of every timesheet, qualifying on pole, getting away at the start, and indulging his introverted side, interacting with no one all day. Especially Valentino Rossi. It’s happened before, as he is undefeated in the United States since forever, and the Circuit of the Americas appears to have been designed with his mind in mind. After his tantrum in Argentina he must feel like he’s racing a bunch of porcupines, that any on-track contact at all, accidental, incidental or otherwise, will come back to stick him. This, I believe, is Rossi’s objective, to have the world watching #93 like a hawk, adding to the pressure, booing him at every turn, as it were.
Worse news for the Repsol Honda team coming out of Argentina was that Dani Pedrosa needed surgery for a fractured right wrist bone, courtesy of Aleix Espargaro. Pedrosa will be in Austin and will try to race, but there’s no telling how much he’ll be able to accomplish this weekend. And people tell me I was insufficiently laudatory toward Cal Crutchlow as regards his race win and title lead. Those people don’t understand the voodoo doll-like effect I have on riders, such as Cal, whom I rarely praise. I pick them to win, it’s the kiss of death. I pick them to finish 13th, they podium. It’s a gift. I’ll shut up about Cal for now. Anything less than a podium in Texas, for him, though, would be telling.

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Cal Crutchlow always seems to do better when he’s got a chip on his shoulder.

There it is. I’ve figured out I want to watch Crutchlow and Marquez mix it up in Texas. It would be fun to see them get away and have it out. Cal is saying he has the bike, the chops and the stones to win a title; a Texas cage match would provide a grand opportunity to prove it.
Recent History at COTA

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Marc Marquez has been dominant at Circuit of the Americas, qualifying and winning on the pole each year since 2013, and recording the fastest lap in all but one year.

While Marquez was busy winning again in 2015 (his non-championship season), Andrea Dovizioso finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession. A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and maintained the margin, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi.
In the 2016 tilt, with Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, taking Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew, as it were, what hit him. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on his Ducati GP16, paying penance for his takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso the previous round. Maverick Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day.

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Can anyone top Marquez in Texas?

The run-up to the 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and Marquez. Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place.
Zarco: The Second Coming of Marco Simoncelli?

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There are a lot of parallels between the late Marco Simoncelli and Johann Zarco.

Those of you who remember Marco Simoncelli, who worked for Fausto Gresini back when he had a Honda team, will remember his “arrival” in MotoGP. He showed up in the 250cc class in 2006, tall, charismatic, outspoken, shock of curly hair, a world of talent. He won the 250 title in 2008, faded slightly to third in 2009, and arrived in MotoGP in 2010 with a satellite Honda RC213V, placing eighth as a rookie with 11 top-ten finishes. Was very aggressive on track and wore out his tires every time out.
Simoncelli was a hazard to himself and those around him early in 2011, as he was faster than he realized, taking out several riders unapologetically, notably defending double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who took umbrage at the Italian. Super Sic recorded three DNFs in the first six races. Finally got things straightened out, and he started staying on the bike, recording podium finishes at Brno and Phillip Island before losing his life in an unlikely lowside crash at Sepang.

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Johann Zarco has a bright future ahead of him, especially once he improves his tire management.

Johann Zarco, no spring chicken, arrives on the MotoGP scene with two Moto2 trophies on a surprisingly competitive vintage Yamaha M1 circa 2016. He is fast from the start with three podiums and several other highly competitive outings in his Rookie-of-the-Year year. He almost never crashes out, yet plays rough out there, and would have a target on his back were it not for #93. Simoncelli had a bright future in MotoGP; Zarco’s future is equally bright. He will need to learn to save his tires.
Speaking of Jorge Lorenzo…

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It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of Jorge Lorenzo racing for Suzuki seemed far-fetched, but here we are.

That was a weak transition.
But the best piece of gossip emerging since Argentina has Jorge Lorenzo, currently residing in a dumpster fire at Ducati Corse, weighing a move to Suzuki, ostensibly to replace an improving Iannone, and riding alongside Alex Rins, a rising star in the MotoGP firmament. If it happens, Lorenzo would be the first former world champion to ride a Suzuki since Kenny Roberts Jr., and it would make for interesting racing. The Suzuki, unlike the Ducati, seems fairly easy to ride, making up time in the tighter areas of the track, losing time in the straights. I like the idea of Lorenzo getting away from the torture of Ducati and back on a more rider-friendly bike. It would be fun to have him back in the Alien ranks. Fun having him relevant again. I wonder if he could beat Rins.
Your Race Weekend Forecast
My primary forecast for the weekend: Marc Marquez will not stall at the start of the race.
Otherwise, the weather looks good, with the possible exception of Saturday, and race day is supposed to be sunny and 75°.
I can’t see any reason not to suspect Marquez will win in Texas. I believe Crutchlow and Zarco or Dovizioso will join him on the podium. I don’t expect much from the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Viñales, which means they will probably do well. And no further incidents between Marquez and Rossi. Please. They generate too much conversation.

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Be on your best behavior, boys. Shake hands and play nice.

The race goes off at 3 pm Eastern time, with the underclasses starting at noon. We’ll have results and analysis here for you Sunday evening at no extra charge.
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