Sights and Sounds (okay, just sights) from COTA 2018

By now you already know what happened at the snooze fest that was Austin MotoGP (and if you don’t, I highly suggest you read Mr. Allen’s always wonderful MotoGP recap). Marc Marquez stole the show for the sixth straight year, leaving some fans disappointed with the day’s racing. To be fair, Moto2 and MotoAmerica Superbike provided some good racing; the former with the interesting battle for the lead, and the latter with a tight fight for the podium.
Nonetheless, highlighting those two races is a lame attempt at putting lipstick on an otherwise dull MotoGP pig. However, I was on the ground in Austin and had a great time. MotoGP weekend is not just about the racing, it’s about the show – and this year was no different. There were tons to see and do if you looked in the right places, both at the track and around the Austin area in general, and these 10 sights and sounds (well, just sights, actually) were some of my favorites.
10. Karting

As a race fan, coming to a racetrack to watch MotoGP naturally gets the competitive juices flowing. The folks at COTA aren’t dummies – as host to both a MotoGP and Formula 1 round, they understand many others feel the same way. To appease race fans, they built one of the most impressive kart tracks I’ve seen, adjacent to the main entrance to the big track. Track length is ⅞ of a mile, and, well, just check out this video for the course layout. It’s an impressive sight to greet you as you walk to the main track entrance. Unfortunately, I was too occupied to get a chance behind the wheel, but I will someday. It’d be even sweeter if I could bring a mini-motard…
9. Anything the RSV4 engine touches turns to gold
Photo by Griiip.
I promise this is the last thing to do with four wheels on this list, but it’s hard to deny single-seater race cars like this are super cool. It’s called the G1 and it comes to us from Israeli company Griiip (yes, with three I’s). Upping the cool factor exponentially is what powers the G1 – the same V4 sitting between the frame spars of the Aprilia RSV4. Longtime MO readers will know our love for the RSV4 engine, and that love extends to nearly anything it’s placed inside – from lawnmowers to race cars. A dedicated G1 racing class already exists in Europe, and Griiip’s ultimate goal is to offer the G1 worldwide. The company used the Austin MotoGP round to showcase the car in the US, along with its American distributor AF1 Racing. Speaking from a standpoint of pure selfishness, here’s hoping MO gets a test drive in one! You know, for science.
8. Alpinestars 55th anniversary

While this may come as a surprise to some, the year 2018 marks Alpinestars’ 55th birthday. Founded in 1963, Alpinestars is credited with creating the first motocross-specific boot. Fast forward to the present and the company’s many accomplishments speak for themselves – from the numerous championships, to the myriad of protective apparel. To celebrate the occasion, Michael “Woolie” Woolaway, of Deus Ex Machina fame, was commissioned to build this special machine.
With an eye towards meshing heritage with modern performance, Woolie found a 1974 Ducati 750 Sport engine still in the crate and built it to period-correct race spec. The engine is then housed in a custom frame built by legendary frame builder Jeff Cole, featuring modern geometry and top shelf suspension components, for a bike that handles far superior to anything available in the ’70s. Design inspiration is little bit 1960s Italian GP, like the fuel tank shape, mixed with little parts of modern Ducati MotoGP, like the seat styled after Nicky Hayden’s factory Ducati when he raced for the factory. More than just a looker, the bike is fully functional, and Alpinestars president Gabriele Mazzarolo took it for a parade lap on track during a break in MotoGP action.
7. Inducting a Legend

The Austin MotoGP weekend was an opportunity for the racing community to induct Randy Mamola as the newest member of the MotoGP Legends class. While he may have come short of winning a 500cc premier class championship, he was always regarded as one of the best riders on the grid, and his action-packed style was a fan favorite. Off the track, Randy has been heavily involved with Two Wheels For Life – the official charity of MotoGP – having co-founded the organization in 2016. With the goal of ensuring health care gets to the poorest and most remote reaches of Africa through motorcycles, Two Wheels For Life has reached a countless number of people in Africa who otherwise may not have received treatment. Talk to Randy and he’s equally as proud of this accomplishment as anything he’s accomplished wearing leathers. Maybe more so.
6. The Sky Tower

One of the most iconic features of the Circuit of the Americas is the Observation Tower. While the resemblance to a huge mullet is hard to miss, the Tower can be seen from miles around – and even miles above, as I could see it from my window seat flying into the Austin airport. Standing 251 feet tall, or 22 stories high, peering out from the deck the motorcycles look like little ants underneath you. Complete with a section of glass-bottom flooring to get your stomach churning, the Tower is something every race fan should experience at least once. A small fee will get you in, and there’s an elevator with only two buttons. Or, for the more athletic types, 419 steps will get you to the top.
5. Fans

Race fans are an interesting bunch, and if you’re like me, you take a lot of enjoyment from simply people watching. You get the full spectrum of fans at COTA for MotoGP, from hardcore race nerds, to clueless spouses tagging along… to lucha libres looking for a selfie. The level of dedication some race fans show to their favorite rider or team is admirable, and it’s part of what makes attending a race in person fun. Now, if only we can get more people like this guy above excited about MotoAmerica…
4. Handbuilt Motorcycle Show

I never would have imagined a custom motorcycle show paired with a MotoGP race would be a big success, but the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show is a resounding reminder of how wrong I usually am about things. Now in its fifth year, the show’s organizers, the folks at Revival Cycles, have had to move to the Austin American Statesman, a bigger location just a few miles from the track. The move was definitely worth it, as the venue allowed attendees to walk around without rubbing shoulders while still getting the chance to gawk at some of the best and most creative bikes coming out of the custom scene. The Handbuilt Show could easily encompass a story all its own, but you can get a taste for how the event went by clicking the event recap, provided by Revival Cycles here. I highly suggest following the links at the bottom of the page for a gallery showcasing each of the bikes on display.
3. Garage tours

Getting access to a MotoGP team garage is a funny thing. When a team lower down in the field lets you in, they are more forthcoming with information (although every team keeps information close to their chests). Having toured the Redbull KTM garage, team reps had no problem admitting their bike was making 260 hp and weighed somewhere in the ballpark of 158 kg, or 348 lbs.
Hop into the Movistar Yamaha garage and things are different. For one, the access we had was limited to Rossi’s machine (I would have liked to compare and contrast his bike to his teammate’s), and instead of speaking to a team representative, I got to speak with Wilco Zeelenberg, former grand prix rider now team analyst. No stranger to the press, Wilco had an uncanny ability to be honest with the problem areas both riders were having, while being direct yet vague with the solutions Yamaha were coming up with. Nonetheless, simply being that close to The Doctor’s office is an occasion that never gets old.
2. Rossi crowd

Speaking of VR46, it’s true what they say about every race being a home race for Valentino. By far the most popular rider in the paddock, crowds line up outside his garage constantly for the chance to see, touch, and/or get an autograph from Rossi. When he eventually does make a public appearance, however short they may be, the crowd goes nuts – there was even a report of a woman at the front of the queue getting trampled as the mob behind her lunged for a piece of Rossi. And this was in Texas! The crowds are infinitely more rabid in Italy. For the most part, Vale adores the hype, taking whatever time he can to take pictures and sign autographs, but usually it’s only he and Marquez that have entourages clear the way in the paddock so they can scoot to their destinations.
1. Hayden tributes
Photo by Repsol Honda.
Nicky Hayden may not be with us anymore, but he is far from forgotten. This was made abundantly clear at COTA. Everywhere you looked, tributes to NH69 were pouring in; by my highly unscientific count, nearly every rider sported a 69 sticker somewhere on their helmet or motorcycle, Nicky merchandise was being sold from the vendors, and fans and spectators aplenty were wearing Nicky shirts or holding signs.
Without a doubt, though, the two best tributes of all came from the track and 2018 MotoGP race winner. First, the Circuit of the Americas, in a very kind tribute, immortalized Nicky by renaming Turn 18 “Hayden Hill.” The fast line through the series of three consecutive right turns is to spin and slide the bike through them, in a fashion The Kentucky Kid would definitely approve of, so it’s only right the section is named after him. Lastly, Marc Marquez, the undisputed King of COTA, paid his respects to Hayden after winning the race for the sixth consecutive time by flying Nicky’s flag on his cool down lap. Whatever you think of the Repsol Honda rider, that move was a class act.
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