Why next race is key for Viñales
Reigning world champ ready to let it all hang out in bid for victory at favourite track
We’re two rounds into the 2017 Motogp championship and the hotly anticipated duel that we’ve all been waiting for between reigning champion Marc Marquez and new boy wonder Maverick Viñales has yet to happen. But that could all change this weekend.
The trip to COTA (Circuit of the Americas) couldn’t come at a better time for Marquez, after making his worst ever start to a Motogp season since graduating to the class in 2013. The 24-year-old currently sits eighth overall, a huge 37 points off the title lead with only a fourth place finish to his name in 2017.
Compare that to the sensational start that Viñales has made with two wins and a huge points haul that could be crucial come the season finale at Valencia in November.
And while the momentum in the championship race is with Viñales, this weekend is the perfect chance for Marquez to strike back as the championship moves to a track he’s enjoyed success at.
Coming off the back of four straight wins at the Texan track, he knows that it’s somewhere that suits both his riding style and his bike to a tee, playing to the strengths in the slower stop-start corners to make up for the time lost in its fast sweeping bends. But while that plays to his strengths, he’s not the only hard-braking, fast accelerating Spaniard around this year.
Viñales’ greatest challenge this weekend might not be his riding style but racing a different bike, as he approaches the weekend no longer on his sweet-handling Suzuki of last year but on a Yamaha that’s lower, slower to turn and essentially been developed by Lorenzo and team-mate Valentino Rossi.
But that hasn’t been much of a hindrance to him so far this year, and it could well set us up for an epic showdown if he can find the pace to run with Marquez.
Dominant as he might have been in the opening two races of the season, the questions mark still hangs above Viñales’ head – and will continue to do so until he gets the chance to engage his old sparring partner of childhood days in one-on-one combat.
He’ll be just as keen as we are to see that battle unfold and find the measure of Marquez for the first time since their days in the Spanish championship as kids – and with it would come a victory that is more important than just the 25 points that are up for grabs.
Not only is there a huge psychological advantage to beat Marquez at a track where the Honda man excels, there’s also a good chance to extend his championship lead further if he can force an error.
After adopting a conservative style in 2016 to make the most of misfortune for Rossi and Lorenzo and cruise to title success, Marquez’s crash in Argentina last time out could be a sign that he now realises that approach won’t work against Viñales, with the Yamaha rider barely putting a foot wrong since he first jumped on the M1.
If that’s the case, then we could be in for an epic return of the old loose and aggressive Marc Marquez – and with that aggressive mindset ready to take on the ultra-refined package of Viñales and Yamaha, we could well be in for a race weekend to remember!
Will Viñales still be number one after round three at COTA?