Marc Marquez arrived at COTA with two goals: first, to put the bad blood of Argentina behind him, and to score a 12th successive victory on American asphalt. The reigning world champion fully achieved one target, but not so much the other. Some fans who s
Marquez had already decided that the safest way to deal with the first race since Argentina was to get out front and stay well away from everyone else; which is exactly what he did. He was second into the first corner behind Iannone and took the lead braking into Turn One. And that was that. By lap four he was a full second ahead of Iannone; by lap 10 (half-distance) the gap had grown to 4.8 seconds, over Viñales, and on the penultimate lap he was 7.5 seconds ahead, before cruising to the flag, 3.5 seconds ahead of his compatriot. Who knows what he might have done if anyone had been able to put him under pressure?
‘My strategy was clear,’ he said. ‘We worked all weekend to try to do this kind of race: to push from beginning to try and open a gap. I had no moments, except touching a kerb on one lap. It’s been a
special weekend because I felt a special motivation and a special pressure, but I like that! I like to speak on the track, so for that reason I tried to open a big gap. I feel sweet on the bike and I enjoyed riding a lot. Now we go to Europe, to some completely different tracks — narrower and smaller — but the base we have with the bike is really good.’
Viñales comfortably saw off Iannone in the last half of the race, and although he didn’t have anything for Marquez, he left COTA optimistic about the future after a dismal run through the second half of 2017. ‘We are coming,’ he said. ‘We are not yet at our maximum level, but we are starting to understand how to go fast with the 2018 bike. All the details matter; so if you miss one thing, you cannot push hard. We have made some small changes here and they give me more confidence. The big improvement is in the electronics.’
Iannone had a lonely ride once he lost contact with Viñales. Indeed, much of the pack was spread out because COTA’s mostly tight corners don’t make for great racing. In Qatar the top 15 were covered by 23 seconds; at COTA the gap was 41 seconds.
Iannone was delighted anyway because this was his first podium with Suzuki, in his 21st race with the factory. ‘Everything last year was difficult in every way,’ he said. ‘Last year I struggled a lot
during braking, so it was always difficult to overtake. Now the balance of the bike is better. But Marc is another story at this track.’
Rossi had started strongly, completing the first lap behind Marquez, Iannone, Viñales, and Crutchlow, whom he quickly overtook. He spent much of the rest of the race chasing Iannone, hoping for a podium finish. But it wasn’t to be. ‘I had some moments with the front tyre, especially in some fast corners, so after that the risk was too great,’ said the ninetime world champion. ‘The medium front was a bit too soft, but there was no way I could make the hard work.’
Qatar winner Dovizioso completed another excellent damage-limitation exercise, just as he had done at the previous race. He spent the early laps with Zarco and Crutchlow, until the Briton slid off. After that he hunted down Zarco, passing the Frenchman’s M1 on the back straight with four laps to go. ‘The Ducati has a horsepower advantage, but it doesn’t work so well here,’ explained the Italian, who raced with Ducati’s full aero for the first time this year. ‘You enter the main straight in first gear, so we don’t really have a power advantage from first to second to third to fourth, because this phase is more about anti-wheelie than power.’
Pedrosa’s race to seventh was heroic. He had tried chasing the two men in front but couldn’t quite go with them. ‘I felt very bad in warm-up,’ he said. ‘In the race I dealt with the pain as much as I could, then tried to keep my pace. This track is very tough physically, so it was very difficult behind Dovi and Zarco because it was difficult to approach and attack them. And when you are hurt, you are a lot less precise, so people can attack and pass you.’
After all the bumping and barging at the previous race, there was only one real incident at COTA when Miller slid past Lorenzo at Turn One with a few laps to go. Miller was chasing Rabat at the time, with Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro right behind them. The trio finished eighth, ninth and 10th, covered by three-tenths of a second! Miller, who rode all weekend with a cracked collarbone sustained in a mountain-bike fall, explained that his apparently cheeky move on Lorenzo was unintentional.
‘As I hit the bottom of the hill before Turn One, the front started locking, then coming up the rise the front end was bouncing off the bump stops, then when I got to top the front really started locking,’ he said. ‘I was dealing with the situation as best as I could. It was either go wide, but then he was so wide I thought I’d give it a go up the inside. It was a late move, but his pace was dropping. I went to say sorry after the race, but he didn’t want to acknowledge me.’
Lorenzo finished 11th, just ahead of fellow GP18 rider Petrucci. The final points went to Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM), rookie Takaaki Nakagami (Marc VDS Honda) and Alvaro Bautista (Nieto Ducati). There were three fallers: Crutchlow, Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha), and Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki).
Both factory Yamaha riders finished in the top four
Iannone celebrates his first ever podium for Suzuki