The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) round of the 2017 MotoGP™ title cannot come soon enough for reigning world champion Marc Marquez.
With just 13pts to his name, the Repsol Honda rider is already 37pts behind man of the moment Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) after just two rounds, and he knows that he has to return to form at the 5.513km circuit where he is yet to taste defeat in the MotoGP™ ranks.
"After the Argentina race, I’m happy to go to a track I love as much as Austin, although of course I would have preferred to arrive there in a better position," said Marquez. "Anyway, another race weekend is about to start and we’ll give 100 per cent to try to get our first podium this season.
"I have great memories of Austin, and for me it’s one of the best venues on the race calendar. I like the layout of the track, as it has many different types of sections and corners and lots of elevation changes.
"I also love the “American” style, with all the fans enjoying the sport and the fun at the track, so let’s get back in action and see how it goes there."
With 20 corners of almost every possible configuration, elevation changes and 1.2km long straight – the longest one the calendar – COTA demands a lot from tyres and riders.
It's ideally suited to the free-flowing style of Marquez, who began his COTA dominance in 2013 with a pole position and race win (his first in the MotoGP™ ranks), a pattern he has continued every year since. In 2016, he scored a ridiculously easy win over then world champion Jorge Lorenzo and Italian Andrea Iannone.
Of course, Lorenzo has now left Yamaha for Ducati, and the man who has replaced him at the Japanese manufacturer – Vinales – has adapted to the YZR-M1 like a seasoned professional and hasn’t put a foot wrong.
While he's riding such a wave of success, Vinales wants to keep the momentum going at COTA.
"I'm happy because I won my first race at COTA in Moto2™, I've always been very strong here," Vinales said. "I also achieved one of my best results in America the last year, so I think it's a good track for my riding style.
"I love the up and down track, with lots of elevation, so I'm so excited to see how my M1 will work here and how I'm going to feel riding the Yamaha. I'm confident and I know that I can do another good race weekend."
Vinales, 22, currently leads the championship on 50pts from teammate Valentino Rossi (36), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team, 20), Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Ducati, 17), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda, 16), rookie Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 16), Aussie Jack Miller (E.G 0,0 Marc VDS Honda, 15), Marquez (13) and Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Ducati, 13).
Lorenzo is languishing in 18th position, while Iannone is yet to score a point after a crash in Qatar and a pit-lane penalty in Argentina's round two.
Crutchlow returned to form in Argentina by completing the podium behind Vinales and Rossi, while the likes of Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and double Moto2™ world champion Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) have also been fast – if inconsistent.
Zarco crashed out of the lead in Qatar, with Marquez doing the same thing in Argentina. South America also produced more dramas when Espargaro crashed and took out the hapless Dovizioso.
Meanwhile, COTA was a disaster for Miller in 2016 after he crashed in practice and broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. It kept him out of action for a while, but with two top-10 finishes so far this year he's primed for a solid showing at COTA.
"Argentina was a difficult weekend, but we managed to put it together in the race and I was inside the top 10, which is my goal this season," said Miller. "I was a little further back from the leaders than I'd have liked and that's something we need to work on next time out in Austin.
"I feel good heading into the Texas weekend; it's another track I really enjoy and one at which we can normally expect good things from the Honda. I'm looking forward to getting there and seeing what we can do."
Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS riders Franco Morbidelli and Alex Marquez disappeared into the distance in Argentina before some last-lap drama saw the latter highside out on the chase.
Morbidelli was then unchallenged to take his second win in a row to start the season, and he'll want to really take a stranglehold on proceedings in Austin – while Marquez reloads for another shot at his maiden Moto2 victory.
Miguel Oliveira was the closest challenger to Morbidelli and Marquez in Argentina, and the Portuguese rider gave the new KTM intermediate class chassis its first podium finish – also his first in Moto2™ – as he hunted the lead duo down.
Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) called his rostrum finish in Argentina lucky, but the Swiss rider knows consistency is the key and has so far had exactly that. That’s less true of key rival Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) after the Japanese rider suffered a difficult qualifying and then DNF in Argentina.
Aussie Remy Gardner (Tech 3 Racing) will miss COTA after breaking his right ankle in Argentina. He had an operation on April 17 and will return for round four at Jerez.
Two races into the championship and there’s a clear leader: Leopard Racing’s Joan Mir, who is undefeated on his Honda just like Vinales and Morbidelli in MotoGP™ and Moto2™.
Not even a P16 grid position in Argentina could keep the Mallorcan down – so the target for the grid is clear: catch Mir if you can.
So far the closest challenges have come from British Talent Team rider John McPhee (Honda) and Del Conca Gresini Moto3’s Jorge Martin (Honda), as the two riders completed an identical podium in Argentina to that of Qatar.
The field is far from a three-horse race, however, with Martin’s teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio, Niccolo Antonelli, Bo Bendsneyder (both Red Bull KTM Ajo), Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda) and Philipp Oettl (Südmetall Schedl GP Racing KTM) all capable of getting their noses to the front.
And then there’s last year’s COTA winner Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers Honda), as well as world No. 2 Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda).
The three world championship races at COTA will be held over the following distances and times:
- MotoGP™: 21 laps, 115.8km, starting at 2:00pm local time (5:00am AEST April 24)
- Moto2™: 19 laps, 104.7km, starting a 12:20pm local time (3:20am AEST April 24)
- Moto3™: 18 laps, 99.2km, starting at 11:00am local time (2:00am AEST April 24)