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Who is Fastest Now: Qualifying at COTA

The stakes were high and the gloves were off at the much-awaited COTA qualifying this weekend. MotoGP had finally made its way to the Americas, bringing with it many questions. The biggest, of course, was all about Marc Marquez: Will the 2016 World Champion take home yet another win at the Circuit of the Americas? Or will Maverick Vinales, the new kid on the block, finally break his winning streak?

Anticipation was high as was tension, rippling across the Texan circuit with much zeal. Q1 brought some much-needed respite with Jack Miller lead the timesheets there and ensuring his place in Q2. Jorge Lorenzo finally found some pace and joined the young Australian. A special mention for Loris Baz, for what is most undoubtedly the save of the century, that wobble, the near-crash and the save is stuff of legends (Missed it? Watch it here). The Espargaro brothers, though, had a bad day in office with both crashing out of Q1. Both will start from the back of the grid.

That was drama enough, you would think, for Qualifying. But Q1 brought with it, near misses, elation and perhaps even the beginning of a new rivalry.

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Marc Marquez took pole at COTA (yet again!), except he had to fight for it this time. Image courtesy MotoGP Repsol Honda team; editorial use only

It was obvious from the start that the main show would be the great Marc Marquez-Maverick Vinales shootout, and we weren’t disappointed. Marquez threw down the gauntlet right off the bat, sitting pretty at the top of the grid. Vinales began the push for pole position. And that’s when something surprising happened. Valentino Rossi on a lap and on the racing line came in Vinales’ path. An irate Vinales made his displeasure evident, gesticulating at his teammate rather wildly even later. Speculation was rife. Was this the beginning of a crazy rivalry? Such deliciousness!

And on it went, Q2, I mean (and the speculation, of course). As it came to a close, Vinales threw out his best lap, shooting to the top. But he had not accounted for Marquez.

“Honestly, I thought I had the pole. When I looked at the screen and saw that Marc was behind Valentino I said ah, maybe he will do it and in the end he did, so congratulations to him, because it was a nice lap for sure. We pushed at 100% and the bike was working really good. We had to push for one lap, but Im also happy about the race pace. We still have tomorrow to improve. We will be working hard this night to find a new set-up to try and stop the bike better, but I think we did a great job and we can be there for sure. Pushing 100% from lap one until the last lap I think will be the best strategy.”

—Maverick Vinales, 2nd place (2’02.871)

Marquez put in everything he had into that last lap, elbowing Vinales off the top and taking pole position. It was a difficult win for sure, one that is perhaps a sign of things to come. An indication even that Vinales is a contender to reckon with.

“This pole makes me feel really good because I honestly didn’t expect it, or actually I thought it would be difficult. In fact, even considering that this circuit suits my riding style, I’ve been struggling a bit this weekend. We knew that our opponents were very strong on new tyres and we worked a lot on race distance, and I felt better on race pace than on qualifying pace. But anyway, this is a track I love, so I told myself, ‘Let’s try!’ and on my last lap I pushed to my maximum, doing my best, and we got another pole here in Austin which is very good. I’m happy with the team; we changed many things on the bike over the weekend and step-by-step we regained some confidence, so this afternoon we just focused on keeping a good pace and it worked well. We did a good job in FP4. I feel quite good on used tyres so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

—Marc Marquez, Pole (2’02.741)

Valentino_Rossi_third_Yamaha

Valentino Rossi showed pace and gumption taking the third spot on the starting grid. Will he finally be able to take his first podium place at COTA? Image courtesy Yamaha Racing Team; editorial use only

And right behind the Spaniard was Rossi, who had somehow managed to pull out a lap fast enough to take third spot on the grid. But celebrations aside, it’s important to note that his pace is still slower than the top two contenders. Rossi took third place on the grid 0.932s behind the top two.

Johann_Zarco_COTA_Tech3

A special shoutout to Johann Zarco who took 5th place in Qualifying. We would like to see him on the podium! Image courtesy Monster Yamaha Tech3; editorial use only

A special shoutout to Johann Zarco who took the coveted fifth spot, and Lorenzo who claimed 6th place.

Lorenzo_Ducati_COTA

The season’s dark horse? Lorenzo took 6th place at the starting grid and seems to have finally found his pace. Image courtesy Ducati Racing Team; editorial use only.

It was indeed a very excited Lorenzo who pulled into the pits, happy and ecstatic even. Social media, of course, had a good laugh. Last year’s Lorenzo would have been superbly angry. But beware the Black Mamba. This show of pace just tells us that we don’t have long to wait before Lorenzo become a podium contender. Here’s what he had to say:

“Finally today we were able to obtain a good result, after a few difficult weeks. I am the best Ducati on the grid, but the most important thing is that I had a good feeling on my bike, and I managed to confirm what I had wanted to demonstrate in Argentina. Tomorrow it’ll be very important to get off to a good start, try and take as few risks as possible in the early laps, and above all finish the race because I want to put behind me the disappointment of the last GP. It’s going to be a very tough race physically, but I feel strong and I am very happy with the work that me and my team are doing.”

—Jorge Lorenzo, 6th, (2’04.151s)

And what of the (by-now-infamous) Vinales vs Rossi spat? Nothing there, move along, was the message.

Rossi said he hadn’t seen Vinales. We didn’t touch because I didn’t feel anything, he said in the press conference. “Later, I saw Maverick and wondered what had happened,” he said.

Vinales shrugged it off as just something that happens. He said in a team press release: “There were many riders on track. I’m not angry at what happened today. When you’re riding a good lap, it’s normal, riders are like this. There are no bad feelings between me and Valentino. This is a normal thing that can happen, I’m not complaining. It can happen to me as well, maybe one day I’m in the middle.”

And that’s that. The two sorted it out in parc ferme and shook hands—a show of sportsmanship. Of course, cynics wonder how long this will last.

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Kiss and make up. Vinales and Rossi shake hands. No hard feelings … yet. Image courtesy Yamaha Racing Team; editorial use only.

As you ready yourself for the race, check out this cheeky video from the post-qualifying press conference, as Rossi tries to decide which pizza topping is Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales and Crutchlow.

Have a safe race!

RED BULL GRAND PRIX OF THE AMERICAS STARTING GRID
  1. Marc Marquez (93)
  2. Maverick Vinales (25)
  3. Valentino Rossi (46)
  4. Dani Pedrosa (26)
  5. Johann Zarco (5)
  6. Jorge Lorenzo (99)
  7. Andrea Dovzioso (4)
  8. Jonas Folger (94)
  9. Cal Crutchlow (35)
  10. Scott Redding (45)
  11. Andrea Iannone (29)
  12. Jack Miller (43)
  13. Danilo Petrucci (9)
  14. Loris Baz (76)
  15. Hector Barbera (8)
  16. Tito Rabat (53)
  17. Karel Abraham (17)
  18. Bradley Smith (38)
  19. Alvaro Bautista (19)
  20. Sam Lowes (22)
  21. Pol Espargaro (44)
  22. Aleix Espargaro (41)

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Categorised in: 2017, MotoGP

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