What’s a race without a little bit of controversy? Throw in a couple of surprise twists and add some comeuppance into the mix and voila, a race to remember. And the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas did not let us down.
The anticipation was high as the warriors lined up under the Texan sun. It was midnight this side of the world, but there was no sleep to be had. There were butterflies in my stomach, and as they charged down the start-finish straight towards the first corner, I found myself crossing my fingers and stopping my breath.
Dani Pedrosa took the lead with teammate Marc Marquez close behind. Valentino Rossi had shimmied his way past the charging horde to hang on to the third place. Right behind, Maverick Vinales, Johann Zarco and an agile Jorge Lorenzo got ready to leap into the battle for 3rd.
But then came the first surprise twist of the night—Vinales made an uncharacteristic mistake and slid off the track and out of the race on lap 2. It was a shocking moment, not just for us, but also the Spaniard.
“It was a really strange crash. I did exactly the same as in Warm Up and all weekend, but I crashed. I think we had some issues with the front tyre, but anyway, we know that we are strong and that we have the speed. We can be strong again, so I‘m going to try to forget this crash and come to Jerez even faster, stronger and more consistent than I was here.” —Maverick Vinales, NC
His teammate may have been out of the competition, but Rossi wasn’t resting easy. He shadowed Pedrosa, who had had to, by lap 9, give way to teammate Marquez. The Italian, though, showed signs of falling prey to rookie Frenchman, Zarco, who had chased down the nine-time world champion, and was just waiting for a mistake.
Then, with 15 laps to go, Vale went wide in the first corner, even as Zarco attacked. The scrap, brief though it was, saw the two riders touch at turn 4, with Vale being pushed wide. He rejoined the track and managed to hold on to his 3rd place. But the damage had been done. Race Direction passed a rather controversial penalty of 0.3 seconds on Vale for gaining advantage after the touch. As Marquez and Pedrosa battled it out up front, and as the righteous twitterati argued over the decision, Rossi was busy doing what he is best at … closing in on the Honda riders and stalking.
With three laps to go, Rossi made his move, passing Pedrosa and taking 2nd place. It was smooth, to the point, masterful and he made it stick. In the garage though, the team, it seemed was busy debating whether Rossi needed to be informed of the penalty. Over the airwaves, radio waves and the internet, the world took a deep, excited breath and waited for all hell to break loose. But it didn’t really matter in the end.
Marquez crossed the finish line, the undisputed and unstoppable king of the Circuit of the Americas. Rossi, 3.069s behind, took the second, despite the penalty, while Pedrosa rounded off the podium with a 3rd.
“This was a crucial race because after Argentina it was important to come back in the best way, so we are really happy with this result. Although I won, it was difficult, because the temperature was much higher than yesterday. Five minutes before the start, I said to my chief mechanic, ‘Okay, let’s use the hard tyre’ because I knew that I would push the medium front tyre a lot. In the beginning, I was just trying to understand the limit because I hadn’t tried it a lot on Friday. I was behind Dani and when I saw that he was struggling a little bit and Valentino was challenging, I said, ‘Time to attack.’ I was able to win, and I’m happy to be back in the championship.”
—Marc Marquez, 1st.
Added to the excitement was the fact that Rossi was now the 2017 championship leader by six points over his teammate.
“It was a great surprise for me and for the team because we were struggling very much with the new bike, especially during the winter. I think we need more time to understand the setting and the way to ride it, but at the end this bike is very good, especially in the race and with the used tyres. I‘m so happy, because today I wasn‘t so far from the front and it‘s also the best result of my career at this track, so it‘s good. When I saw ’Viñales out‘ I started to think, “I‘m on top of the championship standings”. I felt good and I also saw Dani having some problems, especially on the right, so I said, “Maybe those four points are important” and in fact it was like that. For me the penalty wasn‘t right. The problem is we either do it like this, or we crash together at a very dangerous point. But for me, though accepting Race Direction‘s decision, the mistake was made by Zarco.” —Valentino Rossi, 2nd.
Meanwhile, the talented Zarco got a bit of comeuppance as Cal “Honeybadger” Crutchlow laid siege to the rookie and masterfully pushed him back down to 5th spot.
“I am really happy with the result but the start of the race was tricky and it was not easy to get into a good position at the first turn. However, I felt great on my Yamaha so I started attacking from the third corner, and I was quickly able to overtake my opponents and get into 5th. I wanted to follow the top group so I pushed to stay close to Valentino and I was able to fight with him, which was fantastic. We came very close at one point because I had a bit more speed than him in the third corner, and maybe it was a bit too tight but fortunately, nothing serious happened and he went on to finish second. I really didn’t want to cause a problem for Vale and I know that I can learn a lot from him so luckily, we both recovered. After this, I continued to do my best and at the end of the sprint, Crutchlow was slightly faster, but nevertheless, 5th is just awesome and I am pleased because the podium was close today.” —Johann Zarco, 5th.
Three races down, the battle lines have finally been drawn. And as we ready ourselves for the European leg of MotoGP, one thing’s certain: there will be fireworks. Vinales is itching to make up for his COTA mistake. Marquez has the pace and Zarco is just waiting in the wings; he wants his first MotoGP podium and no one can come in the way. And then there is the crafty Goat.
He’s 38 years old. He has been written off more times than we can count. And yet, he leads the championship. Will he able to hold on to it, is perhaps the new question on everyone’s mind? But it doesn’t really matter. For now though, let us bask in the glory of Valentino Rossi, a man you can never underestimate.