Marc Marquez won the second running of the Grand Prix of The Americas MotoGP race from Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa by 4 seconds. Third, nearly 21 seconds back, was Andrea Dovizioso on a resurgent factory Ducati. Last year, Yamaha found its bikes 2 seconds off the pace in practice, as this 3.4-mile track offers little scope for the YZR-M1’s strong point, corner speed, and instead emphasizes a Honda strength: braking stability. But those variables were rendered moot by 2 dramatic developments. First was that Yamaha star Jorge Lorenzo somehow jumped the start and was assessed a ride-through penalty. Second, the 2013-spec medium-compound Bridgestone tires used by every top rider but Marquez had a potential durability problem. After the race, with the top 3 bikes in parc fermé, the rear tires of Marquez and Pedrosa looked excellent. But other riders ran into trouble. Cal Crutchlow found his factory Ducati “unrideable” and pitted for a new rear tire on lap 10, then shortly lost the front and crashed out. Valentino Rossi, top Yamaha rider after Lorenzo’s penalty, moved up rapidly at first, hung behind early third-placeman Andrea Iannone (Pramac Ducati), then faded from lap 10. Iannone, too, suffered from tire fatigue, giving up his well-earned third place on lap 15. How did Pedrosa and Dovizioso make their medium rear tires go the distance? “It was very difficult to get this podium because I use so much energy start to finish,” Dovizioso said. “I saved the tire a bit more than the other riders [having been ill all weekend, he couldn’t ride any harder]. I did not have the energy to push from the start, didn’t have the energy for hard braking.”
Of leader Marquez, Pedrosa said, “He was just a little bit faster. I was losing [time] tenth by tenth, but I see from the back no one is coming, so…” Pedrosa’s pace was high, but he was not pushing hard to either challenge the leader or escape pursuit. In these circumstances, his job was to finish second. Stefan Bradl was to be Honda’s “insurance man,” but Dovizioso was a bit too strong, spoiling a Honda 1-2-3. Normally gruff Honda VP Shuhei Nakamoto was able to contain his disappointment, grinning and laughing openly with team members. Marquez ran a pace of high 2:03s for 8 laps, slowing slightly to low 2:04s from lap 9. Pedrosa’s times, on average, were 0.2 seconds slower. At the last corner of the last lap, Marquez momentarily lost concentration, went too deep, and over-braked, lifting the back end and having a wobble. That lap was a 2:08! Another surprise was Bradley Smith, fifth behind Bradl and winner of the anticipated “Yamaha derby.” His Tech3 teammate, Pol Espargaro, remarkably set the highest top speed of the weekend at 212 mph, besting the 2 factory Hondas and 2 top leased Hondas. This is highly unusual because, over many years, the Hondas have been a few mph faster than the Yamahas. Contrast Pol’s top speed with that of his brother, Aleix: 202 mph. Usually, this difference has arisen from Honda’s emphasis on performance and Yamaha’s on handling. Yet, despite Yamaha’s seeming disadvantage on this course, Aleix Espargaro had been second in FP1, ahead of Pedrosa! What happened to Rossi? He was able to run 2:04s for 8 laps, but said, “We destroyed the front tire completely on the right-hand side.” This slowed him to 2:07s.
For the moment, at least, Ducati has returned to competitiveness. Dovizioso made it clear the team’s decision to go “Open” had not made the difference. “We are faster because we improve the balance of the bike,” he said. According to the grapevine, an element in that has been to move the engine forward in the chassis. Other changes are in process. Asked about his time in Texas, Marquez replied, “We can say we had a perfect weekend.” He had topped every practice, qualified on pole, was fastest in the Sunday morning warm-up, and won the race. The Honda RC213V and 2014 tire appear ideal tools for his riding style. Could Yamaha’s emphasis on corner speed have become a dead end? Marquez was careful to note that, while COTA may favor the Hondas, other tracks will favor the Yamahas. Nicky Hayden finished 11th on the still-disappointing metal-valve-spring Honda production racer. He and similarly equipped Scott Redding will likely receive proper pneumatic-spring factory engines controlled (like the Forward Racing Yamahas of Aleix Espargaro and Colin Edwards) by a spec ECU and limited-spec software. Edwards suffered tire fatigue, too, completing only 17 of 21 laps. He hopes to soon have a more flexible chassis that will work with his riding style. There will be questions about tire consistency, as Bridgestone is said to be concerned over how much this program is costing. Can economy and quality go hand-in-hand? The spec tire idea has its attractions, but the reason it was originally adopted was the 2008 shift by top riders from Michelin to Bridgestone when Michelins became inconsistent. It can be nice to have a choice. Can anyone challenge Marquez? Racing is what it is: not a fairy tale. All of these men are experienced and well able to take disappointment in stride. The next Grand Prix is in 2 weeks, in Argentina, on a track new to all.