Ben Spies is one of five American riders slated to compete in the first MotoGP race ever at the Circuit of the Americas.
The 2013 FIM MotoGP World Championship makes its first of three stops in the United States this season at the newly built (yet already controversial) Circuit of the Americas (COTA), deep in the heart of Texas. The field will be stocked with more American entries than usual, some of whom are making their career GP debuts. It’s a home-coming for GP regulars Ben Spies of Ignite Pramac Racing and NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards, both of whom hail from the Lone Star State; and though not from Texas, the “Kentucky Kid,” Nicky Hayden, always draws a crowd when competing in America. In addition to these three, former AMA Pro Road Racer Blake Young will make his maiden MotoGP appearance on the Attack Performance CRT mount as will Michael Barnes, riding the GPTech CRT machine.
As for controversy, COTA has been embroiled in a tit-for-tat battle-turned-lawsuit with former world champion, Kevin Schwantz. In a nutshell, when plans were announced for a GP race at COTA in April of 2011, Schwantz’s company, 3FourTexasMGP, was cited as a principle agent in the 10-year deal with MotoGP-rights holder, Dorna. The other principle, Full Throttle Productions, is owned by Tavo Hellmund, the former COTA partner who filed his own suit against the circuit early in 2012 after being pushed out of a deal to secure a Formula 1 contract. Schwantz had transferred his rights to MotoGP to Hellmund prior to the suit, meaning, in Schwantz’s estimation, that COTA had to reach out to Full Throttle directly in order to secure GP rights and that Schwantz couldn’t legally initiate any sort of deal himself. This all occurred in and around April of 2012. By September that year, Schwantz had filed his own suit claiming that COTA and Dorna had negotiated a deal directly and that they were “attempting to unlawfully force me out of this project.” COTA responded saying that Schwantz “has no contract to promote a MotoGP race in Texas.”
Dorna also replied to Schwantz’s suit, saying that his company had failed to meet a June 28th deadline in obtaining all the “necessary rights, licenses and permits related with the availability of the Circuit of the Americas.”
Former world champion, Kevin Schwantz, has been at the center of recent legal disputes with COTA over the past year.
Answering back, Schwantz cited the initial 2011 press release which listed 3FourTexasMGP as a party to the MotoGP agreement and alleged that “COTA thought it could get a better deal by going around me and directly to Dorna.” The dispute became even more vitriolic in March 2013 when Schwantz was reportedly kicked out of COTA by security and warned that he would be arrested for criminal trespassing if he returned. Schwantz defends his position by saying “I was at COTA for the MotoGP test, with a proper credential supplied by the Attack team, to coach Blake Young. Additionally I was an invited guest of the LCR Honda team.”
Though these legal disputes have cast a grim pallor over MotoGP competition at the circuit, the recent private testing sessions mentioned by Schwantz helped to confirm that the upcoming race is one not to be missed. The 3.4-mile track is one of the most technically demanding on schedule, and during the opening days of testing confounded even defending champion, Jorge Lorenzo of Yamaha Factory Racing. In a press release at the time, Lorenzo spoke about his initial struggles with the track.
“In the beginning it was difficult to understand the lines but I have improved three seconds from the first lap today, that means it’s a hard track to learn and a difficult track to go to the maximum on. I think it helps more than some other places to have this extra time.”
Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa echoed Lorenzo’s sentiments in an interview provided by Repsol.
“It is a different kind of track. It’s got a layout with a very ‘Formula 1’ style. The corners are a little strange –especially the hairpins, which are really pronounced. We riders are not so used to these types of corners, with such pointed apexes. The bikes obviously don’t corner like cars, so it is difficult to find the best lines. We try to adapt as best we can to the lines required.”
Lorenzo’s teammate, Valentino Rossi, was enthusiastic about the track after the initial tests, enjoying the fast corners and changes of direction. Pedrosa’s teammate, Marc Marquez, was perhaps the most comfortable of all, posting top times all three days on track.
The layout, though run counter-clockwise, demands more from riders in the right-hand corners, so much so that Bridgestone will be providing a harder right shoulder asymmetric rear slick for teams. Prototypes will have the choice of Medium or Hard compounds out back, while CRT entries will have Soft and Medium options; all teams will choose from Soft and Medium front tires. During testing riders confirmed that grip levels were low on track, owing partially to the newness of the asphalt, and tire selection will be a critical component of the pre-race prep for all.
Considering the fact that he’s already run laps at COTA and that he pulled a dominant victory in the opening round at Losail, Lorenzo is a favorite to win in Texas, though he comes to the round with eyes wide open about the work required to achieve such a feat.
“Now we have to change our mindset, we go to the USA and we visit a completely different track, not just the layout but also for the asphalt, the climate and some different circumstances,” said Lorenzo. “The Austin track has a very long straight and several corners in first gear where you need good acceleration and traction. There we will have to work really hard from the first session to cut away the distance to our competitors. I want to win at Austin and that’s my mentality although I know in the USA it will be much more complicated.”
Rossi is riding high after his return to form in Qatar, where he cut through the pack to battle for podium position. The Doctor traded punches with Marquez during the latter portion of the race in a fight for second-place.
“Austin will not be an easy race but for sure the podium in Qatar is giving us extra motivation,” said Rossi. “I am confident, I really like the track and my first impression, when we tested there, was that the circuit is beautiful. The track layout is very special: there is some downhill and uphill and the first braking zone is very technical. For me Turn 2 is the best though, and after when you enter into the chicane. The straight is very long, which is good for overtaking. I really look forward to racing at COTA.”
Pedrosa has additional pressure to do well at COTA, since his performance at Qatar wasn’t what many expected of the potential title contender. Grip issues frustrated the Spaniard, leaving him to finish off the podium in fourth, his worst showing at Losail since 2010.
“Qatar was not the start we expected, but I know what the issue was so it’s clear for the next race,” said Pedrosa. “We were in Austin just over a month ago and I’m sure this will be useful for us as we have a base setting, there are a lot of tight corners at this track and the pace changes from section to section. However, the track will be quite different with so many more bikes there and much more rubber laid down, so hope the bike will still work well.”
Marquez, likewise, is confident he’s found a good base setting at COTA and is still glowing from his maiden GP race at Losail, where he placed third.
If the added time on track during testing proves to be an advantage, LCR Honda rider Stefan Bradl may well be in position to earn the first GP podium of his career. The German rider outpaced both Yamaha riders through the first two days of testing and was only one second behind Marquez on the final day. He had a dismal start to the season in Qatar, losing the front of his RC213V on Lap 8 and taking a DNF for the round.
“I like a good challenge, and this track definitely offers one,” said
Ducati’s Nicky Hayden about COTA. “Hopefully American race
fans will come out and support the race and set up a nice trend
for the next two American rounds.”
Though Young and Barnes were the only others present during the private testing days at COTA, they’re not the only ones with experience at the circuit. Spies and Ducati Team’s Nicky Hayden both had a chance to turn laps there during the press launch of the 1199 Panigale R. Though unlike the GP13’s they use in competition, the press launch did give the riders a chance to sample the layout first hand.
“The Circuit of the Americas is really a great track that’s nice, safe and new, with great facilities,” said Hayden. “I’ve been around it on a street bike, so I know the layout, although it will obviously be much different on a MotoGP bike. The track has a little bit of everything, and it’s definitely not easy. It’s really long, quite wide, and very technical, with some very particular corners that have open entries—often blind—and tight exits. I like a good challenge, and this track definitely offers one. Hopefully the American fans will come out and support the race and set up a nice trend for the next two American rounds.”
Hayden’s teammate, Andrea Dovizioso, on the other hand, will mark his first visit to COTA this coming weekend. As will Dovi’s former teammate, Cal Crutchlow of Monster Yamaha Tech 3. Crutchlow grabbed fifth-place in Qatar, though he spent a number of laps mid-race tousling for podium position. His new teammate, Bradley Smith, crashed out of competition at Losail on Lap 4 and will be looking to notch his first GP race finish at COTA. Spies’ teammate, Andrea Iannone, took ninth in his inaugural outing as a premier class rider in Qatar, and will continue to seek improved performance at COTA. Go & Fun Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista rounds out the prototype competitors; he finished over 22 seconds behind Lorenzo at Losail and will need a flawless weekend in order to challenge for the podium in Texas.
Among CRT entries, Power Electronics Aspar’s Aleix Espargaro was fastest at Losail, followed by his teammate, Randy de Puniet. The two ART riders were regular fixtures at the top of the CRT heap in 2012, and appear to be on pace to repeat in 2013. If there’s one CRT rider among all that would like to take that title at COTA, it’s Colin Edwards. The “Texas Tornado,” has languished amongst CRT entries since it all started back in 2012, but this year he’s on a new bike, the FTR-Kawasaki, and is pumped to be competing so close to home.
The “Texas Tornado,” Colin Edwards, is pumped to race in front of his home crowd during MotoGP Round 2 at COTA.
“I´m really excited about the Austin GP, it will be the first GP I´ve ever driven to which is awesome,” said Edwards. “As far as expanding the audience we´ve had one out west side, one on the east side and now we get to have one south. I´ve got a lot of friends, a lot of family coming and I am looking forward to it. It should be good!”
Friday April 19th riders take to the track for two practice sessions, both of which will count toward a potential bid straight to the second qualifying round, in which pole position is at stake. Under the new regulations, the top-10 in combined practice time advance directly to Q2, while the remaining riders fight it out in Q1 for just two advancing spots. The rest will populate the grid from position 13 back. Check back to MotoUSA for full coverage of this historic event!