Championship leader Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) was joined by teammate Valentino Rossi, LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Team), reigning Moto2™ Champion Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and reigning MotoGP™ World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) – undefeated in Texas – at the Press Conference ahead of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, with talk centered around the 20-corner technical challenge of COTA, the Circuit of the Americas.
Viñales was first to talk after having taken the first two wins of the season, as he aims to be the first to defeat the number 93 on American soil since Marquez moved up to MotoGP™ in 2013. A big ask, with a key focus to help him fight for the victory against the reigning Champion: “For sure for me it’s a good track, I’ve always been strong here and it fits with my riding style. There are a lot of acceleration zones, which are good for us. We have to work for the last ten laps of the race because here’s it’s really important, we know the rear tire can be difficult at the end. Last year that was a disaster. If we’re at 100% we know we can be there fighting for the win. It’s impressive to have four wins in a row here but we know we have a good level…”
Marquez, on the other hand, arrives in Austin without a podium yet this season – but is confident on the bike and feels strong, knowing the Texan venue is the best track on which he can push to open his 2017 rostrum account: “We arrive here with a good mentality and I feel strong on the bike. We have a lot to improve but I feel really good. Here is the best circuit to get the first good result of the season, in the past years it’s been good for me. In Argentina I crashed but I was leading and feeling strong. Even a first podium of the season would be really good! We’ll see on Sunday if we can fight for the win. From the first two races we don’t have the best base setup and that’s something we have to improve.”
A man on the podium twice in 2017 is nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, who has turned a tough preseason into a good run thus far. The ‘Doctor’’s focus in Texas is the same as Argentina – practice pace, on the behemoth of COTA’s 20 corners: “Here is a very particular track and one of the most difficult – it’s very long and has lots of different corners, and is very demanding for the tires, and riders. We’ll try and understand how what we learnt in Argentina can help us here on Friday and Saturday. Marquez is always very strong at this track, from the first time we tested here in 2013, and for me this track isn’t fantastic in terms of results but last year and in 2015 I was quite competitive. I made a mistake and crashed, but I had good speed.”
Cal Crutchlow had some good speed in Argentina when he battled Rossi for the podium, and also noted the challenge of COTA – but says it has strong points for every bike and manufacturer: “I expect here it will be a difficult start but by Saturday and Sunday we should be competitive. It seems at the moment it takes us a while to set the bike up. This is a circuit I like, it’s a good circuit to ride and good for all the bikes because different bikes are good in different areas. It’s good because it swings a bit – unless Marc is at the front! I look forward to the challenge of this track because there are so many corners. Half way through a lap you’ve already done 12 corners! So it takes a lot of concentration.”
Alvaro Bautista is another hoping to be competitive at the Circuit of the Americas. After an impressive preseason, the Spaniard took a top four in Argentina – and is happy with the GP16 he feels so at home on as he pushes for another top five: “I’m smiling because from the first test on the Ducati I felt really good riding the bike, in Argentina I had the same feeling and I felt strong. In the race I was very competitive, especially in the second half. I feel that my performance with this bike and team is really good so I’m just trying to keep this level. The GP16 bike is already finished, we have all the references from last year and they fought for podiums and wins on it.”
The Press Conference in Austin was also the first time Johann Zarco joined the line up as a premier class rider, after an incredible start to his rookie season – and the Frenchman is still riding that roll of confidence: “I’m happy. It’s a good start for my confidence – leading the first six laps in Qatar was good and I was disappointed but in the end we aren’t fighting for a Championship so you have to enjoy it. Argentina was different, it was my first MotoGP race weekend with a normal schedule. It’s not so easy to manage it and prepare the qualifying and the race. I want to keep this high target to just get on the bike, push at the maximum and see where I am. I hope to always be in top positions because I think if I push like this I can setup the bike and set my mind up for the pace – and be ready for the race.”
It’s now time for everyone to get ready for the race, with Friday dawning bright and early for track action as FP1 for MotoGP™ begins at 9:55am local time (GMT -5) – with Marquez looking to remain the lone star of COTA, and Viñales aiming to keep his hold on 2017.
Text and photos courtesy of MotoGP.