The Circuit of the Americas is a phenomenally difficult circuit. From the heavy braking zone into turn one, you head into the snake, changing direction from turn two until turn ten, before the kink of turn eleven and the heavy brake into turn twelve – a critical corner for the run down the near-1km long main straight. From there, the riders head into turn thirteen – unlucky for many. In the Moto2 class, this is a deceleration from about 170mph down to around 50mph. Then starts what the Formula One drivers refer to as the “go-kart section”, as the riders twist between first gear corners, where the only way to overtake is to cause a crash. But the positive thing about this relatively unnecessary section is that it leads into the wonderful triple right-hander of turns eighteen, nineteen and twenty – watch for the rear tyres spinning on the exit there, which leads straight into turn twenty-one, a miserable off-camber right hander which just begs for you to exceed the track limits on corner exit, especially in the lightweight and intermediate classes where corner speed is more important. From there, finally, after just over two minutes, the riders arrive at the final corner, which is pretty average as final corners go, and on the exit there is just the short run to the line.
That’s a lap of COTA. It isn’t a particularly amazing one. From the point of view of a rider, it is too physical to really enjoy. The only enjoyment to come from the Austin circuit is winning, and if you’re in MotoGP there is only one person who can do that. Fortunately, Moto2 is somewhat more competitive, and after a thrilling race in Argentina the championship is completely open as the 2018 World Championship heads into round three.
The championship leader before this weekend starts is none other than Mattia Pasini, the Italian veteran performing a perfect display of offensive defence. Can Paso win the title? Well, like his compatriot in Moto3, Marco Bezzecchi, Pasini’s credentials will be determined in the next races, but it would be foolish at this stage to suggest that Mattia has no chance. Last year in COTA, though, like Argentina last year too, Pasini crashed out of a top position. If he wants to fight for the championship, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t, or wouldn’t, want to do that, he cannot afford a repeat, such is the level in Moto2 this season.
With a fourth place in Argentina to go with his second in Qatar, Lorenzo Baldassarri lies second in the World Championship and has started 2018 the best he has started any season. Last year was a disappointing one for Balda, and Texas was no different, as he was taken out early on by Yonny Hernandez, but realistically Lorenzo should not have been back towards the bottom end of the top twenty anyway. With Pons this year, the Italian has had a reset, and sat as the lead rider in such a top outfit is clearly suiting him well, hence the good start this year. Furthermore, no team with a Kalex frame can keep hold of rear tyres like Pons, and with questions being asked about the abrasiveness of the surface for this weekend at COTA, that could prove critical in the battle with the KTMs.
Speaking of which, Miguel Oliveira, whilst having had a better time of it back in Argentina would have been disappointed that he could only manage third place. In the second half of the race, it was clear that Oliveira had the best pace of the leaders, but he just could not find a way to keep Pasini behind when he was able to pass the Italian. For Miguel, COTA last year was not so great either, when he finished only sixth, and thirteen seconds off the win. However, with the improvements made to the KTM since then, and also considering the Austrian chassis’ superior tyre management compared to Kalex in conjunction with the supposedly overly abrasive surface, we could see Oliveira win his first race of the year this weekend, and if Oliveira is there, it would be a mistake to discount Binder.
The positive for Oliveira is that Pecco Bagnaia, supposedly the Portuguese’s biggest championship threat, had a poor time in Argentina as he only managed ninth. For Pecco, it seemed to go downhill from FP2 when he seemed to have an issue with the bike. After that, he had a poor qualifying and struggled for pace in the race. It was not a complete disaster, though, for Pecco, who won the opening race, as he still sits in third place in the standings. But a recovery this weekend will be critical before the World Championship returns to Europe.
The way the first two races panned out, with no one from the podium in Qatar returning in Argentina, means that there are six riders covered by just eleven points heading into this weekend, with obviously Pasini, Baldassarri and Bagnaia leading Xavi Vierge, who had a ridiculously exciting race in Argentina; Oliveira and Alex Marquez, who could have won in Qatar but for an overheating rear brake and could have been on the podium in Argentina but for a mistake when trying to pass Baldassarri. It might be reasonable to suggest that each of those rider will be somewhere in the mix this weekend – and if they are it should be one hell of a race.
Featured image courtesy of Redbull contentpool