Sometimes the undercard rivals the main event for drama and excitement.
That was underscored Sunday at Circuit of the Americas before the big boys of MotoGP even made it onto the track.
The preliminary races at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas — Moto3 and Moto2 — provided their share of thrills, chills and spills. They also provided milestone victories for a pair of young Spaniards.
Alex Rins, 17, won the Moto3 race, which was interrupted by a breath-catching crash. Then 24-year-old Nicolas Terol — better known simply as Nico — took his first Moto2 win.
Moto3 is the entry-level classification of racing within the MotoGP family while Moto2 qualifies as the intermediate level. The bikes aren’t as powerful as those in what MotoGP refers to as the “premier class,” but the drama can be. Spectators witnessed that in the opening race on Sunday.
Rins, who had the fastest bike during the practice rounds and earned his second Grand Prix pole position, and fellow Spaniard Maverick Viñales, had pulled away in what was developing as a two-man race.
Then a red flag got in the way.
It appeared on the 12th lap after Dutchman Jasper Iwema of the RW Racing GP team flew off his bike when it flipped end over end into the air as he exited Turn 17. Iwema was treated at the circuit’s medical center, then transferred by helicopter to a hospital for a CT scan and other tests.
Team principal Jarno Janssen said Iwema was knocked unconscious, so a hospital examination was standard procedure. “All the vital things, no breaks, everything’s good,” Janssen said. “He doesn’t know anything about the crash, which obviously is good, and he was speaking to me and was perfect.”
Iwema later tweeted that he was OK “after my big crash.” He said he had a concussion after being briefly knocked out.
Rins didn’t see the crash until he returned to the paddock and saw the replay. “I hope Jasper is OK,” he said. “He’s my friend, and he crashed very, very hard.”
Rins’ first victory didn’t come easily.
In the restart after the delay, the Estrella Galicia 0.0 rider was pushed the entire five laps by Viñales and Luis Salom, another Spaniard. There were several lead changes before Salom surged ahead early in the final lap. Rins retook the advantage when Salom went wide at the final corner. That also allowed Viñales to sneak into second place.
“In the beginning of the practices, the track was difficult because of you have fast corners and low corners,” said Rins, a native of Barcelona, “but my team and I worked very hard on the weekend and now I’m so happy.”