The Circuit of the Americas has yet to hold its first MotoGP race, but some motorcycling history was already been made at the new track. More could be on the way.
On Saturday, 20-year-old rookie Marc Marquez claimed the pole for the inaugural Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, becoming the youngest rider ever to accomplish that for a MotoGP race.
“It’s always special to get your first pole position at a MotoGP,” a pleased Marquez said.
If he continues to own the track, he’ll become the youngest winner of a Grand Prix in the history of motorcycling’s premier class.
Marquez posted the fastest qualifying lap, at 2:03.021. He was followed by Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa at 2:03.275. Reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo was third at 2:04.100. Brit Cal Crutchlow, who on Thursday only half-jokingly said he had no chance to win in Austin, was fourth.
Of Marquez, Crutchlow said, “He’s special.”
Last month Marquez and Pedrosa spent three days at a private test of the Austin circuit. Yamaha riders Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi spent two. German rider Stefan Bradl was also there.
Crutchlow, of Monster Yamaha Tech 3, was one of the many riders who did not test. For the teams of those riders, the expense of coming to Texas was a big concern.
“I think we’ve done the best job we can to be as close as possible,” Crutchlow said. “I never expected to be on the front row. I never expected to be on the second row, to be honest.”
At 3.4 miles, the circuit is the third longest on the MotoGP calendar and it has 20 turns to learn, the most of any MotoGP track.
Crutchlow said, “If you mess up on Turn 2, you’ve messed up for (the next) nine corners.”
In addition to days of extra practice in March, Crutchlow said the Hondas have other advantages this week. The other teams can’t believe how quickly the Hondas can accelerate and how hard they can brake. That edge shows up on the backstretch, where Marquez hit 212 mph Saturday and Pedrosa clocked 210. Lorenzo, the fastest on a Yamaha, was a couple of miles-per-hour slower than Pedrosa.
Pedrosa, who finished a punchless fourth at the first race of the season in Qatar, was pleased with the qualifying here.
“Really, today we did some improvement and the track also improved a lot. Already the grip starts to be more normal,” Pedrosa said. “I think it’s looking a little better than Qatar.”
Cycling legend Valentino Rossi, who was second in Qatar, was a disappointing eighth in qualifying in spite of his familiarity with the track.
“The big surprise is for us,” said Rossi. He said he’s having trouble with his front wheel.
“Tomorrow we have to try something different,” Rossi said.
Texan Ben Spies, riding a Ducati for the Pramac racing team, qualified 12th. He’s still recovering from a separated shoulder suffered last year. Colin Edwards, from Houston, qualified 20th in what will be a 24-rider grid, headed by Marquez.
Marquez had what looked like a nasty spill in the morning practice on Turn 19, which some Formula One drivers found tricky at the circuit in November. Marquez remained hunched over for awhile, but was soon back on his bike.
Sunday, he’ll be chasing the record held by American rider “Fast Freddie” Spencer, who won the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982 at the age of 20 years and 196 days. Spencer’s win actually pre-dates the MotoGP classification. In those days, the top category was 500cc.
Crutchlow said there’s no doubt that on this track, Marquez is faster than Pedrosa. But he wondered how Marquez would hold up if Pedrosa mounted a long challenge.
“I think you’re going to see a lot closer race than anyone thinks,” Crutchlow said.
Lorenzo, who won in Qatar, remained hopeful.
“I believe in magic, and sometimes in races that can happen,” Lorenzo said.