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COTA MotoGP notebook: One top rider has ‘score to settle’

Seven-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi holds down second place in this year’s standings, but he comes into Austin aiming to make amends for a misstep last year.

Rossi, of the powerful Movistar Yamaha team, crashed out last April at Circuit of the Americas after just three laps. It was an unusual development for a man who has a record 88 top-tier victories in the sport.

Let’s just say he’s motivated for the Red Bull of the Americas Grand Prix this weekend.

“I have an account to settle with this track,” said Rossi, a 38-year-old Italian. “In the warmup, I made a big step for a strong race, but unfortunately I made a mistake and it was over. This year I want to try to have a good race.”

Not that Rossi, trailing only teammate Maverick Viñales after two of 18 races, harbors any negative vibes about COTA.

“I’m happy to be in Texas,” he said. “Austin is a very difficult track, and I love riding here. I also really like the atmosphere at the American circuit and I come to this place always very happy. I’m confident in my bike and in my team.”

Bounceback II: Another Italian embarking on the COTA redemption tour is Andrea Dovizioso. Unlike Rossi, Dovizioso was the victim of a wayward Dani Pedrosa on the 15th lap in Austin last year.

“I’ve always done well at COTA,” he said. “In 2014 and 2015, I managed to get onto the podium. Last year things were going really well until I was hit by Pedrosa.”

Riding for a revived Ducati team, Dovizioso is third in the standings, even after a DNF in Argentina.

“COTA is a fantastic track, one of the best in the championship, and it has really different characteristics to the previous two in Qatar and Argentina,” he said. “If we want to get our season back on track, Austin is a great opportunity because I believe we can be really competitive.”

New gameplan: Alvaro Bautista explained how the Austin track will be quite a change from the one in Argentina, where his fourth-place finish was his best in three years.

“This is quite a different track with different demands,” the Spaniard said. “We need a good pace and a good set-up to fight for another top five.

“Austin has some hard braking and acceleration zones as well as some mixed sections with a variety of direction changes. It will be tricky to find a set-up there because when you get the bike working well in one sector, it tends to be compromised in another.”

Now that’s fast: Former world champion Kevin Schwantz of Westlake said he’s had a lot of chances to ride at 5-year-old Circuit of the Americas since retiring from competitive racing in the late 1990s.

“I was on an AMA Superbike, the GSXR 1000, probably closing 200 horsepower, going about 180-185 mph down the backstretch in 2014,” Schwantz said. “I’ve tested 2016 and ‘17 models of the GSXR at similar speeds here at COTA. The track is terrific. It’s got just about everything.”

Quotable: COTA chairman Bobby Epstein, who’s been on the back of Schwantz’s bike for hot laps around COTA, offers this thought about what fans will see this weekend: “MotoGP is the most exciting, nerve-racking on-track competition you’ll ever see. The racer’s bodies are so close to the pavement, and the forces seem to defy gravity.”

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