Viñales, MotoGP’s top gun, flying out front as circuit lands in Austin


MotoGP has discovered a new top gun, and his name is Maverick Viñales.

The 22-year-old Spaniard, named by his father after Tom Cruise’s fighter-pilot character in the 1986 box-office smash, is picking off the world’s best motorcycles on a routine basis this year. Two races, two victories aboard his Movistar Yamaha.

Next stop: the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas at Circuit of the Americas this weekend.

“It’s a little bit different in this position with everybody shooting for you,” said Viñales, who finished fourth in Austin last year and fourth in the season points race. “The change is I spend even more time trying to stay on top. More time on focus, on concentration, on the team.”

Yet COTA has its own top gun, and that’s Honda’s Marc Márquez, who has won every MotoGP race this track has served up. So there will be quite an Old West-flavor shootout come Sunday.

“It’s impressive for him to have four wins in a row here, but we know we have a good level,” Viñales said. “If we’re at 100 percent, we know we can be there at the end fighting for the win.”

Nobody has beaten Márquez on American soil since the 24-year-old Spaniard moved up to MotoGP in 2013, but Viñales is intrigued by the options COTA presents.

“This is a circuit I really like,” he said. “I won my first race in Moto2 here and also had one of my best races here with Suzuki. I think it is an excellent circuit for my riding style.

“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. I love the ‘up and down’ circuits. You can try things at different places on this track and maybe gain an advantage.”

Yet the Catalon rider, who started on dirt bikes when he was 3, respects the challenges COTA offers.

“You have to be really precise,” Viñales said. “You must figure out the braking points. We have to work for the last 10 laps because here’s it’s really important, we know the rear tire can be difficult at the end. Last year that was a disaster. Now I’m excited to see how it goes with my Yamaha.”

Maverick embraces his name, even the daring connotation that goes with it.

“For sure, it’s a cool name,” he said. “I want to stand out on the track, too. I want to push the limits but take care of the equipment,” unlike Maverick’s reckless flying in the movie. “On the Suzuki last year, I could be more aggressive. With the Yamaha, it’s important to be smooth.”

At the Red Bull Grand Prix news conference Thursday, Maverick was asked on social media if he viewed iconic factory Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi as his wing man Goose, his mentor Viper or his main rival Iceman.

“I hope Goose,” Viñales said, “then I can learn a lot from him and we can fight to the end … nice fights.”

Rossi is the all-time leader with 88 MotoGP wins and nine world titles, and he’s second in this year’s points race.

“He works very calmly, and I think that’s one of his great secrets,” Viñales said of the 38-year-old Italian.

If Rossi isn’t Viñales’ toughest competition this weekend, it’s bound to be Márquez, the defending series champ who’s struggled out of the gate but owns COTA.

“From the first two races, we don’t have the best base setup and that’s something we have to improve,” he said. “Yet we arrive here with a good mentality, and I feel strong on the bike.

“In the past, Austin has been good for me. My confidence is really high here, but it is a new year, conditions change, there’s weather, tires, other things. You don’t know. Even a first podium of the season would be really good. We’ll see on Sunday if we can fight for the win.”

Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas

What: Motorcycle racing for MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3, plus MotoAmerica support races, bike and stunt shows, live music and other entertainment

Where: Circuit of the Americas

Friday: Gates open at 8:30 a.m., with the first practice at 9 a.m. Two practices each for MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 and qualifying for MotoAmerica Superbike and Supersport. Activities wrap up with a MotoAmerica Superbike shootout from 5 to 5:30 p.m.

Saturday: Gates open at 7 a.m., with the first practice at 9 a.m. Moto3 qualifying from 12:35 to 1:15 p.m. MotoGP qualifying from 2:10 to 2:50 p.m. Moto2 qualifying from 3:05 to 3:50 p.m. MotoAmerica Supersport race at 4:15 p.m. MotoAmerica Superbike race at 5 p.m.

Sunday: Gates open at 7 a.m., with warmups from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Moto3 race at 11 a.m. (18 laps). Moto2 race at 12:20 p.m. (19 laps). MotoGP race at 2 p.m. (21 laps). MotoAmerica Superbike race at 3:45 p.m. (15 laps).

Tickets: Three-day general admission, $89. Three-day premium grandstands, $139-$199. Single-day general admission tickets, $39 Friday, $49 Saturday, $59 Sunday. Single-day main grandstand, $59 Friday, $79 Saturday, $99 Sunday.

TV: beIN Sport will show Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s races.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s wife Shelley Meyer calls out Colin Kaepernick, later apologizes
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s wife Shelley Meyer calls out Colin Kaepernick, later apologizes

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s wife Shelley Meyer took to Twitter on Sunday and shared a thought on Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick before quickly apologizing on Monday. In a deleted tweet about Kaepernick filing a grievance against the NFL, Meyer said, “What-ever. He made his choices.” Someone then tweeted...
Report: Carolina Panthers release former Miami Hurricanes QB Brad Kaaya
Report: Carolina Panthers release former Miami Hurricanes QB Brad Kaaya

According to ESPN reporter Adam Schefter, the Carolina Panthers are releasing former Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya. Kaaya was drafted in the sixth round by the Detroit Lions. The Lions signed Kaaya to a four-year/$2.52 million contract before waiving him on Sept. 2. The Panthers claimed Kaaya off waivers on Sept. 3. Kaaya had...
Florida State 2018 mock signing class: Seminoles add QB, top WR in projected offensive group
Florida State 2018 mock signing class: Seminoles add QB, top WR in projected offensive group

Stay tuned as Florida State marches on the warpath to the top of the recruiting rankings. Don’t miss the coverage from Sanjay Kirpalani and the DieHards.com team. Read his daily notebooks here ...
South Carolina recruiting: Updates on 2018 prospects Dax Hollifield, Bryce Thompson
South Carolina recruiting: Updates on 2018 prospects Dax Hollifield, Bryce Thompson

Whenever Will Muschamp lands a commitment, the South Carolina coach drops a #SpursUp on Twitter. Come to SEC Country for the latest news, notes and observations in South Carolina recruiting. Four-star linebacker Dax Hollifield came across as pretty matter of fact with his tweets on ...
Auburn football: Embrace the conversations and the B sports
Auburn football: Embrace the conversations and the B sports

More Stories