Marc Marquez slings his way around Circuit of the Americas better than anybody. His latest journey, though, took a few twisted turns and did not end well.
The 25-year-old Spaniard, who had won every pole position and every MotoGP race in Austin, made it 6-for-6 in Saturday’s qualifying for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, posting the fastest lap. Or so he thought.
The “King of COTA” seemed to have kept his perfect record alive, despite a crash. But for a second straight event, Marquez’s tactics drew the ire of race stewards, who penalized him three grid places for Sunday’s main event for impeding Maverick Vinales’ progress.
That elevated Vinales to the pole and dropped Marquez to fourth.
“At turn 15, you were found to be riding in an irresponsible manner, for being slow on the race line and disturbing another rider,” said a letter to Marquez signed by the FIM MotoGP stewards panel.
Since Vinales was second-fastest on the track, the stewards took strong action.
Marquez, the four-time world champion, was cavalier about it, showing the confidence of a man with a superior set of wheels.
“I get three penalties (in Argentina), get one here. … I get awards, I post the fastest time here,” he said. “This was a really good day for us. So it’s another pole position in Austin, just a different way of doing it.”
Marquez, aboard his No. 93 Repsol Honda, took a tumble in turn 13 and slid into a gravel pit on his derriere. But he already had posted a lap of 2 minutes, 03.658 seconds, with a top speed of 207.475, that nobody else could handle.
When the King of COTA returned to the track on a backup bike, sparks flew between him and Vinales. The No. 25 Movistar Yamaha rider yapped and gestured to Marquez about holding him up.
Vinales, quicker at that point, was about to fly by Marquez but had to abandon the lap. He rallied later to gain the No. 2 spot (before being awarded No. 1) with a 2:04.064, about four-tenths of a second off Marquez’s hot lap.
“I was looking more for (Andrea) Iannone than who was coming from behind,” Marquez explained. “I suddenly heard an engine, but I was concentrating on the corner and did not think it was Maverick.
“I want to learn from my mistakes, not repeat them.”
Vinales avoided controversy in the media conference, not even mentioning Marquez when asked about the controversy.
“I’m focused on what I’m doing and looking ahead,” he said. “I want to improve my riding style, get used to the new Yamaha, and I hope to be more competitive (Sunday).
“I’m getting more comfortable on the bike and can push a little bit more (Sunday). The bike seems to be working well here.”
Iannone and Johann Zarco will complete the front row. Iannone has shown plenty of pace all weekend with the No. 29 Suzuki Ecstar. Zarco, on the No. 5 Monster Yamaha Tech 3, has scored points in 19 consecutive races and is the first French rider since 1990 to be in the top three of the series standings.
Marquez will head row two, alongside Valentino Rossi (No. 46 Movistar Yamaha) and Jorge Lorezo (No. 99 Ducati Team).
Cal Crutchlow, the surprise early leader of the series, settled for seventh, and there was a large gap from the Brit to the rest of the field.
Dani Pedrosa turned in one of the most impressive qualifying runs. Barely a week after surgery for a broken right wrist suffered in Argentina, the No. 26 Repsol Honda teammate of Marquez had the ninth-best time of 24 entrants.
Marquez knows his Austin run cannot go on forever.
“Maverick has a good pace, maybe faster than me for the race,” he said. “The day will arrive when somebody will beat me here. If that is the case, I need to take as many points as I can.”
RED BULL GRAND PRIX OF THE AMERICAS
What: World’s premier motorcycle series
Where: Circuit of the Americas
Note: Children 12 and younger will be admitted free with a ticketed adult.
It’s a festival: Musical acts will be playing at the grand plaza, support paddock, two Ducati’s Island stages and the paddock lounge.
TV: beIN Sports
8-10 a.m. — Warmups (Moto3 at 8:40, Moto2 at 9:10, MotoGP at 9:40)
10:15-10:35 a.m. — MotoGP riders parade
11 a.m. — Moto3 race (18 laps)
12:20 p.m. — Moto2 race (19 laps)
2 p.m. — MotoGP race (21 laps)
3:45 p.m. — MotoAmerica Superbike race (15 laps)
4:15 p.m. — Fan track walk