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Marc Marquez still perfect in MotoGP at Circuit of the Americas

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Marc Marquez and Honda made it a perfect five wins in five years at Circuit of the Americas with a victory at the MotoGP Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Marquez beat runner-up Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) to the line by 3.068 seconds. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) completed the podium, 5.112 seconds back of the leader.

Battle lines were clearly drawn from the first practice session on Friday: The third race of the MotoGP season promised to be an epic showdown between Marquez, the 24-year-old reigning champion, and Maverick Viñales, the hot-streak rider who had won the series’ first rounds in Qatar and Argentina. Fastest laps swapped back and forth with each practice, first Viñales and then Marquez, followed by Viñales again and finally Marquez.

The drama stretched into the final seconds of Saturday’s qualifying, with the pole ping-ponging between the two Spanish riders until a heroic final effort by Marquez settled the matter. There seemed to be little advantage for either the Honda of Marquez or the Yamaha of Viñales — only a tenth of a second, over a two-minute lap, separated them — though it’s worth noting that the Circuit of the Americas track has been agreeable to Marquez, who had won the pole and the race in his last four visits to Austin. Further down the field were Ducati (qualified in sixth and seventh), Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia.

Marquez was happy after winning for the first time in 2017. Photo by LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

Making the equality of performance between the Hondas and Yamahas all the more remarkable was a fundamental difference between the machines, the Yamaha powered by an inline four-cylinder with a buzzsaw shriek and the Honda by a guttural 75-degree V4. Other specs of the bikes are more aligned: Teams quote engine output at a conservative 250 hp for the 350-pound machines, good for 210 miles an hour on the COTA straightway, and a $12,000 set of carbon brakes, powerful enough to lift the rear wheel off the pavement under hard stopping, scrubs off speed. Combine that with the acrobatics of 56-degree lean angles that translate to elbows skimming the ground in 90-mph corners.  

A brilliant start by Pedrosa, Marquez’s Honda teammate, on Sunday moved him from the second row to the front of the pack. Viñales, however, low-sided out of the race on lap 2, turn 18 in what he called the strangest crash of his career.

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It was crowded heading toward turn 1 at Circuit of the Americas. Photo by LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

Marquez, an outlier in starting on the hard-tire option, stalked Pedrosa, the pair shadowed by Valentino Rossi, the 38-year-old nine-time champion who had qualified third on a Yamaha. As Pedrosa’s medium-compound front tire faded, making the circuit’s right-handers dicey, Marquez got past on lap 12. It was a position change contested a number of times in ensuing laps until Marquez was at last able to open a gap. 

Rossi finished second, even after a 0.3-second time penalty was assessed for an on-track incident early in the race.

Rossi left Austin with the championship points lead with 56 points, followed by Viñales with 50 and Marquez with 38.

Both legs of the MotoAmerica superbike race were won by Toni Elias on a Suzuki. 

In Moto2, the 600cc feeder class, Franco Morbidelli won his third race in a row, dominating after an error by Alex Marquez, Marc’s younger brother, let him through. A competitive Moto3 race was won by Romano Fenati.

With the three early-season flyaway races complete, the MotoGP circus competes next at Jerez, Spain, on May 7.

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Fan favorite Valentino Rossi finished second. Photo by LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

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By Norman Mayersohn

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