The annual MotoGP stop in Austin ticks a lot of boxes: international event, big crowd, the best bikers on the planet, a world-class road circuit and a hip, hip city.
The only problem that bothers you? A bumpy track on which MotoGP threatened to leave town for safety reasons. Circuit of the Americas officials decided to fix the problem with a four-week resurfacing of turns 2-10 and 12-16 over the winter.
With the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas in town for the weekend, riders began testing results on Friday. Early practice seemed to be going well, although a few corners like the high-speed dipping Turn 10 felt tougher than desired.
After last October’s race, COTA would have had to face an ultimatum from the FIM, the motor racing governing body: make major changes or otherwise. The track complied and FIM Safety Officer Franco Uncini inspected COTA – on a bike – and gave it his stamp of approval.
“Last time the track was really tricky,” Jorge Martin, a rising Spaniard who drives the No. 89 for Pramac Racing, told the American-Statesman. “With the new asphalt it will be so different. I expect it to be bumpy for the race, but better than it was. I’ll get used to the bumps that are left. I don’t expect not want it to be a big post.”
Martin, who just finished second in Argentina, is a huge fan of MotoGP’s only North American leg.
“I’m looking forward to Austin because I really like the track and I think we can get some good points here. It’s always been a great track for me. In Moto3 we won in 2018 here and finished second. in 2017. I almost finished on the podium last year (fifth in MotoGP), we can do a great job here.
“Going up that first steep corner is crazy, the only place in the world where we have this type of corner. There are also slow corners, hard braking from very high speed to very slow speed, something strange that we don’t usually have.”
Aleix Espargaro, a 32-year-old Spaniard who claimed his maiden MotoGP victory last week, expects COTA to be smoother.
“Argentina was quite bumpy, but the new bike reacted well,” said Espargaro. “With the revamp in the Americas, I think it will be a lot better, and it has to be better because last year was a problem.”
The underlying problem at COTA is that the soil east of I-35 contains a lot of clay and great plasticity, which tends to expand or contract depending on weather conditions. COTA has done several partial repavings in its 10-year history, but none as extensive as this year’s project.
“The problem is due to the ups and downs, the hilly terrain of the course and the type of ground underneath,” Espargaro told the Statesman. “It’s not easy for the asphalt to be stable.”
Circuit of the Americas used Georadar, laser systems and other software to identify problem areas, and COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein said, “I’m happy with what we’ve done. We expect a good reaction and expect to welcome many more MotoGPs.”
Alex Rins, a 26-year-old from Barcelona driving the No. 42 Suzuki Ecstar, set the fastest lap in the first practice session, closely followed by Aprilia’s Maverick Vinales and Ducati’s Jack Miller. Pramac Racing’s Johann Zarco was fastest in Free Practice 2.
Marc Marquez, who has won seven of eight MotoGPs at COTA but is coming back from a scary accident last month, was fifth in the first practice session and sixth in the second. He did, however, remain upright on the bike after four crashes in Indonesia.
Several runners rolled over on Friday, but nothing seemed too serious.
Last month, NASCAR drivers gave the track the go-ahead at the EchoPark Automobile Grand Prix.
“It was good for us, but we have 3,200-pound cars,” said veteran Kurt Busch. “I guess it might be more of a thrill ride for those motorcycle guys.” The bikes weigh around 350 pounds.
Espargaro agreed that it was difficult to compare the two forms of racing.
“But if they felt less bumpy on four wheels, that’s fantastic,” he said. “I hope we feel amazing on two wheels.”