MotoGP/Red Bull Gran Prix of the Americas
This article was published by the Island Moon newspaper, Corpus Christi, TX April 2014
by Joe Calvey
The red and white observation tower at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) appeared out of the Central Texas farm land east of Austin like a cobra with it’s hood extended. This architectural gem of a platform with weekend public access makes a trip to COTA worth while in it’s own right. Unless, like me, you don’t enjoy peeking off the edge of tall buildings. Nonetheless, I took the elevator to the top of the 251 foot tower. At the edge of the observation deck the strong warm breeze coming in from the south barely moved my hair but that didn’t stop me from putting a death grip on the railing while keeping my legs bow legged flexed least I be blown off. The partial glass floor and sides allowed some clearly deranged MotoGP fans to lie flat while taking "selfies" with the red, white and blue track below them. Oh, yes, the view of the track, downtown Austin and the Texas countryside is awesome.
MotoGP is the globe trotting motorcycle series that features 18 race events on four continents. Each event has three classes of motorcycles. MotoGP bikes are 1000cc, Moto2 are 600cc and Moto3 are 250cc. Only two of those races are on American soil and COTA plays host to the early season Red Bull Gran Prix of the Americas event. Over the 3.4 mile course these machines made in part with titanium and carbon fiber reach speeds of over 200 mph.
So after descending the tower I made my way to the back paddock area where the teams of constructors, aka manufacturers of the motorbikes, were tuning their machines. The paddock area is a busy place with international television teams conducting interviews with riders, team owners and former champions. It is also a great area to get your picture taken with the team’s traveling squad of models. The models are there to enhance the experience for the well heeled sponsors who fly in for the race from Europe, Asia and South America. The statuesque ladies also hold umbrellas over their assigned riders to keep them cool. Those that wish to avoid the traffic 120,000 fans create on race weekend can make use of the heliport COTA maintains on it’s 1500 acre tract.
With pre-race practice runs about to start on the overcast morning MotoGp teams set up two bikes. One dry and one wet. The main difference is the tires. If the race is deemed "dry" the entire field will sport their dry set and likewise if race officials at any point call the race "wet" then the entire field will descend upon pit row - even mid race - and change machines. The smaller bikes do not have to make this a consideration on race day as they race one bike and only one bike once the race begins. This season there are 56 teams across the three categories of machines and more than half will have two riders on the course competing.
The Circuit of The Americas was built specifically for Formula 1 racing and is the home of the Formula 1 United States Gran Prix . The course is 3.4 miles long with 20 turns. The signature turn is turn one where racers face a 133 foot hill followed by a near hair pin turn which leads to ten twists and turns and changes in elevation before hitting the back straight away.
Fans filled grand stand seats and staked out vantage points on the abundant grass berms as the bikes streaked by. The well heeled set viewed the action from private suites staffed by bartenders, chefs and wait staff. First to race was from the Moto3 class of riders. Like all MotoGp bikes these bikes were a cornucopia of color schemes. If there was a place on the bike or the rider not covered with the name or logo of a sponsor it meant that the team had not been racing too long or had not yet with success or both. Even the underside of the bike’s seats were emblazoned with logos.
When these bikes take the corners the riders commonly have their knees and elbows making contact with the track surface. The custom made leather suits the riders wear both provide protection and income from sponsors. Because in the corners "The Lean" is in excess of 60% protection from skidding out is both life and skin saving. Lean too far into the turn and the bike will lay on it’s side with both the rider and the bike will go sliding. The leather is no ordinary leather, most suits are made from kangaroo leather. There is no scientific proof that the kangaroo leather helps a rider jump back up quicker but it is more durable and lighter in weight than cow hide. Some riders have suits with built in cooling systems.
To further protect the riders each suit is equipped with humped spinal protection. The spinal protector tapers from the nape of the neck to the waist. At the neck it allows the riders helmet to rest against it so air will move over it and not unnecessarily create drag. The knees and elbows have large replaceable circular wafer like "sliders" for cornering. Each suit additionally has kevlar and titanium throughout the chest area and other key areas to protect the rider from injury.
The course is built for taking photographs and the staff at COTA go out of their way to be accommodating. Photographers who follow the circuit are treated a bit more kindly over the hilly course. They get to bring their own mopeds. COTA provides those less fortunate with vans that circle the course. Despite the vans being air conditioned they are less than optimal as race photographers carry large bulky lenses along with extra cameras strung about their necks. Climbing into the vans is difficult. Flat beds would work nicely. The ability to move about the course and get great action shots from a variety of places can’t be overstated.
As the bikes brake into the corners and then shoot into the next straight away even the casual photographers on the nearby berms are treated to perfect conditions for a great shot. Whenever a group of riders descend into the turns the excitement level raises with the anticipation of someone in the pack challenging for the lead. Ear plugs are necessary because the buzz of the motor bikes is very similar to that of a moving bee swarm only louder.
This year there was some confusion among a few on track officials interpreting the rules governing the on course photographers. Being on track for F1 Gran Prix means being behind the fence. Being on track for MotoGP means being in front of the fence at times with only a thigh high guard rail between you and a racing pack of riders only 20-30 feet away. I was both instructed not to enter those areas and I was welcomed into those areas. COTA’s on track attendants were always professional and friendly.
Who won the races? In Moto3 taking first place from the Red Bull KTM Ajo team Australian Jack Miller took to the winner’s podium when he averaged 89.97 mph around the track. His bike was manufactured by KTM. I’d like to say I captured the finish when Miller won by a nose over 2nd place finisher Romano Fenati of SKY Racing Team and 3rd place finisher Enfrain Vazquez of SaxoPrint’s team. Less than two tenths of a second separating the three riders over the 20 lap race made it the most exciting finish of the day. Just over 1 minute back was the only female in the race Ana Carrasco of Spain who guided her bike around the course at an average speed of 83.74 mph.
In Moto2, the second race of the day, Maverick Vinales from Spain, who began from the 6th position moved the speedometer’s needle of his Kalex motorcycle to an average speed of 94 mph to win. He built and maintained more than a 4 second lead over 2nd place Esteve Rabat of Marc VDS Racing Team and over a 7 second lead over 3rd place finisher Dominique Afgerter of TechnoMag carXpert’s team.
Through the twists and turns in the top race of the day, MotoGP, the Repsol Honda Team captured first and second place. Winner Marc Marquez who averaged 99.04 mph and his Spanish countryman Dani Pedrosa sprayed the crowd and each other with the giant bottles of champagne at the winner’s podium. The two gorgeous models who stood nearby frolicked in the expensive spray provided by Freixenet Champagne like it was a wet tee shirt contest. Italian rider Andrea Dovizioso though he finished 20 seconds behind the winner joined in the fun.
With the wide variety of seating choices from grass berms to Main Grandstand or the Stadium Section seats to the air conditioned comfort of the Velocity Lounge the Red Bull Gran Prix of the Americas at the Circuit of the Americas was a blast for the tens of thousands of guests in attendance. Next year I’m going to see about getting me one of those mopeds.