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Ben Spies

Pedrosa Fastest in Practice Three

Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa during Friday's practice session at Circuit of The Americas (Image by Keith Rizzo, COTA)

// Free Practice Three

The MotoGP grid returned to the track for a third practice session this morning with Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa shaving over a second from his previous practice time (2'05.585) and setting the pace for the session (2'04.408). Following behind were Marquez (2'04.795), Lorenzo (2'05.295) and Crutchlow. (2'05.630) The riders will continue their preparations for the qualifying session later this afternoon.

Pedrosa’s teammate Marc Marquez took second position in the practice session following a crash on the entrance to Turn 19 early in the session. The MotoGP rookie for the Repsol Honda team lost the rear end of his bike while beginning the lead into to the penultimate corner, causing him to tumble over the top of his bike, land on his side and slide across the run-off into the gravel. Marquez recovered quickly and returned to the track, holding the top time for the session until the final few minutes when he was eclipsed by his teammate.

Marquez’s spill echoes what many Formula 1 drivers experienced in November: the off-camber geometry of Turn 19 creates difficulty in setting up for the turn-in. Like the first practice sessions of F1 at COTA, many riders in MotoGP are struggling to maintain balance after exiting the wide sweeping right turns of 16-18 and properly setup Turn 19, causing many to overshoot and be forced to sacrifice grip or their line into Turn 20. A deceptively simple turn, this will cause problems for many riders, so keep an eye on how they continue to develop their skills in the last sector of the track; it could make the difference in tomorrow’s race.

// Official Standings

Here’s the full line-up following FP3 this morning (Lukas Pesek and Mike Barnes fell outside of 107%): 

  1. Dani Pedrosa
  2. Marc Marquez
  3. Jorge Lorenzo
  4. Cal Crutchlow
  5. Stefan Bradl
  6. Andrea Dovizioso
  7. Valentino Rossi
  8. Alvaro Bautista
  9. Nicky Hayden
  10. Ben Spies
  11. Aleix Espargaro
  12. Bradley Smith
  13. Andrea Iannone
  14. Randy de Puniet
  15. Yonny Hernandez
  16. Karel Abraham
  17. Danilo Petrucci
  18. Hector Barbera
  19. Claudio Corti
  20. Hiroshi Aoyama
  21. Colin Edwards
  22. Michael Laverty
  23. Bryan Staring
  24. Blake Young



MotoGP in Austin - Thursday Recap

From L-R: Steve Sexton, Ben Spies, Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow and Lin Jarvis

Tthe MotoGP weekend at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas kicked off on Thursday with a somewhat eventful day including a fire in the paddock, a pre-event press conference and a track ride with a few riders and a handful of lucky media in sporty BMW X-5s.

// Garage Fire

Early Friday morning a small fire broke out inside the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage, which houses riders Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith's bikes, gear and tons of team equipment. The fire was ignited by one of the electric starters used to start the Team’s Yamaha YZR-M1 but quickly extinguished by COTA's sprinkler system. The fire itself was small and contained, but the water from the sprinklers affected neighboring teams. Yamaha Motor Racing’s Managing Director Lin Jarvis commented in the press conference:

When we arrived here today we heard there had been a fire incident, and that the Yamaha garages, Abraham’s team, and LCR were under water. But if we hadn’t been here at this excellent facility [with fire protection], we could have lost six bikes! There was no damage to any people or the bikes, but computers, servers and spare parts have been flooded. We can race this weekend, but have to take everything to pieces and dry each part, to ensure we have no corrosion issues in the future. But it’s always tougher with electronic parts, as issues are not visible.

Kudos to COTA and the local Austin Fire Departments for responding quickly and ensuring this fire didn't do more damage then it did.

// Press Conference

In attendance at the Pre-Event Press Conference on Thursday were (pictured above) COTA President Steve Sexton, Ignite Pramac Racing's Ben Spies, Repsol Honda Team's Marc Márquez, Yamaha Factory Racing's Jorge Lorenzo, Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Cal Crutchlow and Yamaha Motor Racing's Managing Director, Lin Jarvis.

Overall the riders shared the general sentiment that they are looking forward to racing on the new circuit. Two of the five riders that tested on it last month, Márquez and Lorenzo, had split feelings that they had an advantage but that their peers would quickly adapt. Lorenzo thought that three or four testings would be enough for other riders to understand the track but that a crucial aspect of it, Turn 1, is difficult because of its elevation change. He said it is "one of the biggest corners I've ever seen." Márquez said Friday will be for learning; the first day "most of the riders will struggle a little bit, but by 30 or 40 laps they will know the track."

Crutchlow and Spies had a chance to ride the circuit on street bikes before Thursday. Crutchlow said that it's difficult against the five guys that tested at COTA last month (Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa and Stefan Bradl) but that they'll have to be patient. He added, "there are a lot of blind corners and it will take some time to learn." Spies was asked if he feels like an unofficial Ambassador for Circuit of The Americas, since he resides less than four hours north of the circuit in Dallas, and shared his excitement for having a world class facility in Texas to call home. Spies commented:

I never would have thought that this facility would be in Texas. I'm happy to be one of two Texans here, I'm happy to help [serve as ambassador] if need be. But these world class events are great for Texas.

Ben also noted that it would not be the same to be racing in Texas without MotoGP World Champion and local Texan, Kevin Schwantz, in attendance. Due to ongoing litigation with COTA and Dorna, Kevin has confirmed he will not be in attendance at the MotoGP race this weekend.

// Track Ride

American riders Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards took to the track late Thursday afternoon to show the main tricks of the new circuit to Spanish rider Luis Salom and German riders Sandro Cortese and Jonas Folger. The small group rode scooters and were followed by media to capture the action on film. The riders stopped atop Turn 1, at the end of the esses at Turn 6, and at the COTA Tower to analyze the circuit from 251 feet above. Be sure to check out the Official MotoGP YouTube page, where the action will be shared in their post-race webisode, After The Flag.

We'll have photos from the guys hanging out on track and up in the Tower, but until then, enjoy this awesome GoPro video of Honda Repsol riders Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez riding COTA back in March. 

GoPro: Repsol Honda Testing with Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez from GoPro on Vimeo.


MotoGP Primer

 Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa pilot Circuit of The Americas (photo by Keith Rizzo, Courtesy of COTA)

// MotoGP

This weekend, Austin will play host to the MotoGP World Championship, a two-wheeled series that brings the top technology in motorcycle racing to the heart of the Lone Star State. The race, an intense combination of speed and gravity defying track action, is the second race following the season opening event in Qatar.

MotoGP, touted as the world's oldest form of world championship racing, is considered by fans, media and riders around the world as the pinnacle of two-wheeled sports. Riders race in some of the most exotic and exclusive tracks in the world on top of the most advanced prototype racing machines in excess of 200mph. 

Like Formula 1, the extreme speed and intense competition between teams and riders has created a culture of glamour and exclusivity. The 18 racing events are held in 12 countries on five continents, and carry with them global sponsorship deals as some of the most reputable brands in the motorsport world such as Bridgestone, Shell, Ducati, Honda, and Yamaha, propel riders to the coveted championship win.

For the 2013 season, there are 24 riders representing 10 countries around the world. Unlike their four-wheeled grand prix counterparts, there are three riders in MotoGP from the USA (Nicky Hayden, Ben Spies and Colin Edwards) and two of which are native Texans (Spies and Edwards). The 2012 MotoGP championship was awarded to Yamaha Factory Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo, his second title, with Repsol Honda Racing Team's Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner following in second and third positions, respectively.

There are 12 teams competing in the 2013 season with a mix of chassis and engine suppliers in three informal categories, Factory, Factory-Supported and CRT. Factory teams such as Ducati, Yamaha and Honda are fully operated and supported by the manufacturer. Factory supported teams and CRT teams however can differ in their level of support from the manufacturer, with CRT teams such as Pramac and LCR Honda being operated completely privately with leased bikes from the manufacturer.

This weekend's Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas is the second event in the calendar for the 2013 MotoGP season and the first motorcycle race to be held at the new Austin circuit. A full schedule of this weekend's event can be downloaded here, along with a track map here and overview of this weekend's event from the MotoGP site.

Tickets are sold by Circuit of The Americas:

Fans interested in attending the MotoGP race on Sunday, April 21, may purchase general admission tickets for the price of $59 per person. Children ages 12 and under receive free general admission tickets when accompanied by a ticketed adult. Sunday-only general admission tickets can be purchased on race day, April 21, at the Circuit’s Grand Plaza ticket office. Three-day general admission tickets are still available for $89 per person. College students and military personnel can purchase three-day general admission tickets for $49 per person with a valid student or military ID.  Three-day reserved seats start at $133 per person.

To get you pumped up, here's a Red Bull promo video showcasing the arrival of MotoGP to Austin:

An Epic Day in Austin, Texas

260 days. That is how long curious Austinites, die-hard F1 fans and everyone in between had to wait since the first F1 USGP Press Conference in July 2010 and this week's coming out party in Austin, Texas. In Tavo's defense, to say they have been busy would be an understatement.

We arrived at the Palmer Events Center on a typical April afternoon in Austin: 80' F (27' C), sunny with a few clouds in the sky, and so many people frolicking about in the neighboring Zilker Park, you begin to wonder if anyone works a typical 9-5 job in this town. As evidenced throughout Austin's cohesive, collaborative, laid-back yet get-down-to-business vibe, we passed by the sunny fun-loving people in the park and walked into the Palmer Events Center, where we were transported to a high tech press conference with a platform for innovation and excitement, and some cool backdrops. The stage was bordered with two giant screens looping some new and some familiar snapshots of Austin; the Williams F1 car served as a focal point and photo op; and about 100 media and invited parties began to fill the room.

We mingled, ran into our friend USF2000 Driver Rodrigo Sanchez, met a few new folks and took our seats behind the "Reserved Row," not knowing who would join us, but impressed when we were joined by Del Valle School Board President Richard Vasquez, Austin City Manager Marc Off, Texas Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, Texas Sen. Kirk Watson, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell (hard to see from this angle) and Council member Mike Martinez.

SPEED TV's iconic Bob Varsha welcomed everyone and noted that he had visited the construction site and was "impressed with what was being accomplished at the track site." Before introducing the founding team on stage, Red McCombs, Tavo Hellmund and Bobby Epstein, he also shared his newfound love for the city of Austin, and shared our sentiments that it is an active and entertaining town supported by the welcoming and fun-loving people of Austin.

You may recall that McCombs and Epstein were announced as the major financial backers at July's press conference and Tavo is the ring leader in this entire project. McCombs quickly took over and before announcing first order of business, the naming of the track, he reminded people of the scale and magnitude of this project, equating it to "a SuperBowl every year" for the city of Austin. There has been so much buzz around this press conference in the past week, including speculation about what was going to be announced, that we were confident a title sponsor would be named, thereby revealing something of the sort: "The AT&T Williams Momentum Park." That was my calculated guess because AT&T is headquarted in Texas and has strong business and historical ties to central Texas, that Williams F1 car keeps popping up, and Momentum Park was a name that was referenced via some online research.

Alas, McCombs, Epstein and Tavo revealed the track as "Circuit of the Americas - Home of the World Championships, United States," or "COTA" for short. I've heard some mixed reviews of the name, but the thought behind Circuit of the Americas was to tie in the United States with Canada, South and Latin America, where I think F1 fans might rival US F1 fans in number. I'm unable to embed the video here, but SPEED TV just posted a great 8 minute+ video of the highlights of the press conference. If the full press conference is published, we will share that video with you in the future. For now, you can watch the SPEED TV video of this F1 USGP April Press Conference by clicking here.

McCombs then invited Steve Sexton, F1US and now COTA President, to the stage and Steve also shared Varsha's sentiments of the warm welcome he has received as a new Austin resident. Then the discussion transitioned from the "Who" to the "What and Where." This is not just a race track, folks. The Circuit of the Americas is a destination: a high-end, multi-purpose development that has grown from 970 acres to 1,100 planned acres. Tavo began to paint a clearer picture of what we can expect at the Citcuit of the Americas:

  • 40,000 square foot, 3-story tall conference center bordering the 300 yard pit area
  • 14 executive suites, each 3,600 square feet with elevators, kitchens, latest A/V gear, high-speed connections and capacity for 75 people each (to be used by teams and sponsors on race weekends for meetings and hospitality)
  • Main grandstand includes luxury suites for business entertaining and capacity of about 750, including commercial kitchen and cafe
  • Media and conference center - business conferences, seminars and receptions, and converting to international media center
  • 500-person banquet hall (private or corporate dinners and nonprofit fundraising galas)
  • 5,400 square foot Medical Building with year-round use as a training facility (professionals and students) and converting to trauma care center for driver-athletes
  • Live music entertainment venue during race and non-race weekends, including indoor and outdoor space, and spanning the equivilent of 3 football fields wide with a capacity of 35,000
  • 22-story Observation Deck providing breath-taking and memorable views of the destination set amidst the gorgeous Texas Hill Country
  • Entertainment and festival venue with capacity of 35,000

This article, "Circuit of the Americas Partners with Texas Schools," is a great overview of the educational institutions that have jumped on board with COTA and their specific roles "linking classroom learning to practical application work." We are really hoping to hear that Austin's own University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University-San Marcos are also jumping on board!

Tavo continued to highlight the business and economic impact of the facility not only during this fast-paced construction phase that we are currently in, but also the sustained opportunities for local and global companies for the duration of the 10-year contract with Formula One Management and F1 racing:

  • Agreement with Austin Energy to build a new energy sub-station in Del Valle
  • Research and development opportunities almost solidified with two large auto manufacturers
  • Potentially 1300-employees tied to the multi-purpose facility
  • Construction expenditures alone of over $400MM, with a focus to keep 80% or more of that in the pockets of local Texan businesses
  • In addition to plans for on-site retail, the COTA team is in talks to bring a major hotel developer to the development
  • In the course of a single F1 race weekend (which, as we know, is only 3-5 nights out of the facility's 365 days of planned business), you can expect 300,000 guests to spend 3-5 nights in the Austin and surrounding Central Texas areas and spending an average of $1400-1600

Tavo then shifted the focus back to the "Who and What" by introducing two icons in an equally exciting motorsport field: 1993 World GP Motorcycle Champion Kevin Schwantz and 2010 MotoGP "Rookie of the Year" Ben Spies. Schwantz made the highly-anticipated announcement of the addition of MotoGP motorcycle racing to the circuit's lineup. MotoGP is to the world of motorcycle racing what Formula One is to the world of automotive racing: they are both the cream of the crop in their respective fields; partnering the highest advancements in technology and innovation to deliver non-stop excitement to their large international audiences. The introduction of MotoGP's partnership with The Circuit of The Americas facility was met with energetic support from the crowd as Schwantz also reported a 10-year agreement was met to bring MotoGP to Texas from 2013-2022.

While I was live-tweeting snippits of the press conference via our Twitter feed, I heard Schwantz ask Spies "How excited are you to be able to come and race in Austin in 2013?" His response was "Very!" and I think you can expect to see an expansion of our COME AND RACE IT© product line to show our support of MotoGP's introduction to the Texas lineup.

As the press conference wrapped up and we were directed to make our way to the shuttles leaving for the construction tour of the facility, we snagged two great interviews with Bob Varsha of SPEED TV and Christian Epp of Tilke Engineering. You can enjoy them on our dedicated Press Conference page or via our Vimeo Channel.

For all high-def photos and official facility renderings, check out our Gallery.

Next up from us: our recap of the site tour, and hopefully next up from COTA: the "When" and more announcements on the "Who" regarding this decelopment of epic, Texas-sized proporstions.

In the meantime, tell us what you thought of the Press Conference and enjoy the first-ever video of the drive up Turn 1 at The Circuit of The Americas!

On Location at the Circuit Of The Americas from The Austin Grand Prix on Vimeo.