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MotoGP 2024: Austin – Batman Takes the Double

Image Source: Monster Energy Yamaha

No race report from the Circuit of the Americas could ever do justice to the spectacle we were privileged to witness: multiple leaders, overtakes, crashes, near-misses, defensive riding, get-out-of-my-way-I’m-coming-through moves and the seeming inevitability of an Aprilia victory cannot be relegated to the written word: you’ll just have to watch it for yourself.

Sheene, Roberts, Rossi, Stoner and Marquez; were riders who made an immediate impact on their sport and went on to become legends because of their achievements. They just had that something extra.

Another way of looking at Acosta’s success was given by Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsport director. The KTM boss insists that Binder can benefit from Acosta’s arrival and performance.

Image Source: KTM

“That helps Brad massively,” Beirer said. “He was often our [only in-form rider] and it was not clear to him, us or anyone else to what extent this was due to the rider or the motorcycle. Now we have a second rider who is performing well. Then it is much easier to analyse where the weak points are and where we need to improve. So that will definitely make us a lot stronger. We will continue to gain momentum!”

This was one of the best races for a good while and, even when Maverick Viñales almost inevitably got to the front, we still couldn’t relax, because what had he done to his tyres to get there? Never mind the possibility that he might throw it all away by pushing too hard in order to stay ahead of that pesky Pedro Acosta, who certainly wasn’t giving up.

Image Source: Aprilia Racing

As if it needs repeating, this is only Acosta’s third premier-class Grand Prix but nothing about his race looked like anything other than the race of a seasoned champion. Many are the riders who have dreamed of leading a race but who have never managed it, despite being on the grid for more than a year, but Acosta made it look so easy and natural that it makes you wonder what the rest of the grid is doing.

Acosta is running basically the same set-up as he was in pre-season testing and has done little to develop the bike to his style, rather relying on learning the ropes from a stable base. If that is really the case, then his rivals need to watch out.

Image Source: GASGAS Tech3

Another thing that Acosta’s performance has shown is that the KTM is in no way inferior to the Ducati or the Aprilia; the former has long been the yardstick and considered virtually unbeatable by its current rivals – even though it has been beaten on occasion – but it seems that the playing field is being levelled with every passing race.

What this does bring into question is the performances of Brad Binder and Jack Miller. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting down either of them, but even they must be wondering what on earth Acosta is doing with his GP16 that they aren’t consistently able to do.

Image Source: GASGAS Tech3

COTA was a nightmare for both of the factory KTM riders; Miller qualified well enough but Binder had a dreadful time in Q1, ending up 17th on the grid. Tenth in the Sprint race was nothing to write home about, but his main race was hampered by losing aero add-ons at the beginning of the race;

“A tricky race for us even though I got the best launch of my life!” Binder said. “I think that was the highlight.

Image Source: KTM

“In Turn 1, I tried to rail the outside to gain as many positions as I could and with the mess between riders there I unfortunately broke my rear wing and front left wing.

“20 laps around COTA with that missing wasn’t much fun.

Image Source: KTM

“The bike pulled to one [side], especially on the straights. And it’s quite unstable so you have to counter-steer quite a lot. When we lose the whole rear wing you don’t have the downforce you set the bike up for. So it’s really tricky to manage after that.” Ninth place was a good result in the circumstances.

Miller, starting in 11th place, was going well at the beginning, but soon began his by-now familiar plummet through the field as his rear tyre lost all grip.

Image Source: KTM

“I felt good in the group for the first six laps and very comfortable,” said Miller, who eventually finished in 13th.

“The bike was working better than yesterday but then from lap seven I ran into some grip issues immediately and it just got worse. I couldn’t carry corner speed.

Image Source: KTM

“It was a bit confusing after we’d done ten laps and pushed so hard [on the same soft rear tyre compound] in the Sprint.

“We’ve got a fantastic package. I was able to fight there with the boys. But an unforeseen issue today. It is what it is.”

Image Source: GASGAS Tech3

It may well be what it is, but it’s happening too often. Both factory KTM riders chose the soft rear tyre, while Acosta was on the medium although it will remain one of those unknowns whether Binder would have been able to follow Viñales through the pack had he not lost aero. Binder and Miller are both proven race-winners and championship contenders and it is frustrating to witness the inconsistency. But they and KTM will get it right, let there be no doubt about that.

What there can also be no doubt about is that, in Pedro Acosta, we have a huge star in the making, if he isn’t already. If we measure talent in race wins and championships, then, of course, he is a beginner with no record in the premier class. But if talent is measured in those indefinable qualities that sets one rider ahead of another, it is clear that, in Acosta, we have a new Hailwood, Agostini, Sheene, Roberts, Rossi, Stoner or Marquez; riders who made an immediate impact on their sport and went on to become legends because of their achievements. They just had that something extra.

Image Source: GASGAS Tech3

What I would love to know is how an established rider, who obviously believes that he can win a championship, views the arrival of a rider who definitely will. Is it envy, a sense of defeat or a strengthening of the resolve? How do they process the inner admission that someone is better than they are, even though the challenger has been around for five minutes, while they are seasoned professionals? Ego plays a huge part in the make-up of any top class athlete, that and a towering self-belief, so how do they deal with the knowledge that someone is better? Would we even dare broach the subject with them?

But I digress. If we are talking about talent, then it is always great to be able to report that Marc Marquez has lost none of his, despite several woeful seasons. To see him fighting at the front with all his old bolshiness is just what we need, especially in light of the presence of the young pretender, who displays so many of Marquez’ traits; towering self-belief and talent, and a healthy disrespect for the reputations of those around him.

Image Source: Gresini Racing

Like Acosta, Marquez is still learning how to ride the Ducati but he is learning fast and it is our misfortune that a front brake problem took him out at COTA just as he took the lead of the race. If it was inevitable that Viñales was coming through, no matter what, then it would have been interesting to have Marquez, Acosta and Viñales battling it out at the front.

And so to the man of the weekend, Maverick Viñales. As a demonstration of his renewed enthusiasm, he was perfection: pole position, Sprint and Main race victories. He seems to be one of those riders who needs to feel totally happy to give of his best and, at Aprilia, he is totally happy. While it would be a shame for Aleix Espargaro to be overshadowed by Viñales after putting in so much hard work to get the Aprilia to where it is, just to see Aprilia fighting at the front is enough. Nobody ever said MotoGP was fair on riders.

Image Source: Aprilia Racing

Ducati, KTM and Aprilia fighting at the front; what’s missing from this picture? Oh, yes, the Japanese! Rarely has a manufacturer suffered such a precipitous fall from the top, let alone two manufacturers! Honda was so bad in America, it would have come as no surprise if the team announced its immediate withdrawal from the sport. Yamaha fared little better, which makes Fabio Quartararo’s re-commitment to the team all the more intriguing.

“…The decision was not as easy [as accepting an offer from Aprilia],” said Quartararo. “But in Portugal, we had a great meeting with the top management of Yamaha engineers about the project from now until the end of the year, and also 2025 and 2026.

Image Source: Monster Energy Yamaha

“There are some really interesting things that are still confidential in Yamaha. New people. The project is going to be huge. So the decision was made in Portugal.

“It was great because in Portugal [Yamaha gave me] lots of information that made me want to stay. First of all for the project Yamaha is building for the future, starting from [this] January.

Image Source: Monster Energy Yamaha

“And of course, like I said before, some confidential project for the future that is going to be huge.”

It would be easy to be cynical and assume that the huge salary, rumoured to be in the region of 12 million Euros annually, was the only factor in Quartararo’s decision but, while that must have helped, it can’t be the only reason he decided to stay; he wants to win and, with there being no possibility of a seat at Ducati or KTM, he was obviously swayed by Yamaha’s plans. A resurgent Yamaha will be great for the sport, even if it will be without long-time team principal, Lin Jarvis, who will step down from the rôle at the end of 2024, bringing to a close 25 years of service to the manufacturer.

Image Source: Monster Energy Yamaha

So, interesting times are ahead at Yamaha. Before that, however, there is a season to run and the next round is in Spain, at Jerez. Will that be where Acosta takes his first win? Or Marquez, for that matter? Will Jorge Martin resume his winning ways? Can Viñales create a winning streak? Has Bastianini got the upper hand over Bagnaia? How much lower can Honda sink?

The questions are piling up.

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
From an early age, Harry was obsessed with anything that moved under its own steam, particularly cars and motorcycles. For reasons of a financial nature, his stable of fine automobiles failed to materialise, at which point he realised that motorcycles were far more affordable and so he started his two wheel career, owning, riding, building and fixing many classic bikes. Then came the day when he converted his love of bikes into a living, writing, filming and talking about them endlessly. The passion for four wheels never left him, however, and he has now converted his writing skills into singing the praises of cars in all their infinite variety. Bikes are still his favourite means of getting around but the car in its modern form is reaching a level of perfection that is hard to resist. And they're warmer in winter....
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