A race weekend doesn’t really get in gear before the traditional pre-event Press Conference, and ahead of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, reigning Champion and undisputed King of the Circuit of the Americas Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was joined by Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati), Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) and American Moto2™ rider Joe Roberts (American Racing KTM) to talk about the weekend ahead.
First to speak was Marquez, who took his first win at the track in 2013 and has won every year since, although it’s far from a swagger for the seven-time World Champion on the way into the event – key words being “won’t be crazy.” The numbers don’t lie but Marquez refuses to get carried away.
“Yeah of course Austin has been a really good circuit for me since 2013 so let’s see. It is true that this year we arrive in very good shape, in Argentina we won and almost in Qatar, we have a solid base. It’s important and I feel comfortable but let’s see here. We will start from FP1 like always and won’t be crazy, try to ride like I know and then let’s see. Let’s see the opponents and also the weather, it looks like Saturday will be so so but apart from that try to enjoy this amazing circuit.”
Asked about his secrets to the venue, Marquez didn’t give anything away but did talk a little about the spectacular circuit: “It’s true that it’s a circuit where to have a perfect lap is impossible. Impossible because it’s a really long lap, many corners, many hard-braking points and easy to make a mistake. The most difficult thing is to be consistent over all the laps because it’s a two-minute lap, many hard braking points and it’s so difficult, really bumpy. It’s a track you sometimes have to change the lines each lap.”
Another topic Marquez – and Rossi – were asked about was the handshake seen between the two men after the Argentina GP.
“It was the moment. Like when you kiss a girl in the right moment, it’s the same! We were there in the right moment and we were alone, so we shook hands on the podium after a nice race. I never had a problem so it’s no problem to have a respectful relationship.”
Laughing at the chosen analogy, Rossi agreed if in slightly different words. “It was right, I congratulated him because he put together a very fast race, a very fast weekend so I think it’s normal.”
So, back on the main agenda, Dovizioso was second to speak. The Italian has been on the podium before at COTA but also seen some bad luck come his way. Pace in Argentina was encouraging, however, which could bode well.
“I´m really happy about the weekend in Argentina. Our speed was really good, we didn’t expect that so I’m happy because it confirms our good pace. It would be nice if it’s like this. For sure, Marc has shown in the past he is the king of this track so it will be very difficult for everybody to fight with him. But anyway, we have to bring the maximum points so we are focused on that and during the weekend anything can happen. We have to see the tires, the weather, the conditions so I’m relaxed. We have to work like everybody. Our base is quite good, so I expect to be more competitive than last year.
“I think we are a bit more balanced than last year so I think we can be a little bit better everywhere. So that’s why in Argentina our speed in every practice was quite good and I think this is the reason why we can be competitive from the beginning here. I don’t think we have the perfect balance to be really competitive and fight for the victory here but you never know.”
On that topic, Dovizioso, Rins and Rossi were all asked about whether Marquez was unbeatable – but that’s not the way a racer approaches a weekend despite the stats.
“It would be very difficult but nothing is impossible,” was Dovi’s response – something echoed verbatim by Rins just after. Rossi adds, “the numbers say Marquez is unbeatable but you don’t set off from home saying someone is impossible to beat. You try to always improve.”
Rossi was the man who spoke about the weekend ahead next, too. Back on the podium last time out for the first time since Germany last season, that’s where he started.
“One of the best parts of getting a good podium result is the next week because you can be happy and more relaxed. I stayed at home and tried to prepare the maximum for this race. It’s one of the most particular, difficult, technical tracks of the season; up and down, 20 corners, so it’s a long way until the end of the lap.
“The first year I was very slow. I needed a bit more time to understand the track. From 2014 I had a problem with the tire in the race but I was quite fast. I took some podiums. In 2017 I finished second. It’s a very tricky track, there are a lot of points where you can lose a lot but our bike isn’t too bad, so we’ll try to be strong.”
Next to debrief Argentina a little and gear up for Round 3 was the aforementioned Rins. The Suzuki rider took a top five from well back on the grid last time out and a Hamamatsu factory machine was on the podium in Austin in 2018.
“For sure in races we are very strong. We saw in Qatar, also in Argentina we recover a lot of positions. Btu I think we are going in a good way, we have good speed in practices, good speed in the races, I think we need to improve the speed in qualifying to be in the front positions in the first laps of the race. Overtaking riders destroys the tyres, so we need to think why we start at the back and we need to improve.
“Last year I remember we had some problems on the front of the bike. Race by race we improved the feeling. In Argentina and Qatar the front feeling was very nice, and as Marc says, I think this track is difficult to do all the laps on the same line. It’s very hard, a lot of lines but Andrea did a great race last season. If we qualify better we can be more at the front, but we will see.”
Miller – top Independent Team rider in Argentina – spoke after Rins, and echoed the sentiments of Rossi earlier after equally taking a positive result.
“It was great to be there in the top five. As Vale said, it’s nice to go away from a weekend with a decent result. You know in Qatar I went away almost depressed after the seat flew off so it was definitely good to get that one out of the way. It got difficult at the end of last year I think to do with being on the GP17 as the other bikes developed through the year we stayed where we were. It’s nice to know this year we should be able to fight throughout the whole season with them. We’ve shown in Qatar and Argentina we’ve got good pace. Austin’s normally a track I like. I struggled a little bit here last year, I had a small injury, so I’m looking forward to being 100% fit this year and see how many whoops are on the back straight.”
The Australian was also asked about the difference now he’s riding a GP19 Ducati as opposed to the GP17 last year.
“I know when I come onto the straight I’m not losing meters, I don’t have to brake like an idiot and cook the front tire, so that helps. I think we’ve got really good pace. And I feel I’ve matured as a rider and in practices we’re doing a lot of work for the race simulation. We need to keep that mentality and keep on working.”
Finally, it was time for home hero Joe Roberts to take to the mic. Despite a difficult start to the season the American is optimistic ahead of his home round, and loves the track.
“It’s fantastic to be here, I always love coming to Austin. Before I was even racing at a world level, it was always a favorite city to visit. Just to be here with all the fans and everything, it’s always a nice feeling. In terms of how the year’s gone, to be honest, it’s been a bit of a difficult start; it’s not where I hoped to be in Qatar. We made a lot of progress in the last round, during the race I was on for my best gap to the front before I crashed. With the new team, everything’s new, sometimes it takes time and you’ve got to look at the positives and take that forward. I think this weekend, this track is quite a hard-braking track and something that I took from last weekend is that we’re really good on the brakes, so I’m hoping that’s going to work here. I’ve always love this track, so I’m excited.”
Roberts was also asked about joining the Press Conference line-up for the first time – and was pretty happy about it.
“Every single one of these guys here has given me some sort of inspiration during my career and being here with them is definitely something special and it’s great.”
That’s it from Thursday Press Conference talk for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, next up comes the rodeo itself. FP1 begins on Friday morning at 9:55 (GMT -5), with the race on Sunday 14:00.