At the end of the first day of MotoGP testing at Circuit of The Americas, some observers were close to
declaring Honda’s fast-learner Marc Marquez as champion even before the first race because of the apparent ease with which he left the experienced veterans behind. Pundits were ready to send the “old men” back to their hometowns to join the other old men in the cafes, drinking coffee and talking of times past. There was even some implication that now Yamaha is “out of it.”
When I offered this to Marquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa, he said, “Marc is very fast, and he is riding in his own way. But there are two big teams, Honda and Yamaha, and at the end of every season, they are always very close. Some tracks favor Honda and some favor Yamaha.”
Soon the top four were all in the 2:04 range. Marquez continued his study. He had said of the track, “The
first part goes right-left-right, so it is quite difficult to find the best line—the best compromise.”
Compromise is the word. In the tightly connected series of turns that CoTA presents after Turn 1, it is not possible to take the best line in one without compromising the entry of the next and the next. So, it takes time to find the fastest line.
What kind of track is this Tilke-designed circuit? Pedrosa said, “My first impression is that it is very much for Formula 1—the big hairpins, the turns going back and forth.”
Listening to the bikes told the same story: first, a harsh growl as the engine accelerates, then silence as the rider brakes for the next wiggle and then the engine again, alternating back and forth. The back of the course is what others have called “a Honda dragstrip”—a first-through-sixth-gear one-kilometer straightaway with another first-gear hairpin at its end. This lets Honda’s powerful engine make time, and as Marquez commented, the Honda turns quickly in hairpins, as well. Yamaha’s strong suit is normally fast sweepers, but this advantage is currently muted by its problem with edge grip, caused by engine harshness.
In sum? For the moment, on this new track, advantage Honda. All have plenty of work to do before Round 1
at Qatar next month.