When Marc Márquez, leading by 3-1/2 seconds at Circuit of The Americas, lowsided on lap nine of 20, Valentino Rossi became the race leader. But before the crowd could fully savor the delicious thought that this might be Rossi's day, Álex Rins arrived on the much-improved Suzuki, having started seventh and advancing rapidly.

On lap 16, Rins came under Rossi. Although the factory Yamaha rider was able to scratch back to the tune of a quarter-second, Rins took the win by 0.462 second, with Jack Miller third on a Pramac Ducati, 8.4 seconds further back, then another 0.966 second to Andrea Dovizioso in fourth. Petronas Yamaha newcomer Franco Morbidelli was fifth.

After the flag, Rins somehow waved a celebratory leg above his head, then gravely shook hands with Rossi as they rolled side by side. Arriving at his chanting team, Rins was picked up and tossed into the air. It was a powerful moment: Suzuki’s first MotoGP win since Maverick Viñales at Silverstone in 2016. Now they are real.

The championship points look like this:

Andrea Dovizioso–Ducati 54
Valentino Rossi–Yamaha 51
Álex Rins–Suzuki 49
Marc Márquez–Honda 45
Danilo Petrucci–Ducati 30

These first three races have all been unusual, with the very close finish at Qatar, Márquez’s seemingly effortless cruise in Argentina, and Sunday’s race. A feature of special interest at COTA was the high placings by “new” men—Rins, Miller, Morbidelli, and Fabio Quartararo—who have clearly learned to conserve their rubber until the end. Another feature of interest is that “slow bikes” (Yamaha to a degree and Suzuki admittedly) prevailed in a race on a fast course; 345 kph is 214 mph.

Rossi in the lead
Same players, different order: Valentino Rossi (46) leads Jack Miller (43) and Álex Rins (42) on Sunday at Circuit of The Americas. Similar to the first two rounds of the season, Rins charged from downfield—in this case, seventh on the grid—to second in nine laps. “I got my first win here in Moto3 in 2013,” he said. Rins won the Moto2 race in 2016.Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

In the post-race press conference, Rossi said, “When I saw Marc crash, I thought maybe I can do it.” Márquez, braking from high speed to 57 mph at a fair angle of lean, lost the front, his bike went down, and then spun around. He tried to raise it (nearly 370 pounds with half fuel) but could not. Afterward, Márquez said, “I did a big mistake. That lap was very similar to the previous lap and to others before it.”

When journalists became insistent, he repeated: “I made a mistake. I am human. If you crash with a lead of 3-1/2 seconds, you are riding within your limits. I was riding at a good pace; I was smooth.” Then he repeated, “I am human. We need to focus on the next race.”

Takaaki Nakagami
After front-runners Marc Márquez and Cal Crutchlow fell, and Jorge Lorenzo lost forward momentum, LCR’s Takaaki Nakagami became the lone Honda race finisher in 11th. “I could have had P8 as Pol Espargaró and Francesco Bagnaia were only a second ahead,” he said. “I needed one more lap, but it wasn’t possible.”Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

Rins, asked the inevitable questions, including whether he is now a challenger for the championship and what is improved on his bike, replied, “I think our best setup is very nice. In tracks with big straights, we lose a little bit. We made a big step last year. I was very close in Valencia. I was very close in Qatar. Now we need to continue in the same way of working.”

Miller was more forthcoming: “I think this is the start of something big for Rins and Suzuki.

Asked about COTA’s bumps, the Australian said, “I thought I was coming right off. I had to accelerate over the bumps. The front wheel was bouncing up and down, and I was getting it in the groin. Unh! Unh!”

Rins’ reported Michelin tire choice was soft front, medium rear, but for Miller it was soft/soft because, “I didn’t feel too comfortable with the medium in practice. But in the race, I was struggling with that soft front.”

Suzuki team manager Davide Brivio later commented that, although their riders must use edge grip to make stronger turning compensate for some shortfall in top speed and acceleration, “Our bike is quite friendly to tires.” Earlier, as lap 20 began, Brivio had covered his face because of the anxiety of waiting for the win.

Cal Crutchlow, third in the first four laps, had looked like, “Podium, here we come,” but fell in a sudden upright braking grip loss, lap five, turn 11.

When it was speculated that Márquez had overheated his front tire in the early laps, causing grip loss that might have triggered his fall, he strongly denied it. “No, I didn’t make anything stupid.”

There were no takers here for hard front or rear. Before this year’s stronger engine, Honda riders made up for less-than-scintillating acceleration by super-late, super-hard braking that usually required a hard front.

Viñales and Joan Mir were given ride-through penalties for “movement” on the starting grid, stimulating more discussion on this subject. The gist is that some penalty is required for premature movement, but that the 25–35 seconds lost in a ride-through are too much. Brivio put it well, saying that with such a time loss, those riders might as well just return to the pit box and stop; their races are over.

Retiring Hayden's number
Earlier in the race weekend, Dorna permanently retired the number 69 used by the late Nicky Hayden. The former Repsol Honda rider and 2006 MotoGP world champion was represented at COTA by parents Earl and Rose, brothers Tommy and Roger, sisters Jenny and Kathy, and fiancée Jackie Marin.Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

Rossi said, “For sure, the penalty is too high. Maybe it can be changed for next year.”

Not only are riders changing position a great deal on their bikes to obtain best results, but they are changing positions so quickly that they look as if they practice constantly on a gymnastics side horse with footpegs. Márquez and Viñales move at a speed I was once told no one could maintain for a whole race—qualifying only—and even Rossi, formerly rather casual in direction changing, has speeded up his action.

Jack Miller
Miller was never far from the front all weekend. About his first dry-track MotoGP podium, the 24-year-old Australian said, “The soft front probably wasn’t the right choice. I managed to drop back down into the 2:05s on the last lap simply out of necessity. [Andrea Dovizioso] was coming.”Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

Another point: It seemed to me that riders on the corner-speed bikes (Yamaha certainly, and maybe Suzuki too) are taking care to control their use of tire edge grip. Staying down on the edge through long corners puts a lot of heat into the tire and may have been a factor in poor finishes here for Yamaha in the past. The Honda men in the Bridgestone era entered corners at considerable but not extreme lean, then nearing their apex would dip down to elbow-on-the-deck angle to accelerate their rate of turning. I saw Rossi teach himself this in the second year of his return from Ducati, and I assume he did so because it reduces the time the tires spend on their vulnerable edges.

Rossi and Rins
Rossi and Rins embraced after the race in parc ferme. “I beat Valentino,” the first-time MotoGP race winner exclaimed. “This is unbelievable for me. He was my hero when I was very young.” Rossi earned his second podium finish in three 2019 race starts. “I pushed at the maximum,” he said. “In the end, he was better than me.”Andrew Wheeler/automotophoto.com

Revealing something of the difference between leaning over with the bike, as Gary Nixon and Geoff Duke did, and dropping the whole body to the inside in the style created by Márquez on Bridgestones, was a rider braking and entering turn 1 at the top of the hill. As braking instability appeared in the form of weave, he responded by abruptly pushing the bike upward while himself staying down on the inside. The bike instantly stabilized as it was in this way given wider tire footprints.

Kel Carruthers, who was seen everywhere all weekend at COTA, told a similar tale of encountering weave in corners on a replica Honda RC161 250cc inline-four early in his riding career. He discovered that he could eliminate the weave by pushing the bike nearer upright. The riders who learn something new are those who try new things. The only “way” is the way that works.

Now a block of European races begins, and everything is different again. Give up the idea that three races completed reveal trends. As the riders love to say, “The season is long.”