Acosta and Viñales make MotoGP history at COTA


Pedro Acosta lit up MotoGP once again on Sunday in the 2024 US GP, narrowly missing victory, which went to Viñales and Aprilia. Meanwhile Ducati once again struggled with the dreaded chatter

Acosta leads a MotoGP for the first time at COTA

Acosta leads a MotoGP race for the first time, from Martin, who was beset by chatter at COTA, and Viñales, whose Aprilia is now a genuine title challenger


Maverick Viñales and Pedro Acosta wrote their names into the history books at COTA on Sunday.

Viñales became only the fourth rider to win premier-class grands prix on three different makes of machinery in the 76 seasons of world championship racing, so not a record, but certainly historic, while Acosta became the youngest rider to score back-to-back premier-class podiums.

The 19-year-old genius very nearly became the youngest rider to lead a MotoGP/500cc GP as well, but missed that accolade by a few months. Randy Mamola still holds that honour. At Le Mans in 1979 the 19-year-old American took the lead of the French GP from none other than ‘King’ Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene, after running with them in the first laps.

“I was surprised and I think Kenny was surprised too,” said Mamola at the time. “He kept looking around and seeing me still there.” Mamola finished that race in second place, behind Sheene and in front of Roberts.

No one was surprised when Acosta took the lead at the start of the COTA GP, because no one is surprised by him anymore. He is one of those talents, like Marc Márquez a decade ago, who lights up the racetrack every time he leaves pitlane. Three weeks earlier he had scored his first MotoGP podium in Portugal, two weeks after battling with Márquez in his Qatar debut. And on Saturday he took his first front-row start.

We already know that the reigning Moto2 champ and former Moto3 champ is a diamond, and not even a rough diamond. He has landed in the premier class pretty much fully formed.

He stands fourth in the world championship and has only fallen off once since the start of the season – that’s three fewer than fellow KTM RC16 rider Brad Binder.

Ox 2

Winner Viñales with runner-up Acosta (left) and Bastianini, the only top Ducati rider who isn’t struggling with bad vibrations

Until Acosta arrived the entire pitlane assumed that Binder was making the RC16 go as fast as it could. But no, Acosta has found a new limit for the Austrian V4 and he’s not even at his own limit yet, so both him and the bike will get faster.

“We don’t know where’s the limit of the bike,” said the teenager, speaking like an old pro. “At the moment, I’m not crashing a lot. This means we have a way to go. We are not really touching the settings of the bike – I’ve had the same setting since the tests at Valencia [last November].

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“We are only focusing on how I ride the bike, because sometimes I have these moments, similar to Moto2, a bit of locking or whatever from the tyres.”

Yeah, like, whatever. Glorious insouciance! And just as glorious, how Acosta refers to his elders as boys and happily drops F-bombs during the podium press conference.

“You cannot imagine how much I enjoyed the race… making overtakes, sliding, having touches,” he said. “It was super-nice to battle with the boys. Maverick [just the ten years his senior] is a super-talented boy and I was more than happy to battle with him. Man, I tried everything, but he had something more this weekend. I’m super-happy for him because sometimes we train together in Barcelona and he’s a super-hard worker and a super nice-boy.”

Acosta’s first home GP as a MotoGP rider is Jerez, the weekend after next, and it’s hard to imagine what a state of rapture the local fans will be in. The Spanish GP will also be his last as a teenage tearaway. God only knows what a mature, experienced Acosta will be like.

Ox 3

Viñales was delighted with his RS-GP, which allowed him to brake super-late, even later than Acosta

Viñales’ first victory for Aprilia was also significant, not only because it was historic, but because more importantly it announced the Noale brand as a championship contender for the first time. There’s some nice historical symmetry here too – Aprilia made its premier-class debut at the Spanish GP in 1994, a full three decades ago.

The 29-year-old Spaniard won his first MotoGP race with Suzuki at Silverstone in 2016, his next eight with Yamaha, from 2017 to 2021, and his tenth with Aprilia on Sunday. It’s not a great record – three factory contracts over ten seasons and around 160 races – and only ten wins.

The big question now is this: was COTA a turning point for Viñales or just another happy blip?

I didn’t have the weapon I have now — it's fantastic!

Viñales has always blown hot and cold: sublimely fast on his day, frustratingly below-par on Sundays. Of course, he’s confident that this is a turning point, but we won’t know the reality for some months.

“In the past I didn’t have the weapon I have now, especially for overtaking,” he said on Sunday. “Now I can over-brake all the time – it’s fantastic!”

Braking has always been an issue with the RS-GP, which suggests that Aprilia has made a big step forward

“Stability is one of the key points of the bike,” he added. “The flow part of COTA and the three right-hand corners were where I was making the difference.”

Viñales was indeed untouchable through COTA’s unique Turns 3 to 9 zigzag. This is particularly worthy of attention, because during pre-season testing the RS-GP had proved difficult to haul from side to side, due to its downforce aero gluing the bike to the asphalt.

Ox 5

Márquez had the speed to win the race at a track where he’s won seven times. A brake problem had him crash out of the lead

Thus Aprilia has succeeded at a tricky balancing act – combining the usually mutually exclusive features of good downforce and manoeuvrability.

“When we switched to the new bike in testing it wasn’t easy, but in Portugal we understood what we need to do,” added Viñales, an old-school rider who needs a good overall balance from his bike, so he can exploit his smooth, apparently effortless flow. “When I can ride the bike with my own riding style and be effective, I’m calm and confident.”

The RS-GP’s ground-effect lower fairing made a real difference through COTA’s triple Turn 16/17/18 right-hander.

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“I was trying to push in the correct corners,” he continued. “I pushed in Turn 10, on the entry, not the exit, to keep the right temperature in the rear tyre and also in the three rights, where I used the front a lot to avoid overheating the rear.”

It’s no surprise that Aprilia’s ground-effect design has been, more or less, been copied by Ducati, KTM and Honda, which suggests the RS-GP now has the best aero on the grid.

Viñales’ COTA success puts him in the pantheon with a special gang of riders – alongside Mike Hailwood, Eddie Lawson, Loris Capirossi and Mamola – the others who have won MotoGP/500cc races with three different marques.

Hailwood was the first, winning his first 500c GP in 1961, with Norton, then with MV Agusta, from 1961 to 1965, and with Honda in 1966 to 1967.

By the way, Hailwood’s 1961 Senior TT victory also made him the youngest premier-class winner, an accolade he held for two decades.

Why? Because the Briton started younger than anyone else started racing back in the 1950s, long before minibikes became a thing. His father Stan ‘The Wallet’ Hailwood was the millionaire founder of a chain of motorcycle shops, so he had his mechanics build his son a one-off miniature machine powered by a 100cc Royal Enfield engine. No wonder he was already winning British titles in his teens.

Viñales celebrates victory at COTA

Viñales, now up there with Hailwood, Mamola, Lawson and Capirossi


Next came Mamola, who won his first GPs as a factory Suzuki rider (which took the youngest-ever record from Hailwood) from 1980 to 1982, then as a Honda rider, from 1984 to 1986, and finally as a Team Roberts Yamaha rider, in 1986 and 1987.

Lawson started out winning with Yamaha, from 1984 to 1988, then Honda, in 1989, and with Cagiva, at the Hungaroring in 1992, when he gambled with slick tyres on a drying track, giving the Italian marque its first victory.

Capirossi’s first premier-class win was his unlikeliest success. He was running third on the final lap of the 1996 Australian GP at Eastern Creek when Alex Crivillé clattered into leader Mick Doohan, taking them both out. He followed that with one win on Honda’s NSR500, after a frantic battle at the 2000 Italian GP with Max Biaggi and Valentino Rossi, which had both Italians crash out. And he completed the set with his historic 2003 Catalan GP success with Ducati, also the Italian marque’s first success.

And what of Ducati at COTA? This was the first time the Bologna factory had been beaten by two rival brands since Suzuki left in 2022 and the first time it had ever been beaten by both Aprilia and KTM.

Why? Bad vibrations, of course. The Desmosedici has been infected by the dreaded chatter since the start of this season because it doesn’t like Michelin’s latest rear-slick compounds.

“We had a lot of vibrations,” said Jorge Martin after taking third in the COTA sprint. “I was close to crashing in a lot of corners, so together with Ducati we need to understand how to improve, because we are losing the opportunity to make better results.”

Bastianini Ducati

Bastianini is the only Ducati rider to score make the GP podium in both Portugal and the USA


The more grip Ducati has, the worse the chatter, hence Martin’s struggles with the soft rear in the sprint. Surprisingly both the Pramac rider and world champ Pecco Bagnaia also went with the soft in the main race. They finished fourth and fifth.

“The bike was moving a lot at the front and I was feeling some vibrations at the rear, so I had to ride defensively,” said Bagnaia on Sunday. “It was hard, but we need to stay calm, understand the situation and try to finish every race in the best possible position. When the right time comes, we will attack.”

Márquez also complained of chatter after the sprint. Did the problem play a part in his Sunday crash? No, his problem was with his front brake. A lot of riders had issues braking into the Turn 11 hairpin during the weekend, because bikes get lively through the bumpy, high-speed Turn 11, which can knock the brake pads away from the discs.

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The seven-times COTA winner seemed to have the problem worse than anyone, causing him to crash out of the lead at half-distance. “During all the race I had a lot of problems with the front brake,” he said. “The first pull of the brake nothing was there, the second pull was too late.” Márquez locked the front and went down.

The only top Ducati rider who hasn’t complained of chatter so far is Enea Bastianini, who is also the only Ducati rider who’s finished on the podium in the last two GP races. Is this because he uses different settings, different riding technique or different riding position? We don’t know, but perhaps there lies a clue to Ducati fixing its problems, because if Aprilia and Acosta keep going at their current rate, Ducati’s domination of MotoGP will be under threat.

Ducati was also relegated to third in the top-speed race at COTA, which is significant because COTA is MotoGP’s best real-life dyno: the back straight takes riders from around 40mp. (60km/h) to more than 210mph (350km/h), so it’s a great test of horsepower, torque delivery, anti-wheelie aero, electronics and ride-height devices.

KTM had the best top speed in the GP, with Brad Binder at 216.5mph.(348.6km/h). Impressive, because the RC16 was also fastest in Qatar and Portugal. Miguel Oliveira had the best Aprilia at 215.8 (347.4km/h), Bagnaia the fastest Ducati, at 215.6mph (347.2km/h), Luca Marini the best Honda at 213mph (338.9km/h) and Álex Rins the quickest Yamaha at 212.7mph (342.2km/h).

Both Japanese factories endured another grim weekend, Fabio Quartararo the only Honda/Yamaha points-scorer way back in 12th, more than a second a lap off the winning pace. Honda’s only finisher was Marini in last position, at 1.7 seconds per lap slower than Viñales, while Joan Mir and Takaaki Nakagami crashed out and Johann Zarco retired with a technical issue. Can it get any worse?