‘Give Rins the right bike and he’s able to extract something special’


Bagnaia crashed out of the lead, Rins won, Miller thought he might win and why Quartararo thinks Yamaha is miles behind. All the inside info from MotoGP at COTA…


Rins performed miracles at COTA – his speed suggests more will come

LCR Honda

No one expected that, did they? And I’m not accepting any of your so-called predictions, unless you have the betting slip and cash payout to prove it.

A Ducati crashing out of the lead, for no perceptible reason. A Honda winning, without Marc Márquez onboard. A KTM RC16 gunning for victory (honest!). And a Yamaha on the podium, never mind a back straight that was designed by (and I know this for A FACT) an engineer who when he was a teenager owned an FS1-E which seized so often he swore that one day he would create a racetrack straight that would make Yamaha riders cry.

So why so much strangeness?

“I’m very angry. Not with myself but because I’m 100% sure this wasn’t my fault”

We were all expecting another Ducati steamroller, like two weeks earlier in Argentina, where the Bolognese massive didn’t even need a factory bike to monopolise the podium.

Most confused man on Sunday was Pecco Bagnaia. Anyone can slide off in the wet like he did at Termas, but in the dry, almost halfway through the race, when he had found his rhythm and still had good rubber beneath him? How does that happen?

No wonder he looked shellshocked at his media debrief, like he was still processing the enormity of chucking away 45 points in two races.

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“I don’t know what happened,” he said, after losing the front at the tricky negative camber Turn 2 right-hander on lap eight of 20. “I never lost the front all the weekend, then in the race, when I was in total control, I crashed. I’m very angry. Not with myself but because I’m 100% sure this wasn’t my fault today.”

Then Bagnaia – who had easily won Saturday’s sprint race – got interesting, suggesting that maybe the Desmosedici is too good. This is not something I’ve ever heard a motorcycle racer say, but only recently I spoke to rider from a rival factory who had tested a radical aero update.

“Through this fast corner the bike was incredible – total grip and totally solid – but then I realised I didn’t know why and I couldn’t feel why…”

Bagnaia’s comments sounded similar. “I feel unbeatable, I feel like I can do everything. Like today, I was going fast. But without taking any risk, without crazy things. I was entering Turn 2 very calm because I know it’s the most slippery. And I still crashed.


Bagnaia, leads Aleix Espargaró and Rins moments after the start – only Rins survived the race


“So… I really hope my team will help me on that. The potential and the performance of the GP23 is incredible, the best bike I’ve ever ridden. But… for the race we have to understand what happened.”

What motorcycle racers – unlike car racers – need more anything is feel and feedback, so the bike, the chassis, the suspension and the tyres can say to them: you are getting close to the limit, unless you listen to us you’re going to crash.

Bagnaia never got that warning.

“We have the best bike on the grid but if you crash and you don’t know why it’s useless. Maybe I’d prefer a more unstable bike, to go one-tenth slower and understand everything better. Maybe this bike has too much filter, because it’s so stable…”

That may be true, but it’s also true that Bagnaia needs to have another word with himself. He needs to find some kind of happy medium between Mr Perfect and Mr Mistake. His record recovery from 91 points down last year was something else, but he really won’t want to do that again.

Whatever the reasons for Bagnaia’s demise, Álex Rins didn’t care. He had led very briefly then settled into second place, chasing the Ducati, keeping the world champion under pressure from a few tenths back. Somehow it seemed unlikely he had what it took to get back in front, but then…

Rins’ win was richly deserved, proved his talent to many unbelievers and made a lot of people happy: himself, who must’ve wondered what the future held when he signed on the same HRC dotted line that Jorge Lorenzo and Pol Espargaró had signed, for team owner Lucio Cecchinello, who hadn’t won a race in five years, for the entire LCR crew, and for the HRC staff, who had finally brought to an end Honda’s biggest losing streak since 1981.


Lucio Cecchinello celebrates LCR’s first victory since 2018

LCR Honda

Rins goes well at COTA. He’s won in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP, famously beating Valentino Rossi there in 2019, for his first premier-class success.

The 27-year-old admitted that even cycling around the circuit on Thursday he had a big grin on his face. He therefore already knew something was possible and he certainly wasn’t scared of riding the RC213V around MotoGP’s rodeo racetrack, its maddest, bumpiest circuit.

And the RC213V loves the place too – it’s won eight victories from MotoGP’s ten visits: one to Rins, seven to Marc Márquez, who this time was absent from injury.

LCR crew chief Christophe ‘Beefy’ Bourguignon has worked with Rins since last November, so he wasn’t too surprised by Sunday’s success either.

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“In Argentina Alex wasn’t bad in the wet, in fact he was going really good until he had vision issues – if not he would’ve made the top five, easy,” he said on Sunday evening, as the LCR garage became party central.

It seems that Rins – with his thoughtful way of riding and his physicality on the bike – already has the measure of the RC213V, which proved just too much for so many others.

“People say the Honda doesn’t turn, then you see Alex in COTA’s [madly twisting] first sector and he’s the master. Okay, he said he was really struggling – but he was on rails, like a machine!

“We know the Honda needs to be ridden at the limit. Alex showed, especially in the sprint race [which he finished second] that he’s able to do that and still have the confidence to carry on. I’m really impressed.

“Since the beginning I’ve had a good feeling – that he’s the sort of guy that when you give him the right bike he is able to extract something special. Like his throttle trace and things like that are really good. When he starts spinning he can stop the spinning, while some riders keep going and going with the throttle. He wants more in his hand. He says if he feels like he has more grip he can use more throttle and if he doesn’t have grip he uses less.”


Miller thought he was on for a win until a “bee’s dick” ruined things


Suzuki told me the same thing when Rins first rode the GSX-RR in 2017. It may sound like a simple skill, but it’s not.

“We are not running anything outside a normal set-up,” continued Bourguignon. “I’m really surprised the way he holds tight corners – he’s able to go to the apex, then you think he’s going to go wide, then you see his head turns and he’s gone! A little bit like Scott Russell.

“He rides well. He kept the pressure on Pecco, but even those last laps, with those guys [Luca Marini and Fabio Quartararo] behind him weren’t easy.

“Anyway, let’s keep our feet on the ground. I always try to stay away from emotion – keep your head down and go the same way, doesn’t matter if you are at the front of the grid or at the back. Let’s see, maybe with a bit more support from HRC we can try to improve the bike more.”

“I want to feel the torque in my arse – at the moment there is too much filter”

Cecchinello was delighted with LCR’s first victory since Cal Crutchlow’s 2018 success in Argentina.

“When we were discussing the next chapter with Honda I pushed very hard to have an experienced rider,” he said. “The thing that surprises me most about Alex is that he is very sensitive to the bike. He can pick up small differences and explain these very precisely to the technicians and he knows what he wants.

“The first thing he said when he arrived was, ‘Guys, maybe I’m an old rider but I want less electronics, I want to, how do you say, feel the torque in my arse – at the moment there is too much filter.’ Honda supported him by changing the configuration and they did many changes, just tiny changes and we have improved the bike in many small areas.

“Alex said last week he wants more evolution parts, but we try to hold him back: OK, first, let’s extract the best out of what we have and then it will be easier to find a better way. In the past we sometimes had four different Honda riders using four different chassis. Now the style is to reduce that to a maximum of two options.


Quartararo worked his usual miracles but had no answer for Marini’s rocketship


“Many people say Honda only win because of Marc, but now Honda has won with a non-Marc and a satellite team, which means a lot to them. I hope they will take LCR more seriously now, so we can work to get out of this hole.”

HRC will surely listen to Rins. When Márquez was winning everything, HRC engineers naturally focused on his wishlist. Now they have someone else to help them out of the hole.

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When Jack Miller signed for Red Bull KTM last year many people assumed he would be living in the shadow of star KTM rider Brad Binder. But nothing could be further from the truth.

On Sunday at COTA he fought through from tenth on the grid to third on the first lap, then started matching Bagnaia and Rins on lap times, then closing the gap, then sliding off through COTA’s zigzag section.

“Going from Turn 6 to 7 I was coming in from wider than usual, which loaded the rear and when she unloaded the rear that put more weight on the front and I was down,” he said after his sixth off of the weekend.

“It was a bee’s dick, but that’s all it takes around here. This track is slippery and unforgiving. You get no warning, so you can hold the bike on your elbow for as long as you want but that’s not going to stop you crashing.”

Which is why there were accidents galore in all three classes.

“It was difficult to keep calm when Marini’s rocketship came past”

“I honestly felt the victory was there,” Miller added. “During the early laps the guys in front were gapping me through the triple right-hander [Turns 16, 17 and 18]. They were on and off the gas, pushing the rear a lot, whereas I was kinda conservative, keeping partial throttle. Then Rins was starting to spin a bit more in acceleration, so I thought we were going to make a good show today, but we all say that when we’re laying in the gravel trap!”

“I love the KTM and I feel like we’re still getting to grips with her. Every time I ride the bike it puts more and more of a smile on my face – the way I can brake with it, the way I can work it. It’s a fun bike to ride, it’s already a great package and it’s going to get better and better.”

Fabio Quartararo wishes he could say the same. The 2021 champion had spent most of the weekend in despondent mood, fully aware that COTA’s ice-like surface and its 0.75-mile/1.2km straight were exactly what the M1 didn’t need.


Marini’s first podium was deserved – how long before he makes the top step?


But he never gave up – losing the front, losing the rear, getting kicked out of the seat and landing on his groin – none of that convinced him to take it easy and wait for more M1-friendly racetracks.

His ride to third, from the third row of the grid, was a minor miracle, thanks in part to Bagnaia and Miller, of course. He knew it would all be down to the first lap – charge his way past most of his V4 rivals, to find some cool air for his front tyre and some space to carve his inline-four lines. His plan worked perfectly. When he was promoted to second he stayed there until the ever-more impressive Luca Marini motored past him on the back straight.

“I brought a lot of motivation and confidence into the race,” said Quartararo. “Even though I had so much wheelie, which was difficult to accept. And it was difficult to keep calm when Marini’s rocketship came past.”

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MotoGP 2023: the real aero war starts now

MotoGP 2023: the real aero war starts now

MotoGP’s first pre-season tests at Sepang had every factory using ground-effect aerodynamics for the first time. But Ducati’s aero is still the best – good enough to put Luca Marini on top aboard a GP22

By Mat Oxley

Earlier in the weekend he had been much gloomier.

“Braking is the only point where we can gain time, and when you play with the limit like that you make mistakes,” he’d said on Saturday after falling in the sprint. “I followed Pecco and they make the lap time using much more power with less wheelie and the same traction and they go away.”

It’s the usual problem: Quartararo’s inline-four M1 doesn’t have the horsepower to carry the draggy downforce aero which makes the V4s so fast around the racetrack.

“The problem is that to use this amount of aero you need to have an engine,” he added. “These bikes don’t even look like bikes, they look like rocketships! They have wings on the top, the bottom, the middle, the back. To use that you have to have a lot of power and use it in a way that brings you downforce in acceleration and also helps you to turn. I think we are years back in this area.”

And this problem is only likely to get worse as MotoGP’s aero war continues unabated…

Race Results - 2023 Americas MotoGP