Kicking things off was the inauguration of the “Garden of The Champions” with the winner of both of the previous races held at the Circuit of the Americas, Marc Marquez. The reigning MotoGP™ World Champion planted a tree bearing his name in a privileged place within the Plaza as part of the FIM’s #RideGreen campaign.
Up next was the official MotoGP™ press conference where Nicky Hayden, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, Bradley Smith and Andrea Iannone assembled in front of the world’s media to give their impressions on the upcoming race.
Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez is hoping to maintain his 100% record at COTA having never lost in the US in the MotoGP™ class. The reigning MotoGP™ Champion completing back-to-back wins at the circuit since it was added to the World Championship Calendar in 2013. The young Spaniard is looking to bounce back from an awful start in Qatar that meant he had to make his through the pack from very last place to finish in 5th: “I like it here in Austin and the rest of the US tracks. It is good for the bike and for my riding style, as it’s more of a “stop and go” track, unlike Qatar which is all about corner speed.”
Marquez denied having any input into the choice of teammate to replace Dani Pedrosa in Austin, with Hiroshi Aoyama chosen ahead of Casey Stoner, and said he respected the team’s decision. He was also asked if he had “made up” with Alvaro Bautista after the controversial clash between them on the first lap in Qatar: “I spoke to Alvaro and we are fine, I sent him a WhatsApp.”
Movistar Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi currently leads the Championship standings after winning the first race of the season in Qatar, although he is wary of the threat posed by Marquez: “On this track Marc is always very strong. Not only does the track suit the Honda, but especially it suits Marc!” The nine-times World Champion said he is targeting the podium in Austin, after admitting that he has changed his riding style to allow him to get the most out of the new Yamaha M1.
Rossi also addressed the rumours that he and Lorenzo might be racing in the Suzuka 8 Hour race: “I would love to race with Jorge, and also it would be great to get on the new R1, but I don’t know the date of the race and in the past it was a big effort to get there (2000 & 20001) so this year maybe not, but maybe in the future.”
Andrea Iannone claimed his first MotoGP™ podium for the Factory Ducati Team at Losail, and feels confident but realises Austin is a completely different circuit: “Here, everything is different, the track is not so easy and it is a completely different design, very technical.”
The Italian went on to discuss the new Desmosedici designed by Luigi Dall’Igna: “The GP15 is a surprise this year as it is very fast and the performance is already high, so I am really happy as we are only just starting its development.”
Jorge Lorenzo was affected by a helmet issue in Qatar that stopped him competing for the win, and meant he had to settle for 4th place. The Movistar Yamaha rider addressed the problem by saying: “It was human error and these things happen. I made a mistake last year but we are a team, and the whole team can make a mistake, this time it was HJC. Now it has happened, and we are over it. I was frustrated after the race but I have to accept that mistakes can happen.”
The double MotoGP™ World Champion was also asked how he can beat Marquez in Austin: “We have to go for the win. In the past it was hard to win and obviously the past two years have been very difficult, but we have different tyres and a different bike and the Yamaha is more competitive than last year. My goal is to do better than 2013 when I finished 3rd.”
Monster Tech 3 Yamaha’s Bradley Smith, who just missed out on being the top Satellite rider in Qatar by 0.5s, is looking forward to the race after finishing in 5th at COTA last season, although admits his team have a tough job: “As satellite riders we have the hardest job because as you saw in Qatar, I had to go through Q1 which was hard due to the softer tyres lots of the riders were using. But myself and Pol are happy with the new M1 from Yamaha, and we can certainly do a good job like Valentino and Jorge did in Qatar.”
The 2006 MotoGP™ Champion Nicky Hayden, on the Open Class Aspar MotoGP Team Honda, will be starting his 200th premier class race on Sunday and is delighted to be reaching this landmark in front of his home fans: “It doesn’t feel like 200, it’s been a long time and I don’t want to play it up too much, as I haven’t won as many as I would have liked. That said I have had a lot of great support, and I am still here trying to tread water.”
Hayden was presented with a special cake by his parents during the press conference and feels the new Open Class Honda is a better package in 2015 compared to last year: “The engine is better and the bike is more powerful, although this makes the electronics more important. We need to focus on this to get the most out of the extra power available on the bike.”
Finally, Rossi caused the biggest laugh of press conference when asked if he had watched the race in Qatar on TV, to which he replied “At least ten times, although while watching it again was good, it was more fun actually being on the bike during those last two laps with Dovizioso.”
With the press conference concluded, it was time for local boy Nicky Hayden to enjoy himself as he took out Scott Redding (GBR), Jonas Folger (GER), Xavier Simeon (BEL), Alexis Masbou (FRA) and Enea Bastianini (ITA) to enjoy a distinctly American lunch of hamburgers and French fries at Wild Bubba’s Wild Game Grill. The riders took a tour of the restaurant’s kitchen and received a cooking lesson from owner Wyman “Wild Bubba” Gilliam himself. COTA also presented each with a personalised University of Texas football jersey that included their name and number. They then had lunch in the restaurant’s outdoor beer garden.