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Tight at the top as MotoGP heads to Europe

Five riders are within eight points of the championship lead

Gulf News

Austin: Maverick Vinales was a distant second to Marc Marquez at the Grand Prix of the Americas. Still, he felt confident enough to send a message to his Spanish countryman about the rest of the MotoGP season as the series heads to its European heartland.

“We are coming,” the Movistar Yamaha rider warned. “We feel quite strong.”

After races in Qatar, Argentina and Texas, MotoGP will resume its season in Jerez, Spain on May 6, kicking off a summer of races on European tracks that should bring Marquez back to the pack. Or bring the pack up to him.

And the racing should be wild: With three winners after three races, five riders are within eight points of the championship lead.

Ducati’s Italian rider, Andrea Dovizioso, who battled Marquez for the 2017 championship, leads with 46 points, one point ahead of Marquez and his Repsol Honda. Vinales is only four points behind Marquez in third. Then come the top independent team riders in Britain’s Cal Crutchlow and France’s Johann Zarco.

Crutchlow won in Argentina and was the first British rider to lead MotoGP until his 19th-place finish in Texas. He was battling Zarco for sixth in Texas until a late-race clash doomed his chances to pick up any points.

“I’m not a sixth-place rider this year. So I’m not going to settle for sixth,” Crutchlow said. “I was fast enough to be second.”

Marquez was expected to dominate in Texas, taking his sixth straight win on a circuit where he’s been invincible.

Europe will be different

The Circuit of the Americas track was built for the cars of Formula One and it favours Marquez and his bike with its hairpin turns and long straights. The smaller, narrower European tracks force riders into more turns, braking manoeuvres and racing moves that test their skills in different ways.

“It’s a combination of him and the bike” in Texas, Vinales said of Marquez. “In the corners he pulls away… I can’t wait to be in Europe.”

The European tracks do even out the racing field. In 2017, four different riders won the first five races. Marquez didn’t get a European win until the sixth race on the continent. But after his win on Sunday, he fired his own warning shot with his usual beaming smile.

“I feel really sweet with the bike,” Marquez said.

The wheel-to-wheel racing will also test Marquez’s aggressive style that has seen him clash with riders and cause some crashes already this season.

His aggressive moves in Argentina drew two penalties and a warning for all riders that MotoGP will issue tougher sanctions for dangerous racing. Marquez felt their sting first when he was docked three spots on the starting grid in Texas for impeding Vinales in qualifying.

Not wanting to risk more trouble, Marquez bolted for the front and once he got the lead pushed hard to pull away.

“I changed my strategy,” Marquez said. “I didn’t have the confidence to battle.”

Dovizioso, who finished second in the 2017 championship, won the first race this season and won four times in Europe last year to push Marquez to the end.

“There are more competitive riders and anything can happen in Jerez and Le Mans [France],” Dovizioso told MotoGP.com. “We’re going home first in the championship and the season is long.”

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