#292 CotA: Looking into the Crystal Palace

The Circuit of the Americas has all the potential to quickly become this continent’s most important race venue. But are there still bugs to be worked out though? Possibly. Bridgestone’s lead tire engineer hints at that.

For this issue, Bertrand Gahel reports from the press introduction of Ducati’s Panigale R, staged at the new Circuit of the Americas at Austin, Texas. Bertrand raves about the Ducati, but he’s also filled with admiration for CotA, calling it the most impressive facility of its kind in North America.
“It’s quite simply awe inspiring and can only be compared to the excesses of the most lavish tracks of the Middle East [that] were built with oil money and where nothing was too expensive.”
CotA seems destined then to become the new Crystal Palace of motosport, perhaps supplanting legendary houses such as Daytona International Speedway in terms of importance. Already the venue has been the site for a round of MotoGP, the most prestigious brand of motorcycle racing on the planet. But the “green” track itself is not perfect, and in his praise Bertrand is quick to differentiate between CotA as facility, versus CotA the race course.
So, in the days following the inaugural Austin MotoGP on Apr. 21, it was interesting to hear the opinions of Masao Azuma, who spoke on the topic of CotA. Azuma is the lead engineer of Bridgestone’s motorsport tire development department while Bridgestone is, of course, the supplier of tires to this year’s MotoGP series.
As background to the following interview, it can be noted that the slick compound choices for the event were soft and medium for the front, and soft, medium, and hard for the rear. Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez took the win in the premier class on a sunny 45C day.

The Americas Grand Prix was the first race where the Claiming Rules Team riders had their own, softer rear slick allocation compared to the works riders. What was the verdict from the riders on this change to tire supply?

MA: The feedback we received on the CRT-specific rear slicks was overwhelmingly positive and all the riders on this specification of machine used their specific soft compound rear slick throughout practice, qualifying and for the race. The provision of slicks to CRT riders that are one step softer than for the works riders is important not just to improve the safety of the CRT riders, but to also give them tire compounds more suited to the lesser power outputs of their machinery to help them bridge the performance gap to the prototypes.
The layout of the Circuit of the Americas means having a lower power output is even more of a disadvantage than normal, but the performance of riders like Aleix Espargaro who both qualified and finished the race ahead of some prototype bikes shows that giving the CRT teams tire compounds more suited to their level of performance is a change for the better. We may see at tighter circuits such as Jerez and Laguna Seca that the CRT riders can take another step towards the works bikes in terms of lap time.

The track conditions changed considerably from the first free practice session to the race. How did this affect tire performance and did you expect these kind of weather conditions at Austin?

MA: The Circuit of the Americas is new and hasn’t been used heavily so we did expect that the track would be ‘green’ for the first session. However, the race weekend in Austin experienced an unseasonable cold snap and there was very heavy rain on the day before the first practice session as well as strong, cold winds on Friday. All these factors combined to present very low grip levels on Friday, and so the softer slick options were preferred during these sessions. Almost all the riders said that the track on Friday morning was extremely challenging with little grip. From a tire perspective though we are happy, as in that cold morning session the warmup performance and enhanced rider feel engineered into our current generation of MotoGP tires enabled them to negotiate the circuit safely and there were no crashes. After a couple of challenging sessions on Friday, both the weather and track began to improve and as a result we began to see more variety in the slick tire compounds being selected.

Bridgestone used the two pre-season tests at this circuit to decide on compound specifications for this race. Did you learn anything new over the race weekend regarding tire performance at this circuit?

MA: We already had a lot of information from the two pre-season tests at this circuit but yes, having all the bikes on the circuit competing in a wide range of track conditions provided us with lots of additional data and some insights that we didn’t get from testing. Overall, tire performance at the Circuit of the Americas was very good, but analysis of the race tires after the event has revealed some valuable information that can help us when developing tires for next year’s Americas Grand Prix.”