Australian Jack Miller scored his first podium for almost three years at the Circuit of the Americas on Monday morning (AEST), taking third place behind Alex Rins after Marc Marquez’s domination of the Texas circuit ended in dramatic fashion.
Spaniard Rins secured his debut victory by slipping past Valentino Rossi in the closing stages of the race to become the first rider to win in Austin in all three categories.
Miller opted to go onto the soft tyre for the race, meaning despite early pace he began to lost grip in the closing stages as Andrea Dovizioso closed in on him.
Whincup, meanwhile, is winless after 18 races in 2019. In fact, he hasn’t tasted victory since last season’s Sandown 500, marking a 24-race winless streak – his worst such streak since joining Triple Eight in 2006.
Teammate Shane van Gisbergen has won races at Tasmania and last time out in soggy Townsville. That day, in chaotic conditions, it was the series’ most successful driver who pushed hardest, yet came up with a big fat zero and a bent Commodore.
In slippery conditions, Whincup had worked his way from 12th to fifth by Lap 15 before making a rare error that left his team “surprised”.
Year on year, there are few silver linings for Whincup. Post-Townsville 12 months ago, he was 451 points off the pace, albeit having reaped nine podiums including three wins. In 2019, he’s 640 points behind with just six podiums to his name.
One of those podiums came on the Saturday at Townsville, proving Whincup still has pace, but the ability to unlock it on a consistent basis is where it’s hurting most.
In 2019, Whincup’s average qualifying position is 7.9. To this point last year, it was 4.3. Eight times this season, he has failed to qualify in the top 10.
Thursday’s test at Queensland Raceway – with Whincup also spending time at the wheel of van Gisbergen’s car – was crucial for the team to try and unlock the secrets as to why things aren’t going to plan.
Whincup hits the wall
“There’s a few things, four or five things have really confused us over the last four or five months,” Whincup said.
“We didn’t have as much clarity as we would have liked, but we got a lot more clarity with a few things today.
“With the limited test days the category has got, every one is vital.
“We’ve been hanging for this day for a long time to really validate some things we’ve been trying at race meetings and have a lot better understanding for a lot of set-up things in the car.”
Whincup and Lowndes won three Bathurst 1000s on the trot over a decade ago, and come enduro time, few would bet against the pair to bring the magic back in 2019.
Admitting teams are “massively deprived” of testing, Thursday’s long day at Queensland Raceway was more a chance for the team to find Whincup the best possible package. That meant Lowndes had few laps behind the wheel, but Whincup stressed his veteran co-driver-turned-broadcaster will click regardless.
“There was some serious learning going on,” Whincup said.
“We would have loved to have given Lowndesy more laps, but our program was massive.
“We got through a lot, so it’s a compromise of doing a lot of learning with the car or giving Craig more laps.
“The best thing for Lowndesy in the enduros is to give him the best car.”
IMPRESSIVE F1 rookie Lando Norris has urged Lewis Hamilton to “stick around” in the sport until McLaren are competing at the front again so that the two British drivers can race each other.
Norris and Hamilton are both enjoying superb seasons; the McLaren youngster has made a dazzling start to his career, while Hamilton is on course for a sixth world title and nearing Michael Schumacher’s records.
But although McLaren have made huge improvements in F1 2019, Norris believes he won’t be able to battle Hamilton wheel-to-wheel for at least another two years – and the world champion’s current contract at Mercedes expires at the end of next season.
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“We’ve had a number of years’ experience here in very wet conditions recently with the old surface and have been able to run races,” Webb said after last year’s debacle.
“This year, with the new surface, is the first time we’ve encountered quite so much standing water in critical places on the track. So yes it’s a direct result of the track surface.”
The circuit was completely resurfaced again last month, and the work was praised by F1 drivers following the weekend’s action.
However, Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo conceded some sections of the track – that didn’t affect F1 drivers too much – will have MotoGP riders up in arms.
The resurfacing couldn’t hide bumps into certain corners, with the standout the Turn 6 left-hander at Brooklands.
The work was carried out by West Midlands-based company Tarmac, with Italian track designers Dromo – responsible for work at other MotoGP venues – overseeing the upgrades.
Ever honest, Ricciardo conceded that riders will be “pretty angry” when they encounter the bumpy circuit on 23-25 August.
“It is still really bumpy in some areas. I don’t think the MotoGP guys will like Turn 6. They are going to kick up a fuss, [but] for us it is alright,” Ricciardo said at Silverstone.
“The rest seems pretty decent… the new surface is pretty good, it offers quite a bit of grip in some areas. Initially this morning it was quite slick and oily, but then it really rubbered in. So that will keep getting better through the weekend.”
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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton added: “The new track surface is better on the straights, especially between Turn 4 and Turn 6 where it was pretty bad before. It’s still bumpy on the exit of Turn 7 and towards Copse, but after that it’s nice and smooth through Maggotts and Becketts and down the Hanger straight.”
It was later revealed that Dromo knew about the problematic Turn 6 bump, with a fix considered prior to the F1 event. However, with such a short turnaround between the resurface work and the F1 event, the plans were tossed out.
Dromo owner Jarno Zaffelli said FIM had inspected the surface the day after the F1 race, with remediation work planned.
However, Zaffelli said he “cannot blame” Tarmac for the bump, as the Brooklands section followed work on the Wellington Straight where Tarmac were still learning the ropes with the temperature-sensitive asphalt.
“We rebuilt up [the surface] in two layers,” Zaffelli told Motorsport.com.
“The first layer was regulated and was quite easy because it was a softer compound.
“When we did the wearing course, it was very difficult and very sensitive to temperature. As hard as you want the material, you need to have more stringent temperature control, and this is exactly what we had.
“The problem is that… we decided to start from the Wellington Straight. The reason being, the Wellington Straight gave the contractor 500, 600 metres to train with this kind of material that was never used in the UK, apart from the trial test we did before.
“But it is always difficult actually going into [and doing] the works. So Brooklands was the first corner of the first day of this new material.”
MotoGP recently secured a one-year extension to keep the race at Silverstone until at least 2021. Last week, F1 secured a new deal to keep their event at the circuit until 2024.