Yamaha's Maverick Vinales will be out to continue his perfect start to the 2017 MotoGP season, as the riders head to the Circuit of the Americas for the United States Grand Prix.
Since his move to Yamaha, the young Spaniard has excelled, taking the chequered flag on his full team debut at the season-opening Qatar event before repeating the trick at Round 2 in Argentina. Vinales is the man they'll all be trying to stop this weekend.
But, as is always the case with MotoGP, there are a clutch of stellar names that'll be keen to knock the youngster off his perch. They will include veteran team-mate Valentino Rossi—third and second in the first two races—and defending champion Marc Marquez, who has yet to finish on the podium.
Here's the schedule for the weekend in Austin, Texas, the details on where you can stream the action and a closer look at some competitors that'll be keen to perform.
|MotoGP Grand Prix of Americas 2017: Schedule|
|Friday, April 21||9:55 a.m. - 10:40 a.m.||Practice 1|
|Friday, April 21||2:05 p.m. - 2:50 p.m.||Practice 2|
|Saturday, April 22||9:55 a.m. - 10:40 a.m.||Practice 3|
|Saturday, April 22||1:30 p.m. - 2 p.m.||Practice 4|
|Saturday, April 22||2:10 p.m. - 2:25 p.m.||Qualifying 1|
|Saturday, April 22||2:35 p.m. - 2:50 p.m.||Qualifying 2|
|Sunday, April 23||2 p.m.||Race|
Although Vinales showed plenty of promise in his first two years in MotoGP with Suzuki, few would have expected him to have such a good start to his time with Yamaha.
They were two very different displays from the 22-year-old, too. Vinales recovered after a poor start from pole in Qatar, moving through to take the lead late on and hold off a late rally from Andrea Dovizioso. In Argentina, he capitalised from a peculiar error from Marquez.
As noted by The Fat Biker, it's a long time since a Yamaha debutant enjoyed such a positive start to life with the team:
Indeed, Vinales was the first Yamaha rider to take top spot on his opening appearance for the team since Rossi did so in 2004. The challenge for the wily Italian now will be finding a way to cling on to the coattails of his younger team-mate.
Not that it's been a bad start to the season for the man known as The Doctor. A third-place finish in Qatar was bettered by second in Argentina; there have been some signs that Rossi is beginning to settle into a groove.
Vinales and Rossi will have to bring their best if they're to get the better of Marquez, though, as he's been untouchable at the Circuit of the Americas in recent years.
Indeed, since it was added to the MotoGP schedule in 2013, the Honda world champion has won every race he's been involved in there from pole. After his error in Argentina, this is arguably the perfect race for Marquez to respond and get his 2017 campaign up and running.
As the Box Repsol Twitter feed noted recently, not only does Marquez excel in qualifying at the Circuit of the Americas, he's one of the best qualifiers in MotoGP history:
Vinales, who has finished fourth and 10th at this circuit with Suzuki, believes his own riding style aligns well with the track.
"I think it is an excellent circuit for my riding style, I love the up and down track, with lots of elevation, so I'm so excited to see how my M1 will work here and how I'm going to feel riding the Yamaha," said the world championship leader, per crash.net. "I'm confident and I know that I can do another good race weekend."
As strong as Vinales has been to this point, taming Marquez at this venue has been a step too far for so many riders. If the Yamaha man was to overhaul his compatriot, then he has to be considered a genuine contender for the title.
Marquez looked to have the pace on the Honda in Argentina and would have undoubtedly been in contention to win if not for his mishap. At a circuit where he only has positive memories from years gone by, expect the champion to ignite his campaign.
Prediction: 1. Marquez, 2. Vinales, 3. Rossi