MotoGP lands in Latin America this weekend for round two at Argentina’s Termas de Rio Hondo. Andrea Dovizioso leads the field into South America ahead of Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow. Suzuki’s Alex Rins and Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi fill out the top five in the standings after round one.
It’s more than simply a change of scenery too, with the 4,806m circuit a severe test of riders, machinery and especially tyres. Its abrasive surface, mixed with high temperatures, and increased loads that are created throughout the five left and nine right-hand turns, plus its long straight in excess of one kilometre, means the Michelin rubber faces one of its most stringent tests of the whole season.
The surface at Termas underwent changes last year, due to the resurfacing of most of the layout, but many of the sessions in 2018 were interrupted by wet weather, meaning riders never had the chance to fully exploit the range of tyres at last year’s event, so tyre provider Michelin will be hoping for improved conditions to give it the chance to demonstrate its ability at a track where it hasn’t had a fully dry event since its return to MotoGP in 2016. The track is also generally very dirty for the earlier sessions, and times drop markedly during the weekend as the surface cleans up.
With heat partnered by humidity, the floodlights of Losail are a distant memory and the record books see a switch around, for Termas de Rio Hondo traditionally has one man setting the pace: Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). But pace, history shows, is not always the winning ingredient.
From 2014 to 2017, Marquez started from pole in Argentina, and in both 2014 and 2016 the reigning Champion took the win. But in 2015 the number 93 clashed with Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and also crashed in 2017, both he and then team-mate Dani Pedrosa both slid out of contention – Marquez from the lead.
Last season amped up the drama even further as Marquez’ race went from disaster on the grid to failing to score after three penalties and another clash with Rossi – this one seeing the ‘Doctor’ hit the deck.
It’s not just Marquez who has shown good pace at Termas de Rio Hondo for Honda, however. The aforementioned Pedrosa took some top results and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) took two podiums even before his stunning win in the chaos of the 2018 event.
That bodes well for both him and new arrival at Repsol Honda Jorge Lorenzo, himself a podium finisher at the track previously, as the number 99 battles to improve upon a tough season opener in Qatar after a huge highside left him bruised for race day. That’s without remembering the five-time World Champion remains in recovery from a broken scaphoid.
After said Qatar race day, Yamaha will also be looking to improve upon Round 1 but their record in Argentina makes for good reading. Rossi won that 2015 event, who could forget, and teammate Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) took victory in Argentina in 2017 as part of a triple threat of wins to begin the season. Yamaha will be hoping for more of that and less of the struggles they encountered last year.
With Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and team-mate Fabio Quartararo also on 2019 machines it’s a big push, and in Qatar certainly the two Independent Team riders kept them more than honest at times. Quartararo, forced into a pitlane start after stalling on the grid, was the fastest man on track for much of the Qatar GP – the rookie has most definitely arrived, and impressed.
Meanwhile at Ducati, it was 25-points to begin the year in style for Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati Team) as the Italian once again outwitted Marquez at a final corner. Last season it was a similar story in Round 1, but then it was two more difficult weekends for the Borgo Panigale factory rider. Will that remain true in 2019 and see ‘DesmoDovi’ racing for damage limitation before we head into the meat of the season in Europe? Or was Qatar not quite the whole picture?
New teammate Danilo Petrucci will be hoping it wasn’t but for different reasons as the Italian was left disappointed in sixth, so a push to reassert some of his preseason pace can be expected too.
Likewise Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing), who had seat trouble that took him out of the Qatar season opener, and was P4 from pole in Argentina last year, and his new rookie teammate Francesco Bagnaia, whose pace from the Sepang test went a bit AWOL in the season opener. Argentina has been a tough venue at times for ‘Pecco’, but MotoGP is a different ball game.
Despite the longer track records of others, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) could actually prove the biggest threat to Honda in Argentina though. Fast in testing, fast at Losail and only just off the podium, it was a good start to the season – and Termas de Rio Hondo is where the Suzuki rider took his first ever premier class podium.
On a streak of top six finishes in the last eight races, do not count out Rins as the former Championship contender in the smaller classes continues coming of age in MotoGP – and some speed from rookie teammate Joan Mir can likely be expected too. Mir shone in his first premier class race and he’s won at the venue before in Moto3, from 16th on the grid no less.
The cast of riders fighting within that top ten doesn’t stop there. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) will be gunning to tame Termas and take a few more points than his tenth place in Qatar, new teammate Andrea Iannone was nearly on the podium there previously although on a different bike, and Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) has rostrum form.
Zarco took a point on his KTM debut at Losail, but he’ll be pushing to get more on a par with teammate Pol Espargaro as he gains more experience.
Espargaro was P11 last year in Argentina and started this season with a P12 in Qatar, but the gap to the front was smaller again. So what can he do? And can rookie Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) keep the KTM veteran honest as he threatened to do in an impressive season opener?
After the closest ever top 15 in Qatar, tune in for the Gran Premio Motul de la Republica Argentina at Termas de Rio Hondo on the 31st of March as MotoGP tango to the beat of a different drum and history saddles up to be made once again.
The opening race of the new era of Triumph power was undoubtedly a triumph: records broken and just 0.026 separating first from second, it was a fitting way to kick 2019 into gear. Now though it’s time to head for Termas de Rio Hondo, a very different challenge and one the grid approaches with no data.
That leaves everyone going back to the drawing board as they get a taste of the track for the first time since the technical changes, so will Qatar duellers Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) and Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) stay ahead of the game?
Lüthi has been on the podium in Argentina, as have Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), so it’s good reading for the Swiss rider and more. But Baldassarri has some fourth place finishes, as well as a front row start last season, so his record has plenty to say too.
Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) and Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team), after their fight to complete the podium in Qatar, will be aiming to keep the ball rolling as well – and that’s without looking through a host of riders looking to bounce back after a more difficult season opener…
Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) won’t have been happy with seventh, although he beat new teammate Vierge, and another of many pacesetters in testing, Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) was a little down the order.
That was also true of Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), who finished Qatar as top KTM but in P12, and a few of those big hitters are looking to hit back early. The three races that open the season are all very different and there’s plenty of time left on the clock in 2019, but the 25 points up for grabs every weekend is the same.
The man who landed the first blow in the fight to be crowned Rookie of the Year, meanwhile, was Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team). Taking P9 and finishing just ahead of the experienced Vierge, it was an impressive performance from the Italian.
His closest challenger for the honour of top debutant was Fabio Di Giannantonio (+Ego Speed Up) in P11, a second ahead of Binder, so he’ll be looking to turn the tables quick.
Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo), meanwhile, took a point on his debut, but the reigning Moto3 World Champion has since had some surgery. How will he fare in what seems like a close fight for the rookies?
Moto2 2019 Standings following Round 1
Lorenzo BALDASSARRI – Kalex, ITA – 25
Thomas LUTHI – Kalex, SWI – 20
Marcel SCHROTTER – Kalex, GER – 16
Remy GARDNER – Kalex, AUS – 13
Augusto FERNANDEZ – Kalex, SPA – 11
Sam LOWES – Kalex, GBR – 10
Alex MARQUEZ – Kalex, SPA – 9
Luca MARINI – Kalex, ITA – 8
Enea BASTIANINI – Kalex, ITA – 7
Xavi VIERGE – Kalex, SPA – 6
Fabio DI GIANNANTONIO – Speed Up, ITA – 5
Brad BINDER – KTM, RSA – 4
Andrea LOCATELLI – Kalex, ITA – 3
Jesko RAFFIN – NTS, SWI – 2
Jorge MARTIN – KTM, SPA – 1
As we head into Round 2 of the season, it remains everything to play for by definition, but for Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) even more so this time around.
Racing in Qatar despite breaking his collarbone in the test there, the Argentine scored a point to open his account for 2019 but he’ll want much more on home turf as he could become the first Argentine rider to win in the lightweight category. Last year he started from third, and he’ll be hoping the couple of weekends in between the season opener and the long trip to Termas de Rio Hondo will put him right back in the mix at the front.
Finishing near the front in any Moto3 race is far from an easy task, however, and there are plenty of rivals trying to spoil the party. First time GP winner Kaito Toba finds himself in the position of Championship leader and high on confidence after Qatar, and the likes of Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), who took pole and a podium at Losail, and Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing Team), who was just half a tenth off the win, will be buoyed by their season opener as well.
Their experience rivals Rodrigo’s too, although the man with the most experience of winning in the class was unable to play all his cards in Qatar and will likely remain top of the list of expected frontrunners: Romano Fenati (Snipers Team).
After a more difficult start at Losail, the Italian veteran sliced back through the pack to the front and unleashed some incredible moves along the way before a mistake reading a track limits warning left him a little out of position near the end of the race. Ultimately it was a ninth place for Fenati on his return and that will not be enough, with the target for Argentina much higher – especially as he’s the only man on the grid to have already won there.
Meanwhile teammate Tony Arbolino took pole last year, Canet’s been on the podium at Termas de Rio Hondo and so has John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing), and the likes of Andrea Migno (Bester Capital Dubai) and Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0) have had top results. Lopez also has a new face alongside him in the garage this weekend as 2019 teammate Sergio Garcia joins the fray.
Absent in Qatar due to being underage, the Spaniard can now race as he’s past his 16th birthday and he’ll be looking to make a mark against his fellow rookies. Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) was top rookie in Qatar in P7, taking an early lead in the fight for Rookie of the Year, but this is new turf for everyone without a test beforehand…
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