Jack Miller fourth on opening day of MotoGP practice in Argentina
Temperatures soared for MotoGP FP2, the track reaching a staggering 53°C with ambient temperatures at 32.2°C the session proved as much of a physical challenge as any session in Sepang.
Most of the Honda and Suzuki riders went out on new tyres while Movistar Yamaha MotoGP focused on using older Michelins in the opening stage of the session. Aside from tyre life and performance, weather remains a great unknown in Argentina with heavy rain predicted on Saturday and Sunday at the Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina. If it were to rain on Saturday during FP3, then the top ten from Friday would be guaranteed to advance directly to Q2.
With 11 and a half minute to go, riders fitted new tyres and went out with their eyes focused on the top of the time sheets. Fastest of them all was Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) with a 1’41.579, 2.2 seconds faster than in FP1. While Marquez may have had massive problems during testing and for much of the Qatar GP weekend, they seem to have left in Argentina.
It was not just Marquez who proved that the Honda is still a top tier bike, his teammate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) ended only 0.025s behind him. This is just Pedrosa’s second time at the track, having missed the 2015 edition due to arm pump surgery. The Repsol Honda pair were the only riders able to set times in the 1’41s.
Completing the top three was Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar), who set a 1’42.047 after going down at Turn 3. Just behind Viñales was his good friend Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), the Australian back to being almost fully fit and looking stronger than ever.
It wasn’t a flawless session for Miller however; he narrowly avoided contact with Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) mid-session.
“I am really happy with how today went. The bike seems to be working very well here. It is not only the fact that I’m fast, but I am also consistent and strong on used tyres. Conditions are changing lap-by-lap but I’ve been able to adjust and I just hope now that we can build on this to have a strong weekend. The only close call I had was when I nearly ran into the back of Valentino Rossi at turn eight. He braked a little later and I thought I had more stopping power and we touched a little. I thought I might clean him out, but luckily it didn’t happen!
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) improved from 20th in FP1 to end FP2, and the day overall, in fifth. The Brit able to cut close to four seconds off his time and make it four Hondas in the top five, an incredible result after their struggles in Qatar.
Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich), Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Aleix Espargaro (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) completed the top ten and ensured themselves a spot in Q2 if the rain falls tomorrow.
Meanwhile it was a disastrous session for Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), the World Champion down in 14th and 1.240 seconds off the pace. The slippery conditions of the track hurt him more than the other riders, his characteristically smooth style not working at all on the dusty track. Improving his time by just less than two seconds clearly wasn’t enough for the Majorcan who now sets his target as avoiding running in Q1. But with the weather rapidly closing in around the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, he may be unable to accomplish this goal. Lorenzo has proved on countless occasions that a poor grid position can’t stop him and no doubt he’ll be able to progress through the field on Sunday regardless. If it were to rain this would also be the first chance for riders in the premier class to test Michelin’s wet weather offerings, having only had limited runs during testing and never raced on them. It’s looking like an uphill battle for Jorge Lorenzo.
Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) also struggled and was only able to manage 15th.
Aleix Espargaro suffered an early fall at Turn 9 while pushing for a fast lap. He then fell towards the end of the session at Turn 1. Yonny Hernandez (Aspar Team MotoGP) fell at Turn 13 after carrying far too much speed into the corner. All were unharmed and returned to the track soon after their falls.
Michele Pirro, who will fill in for Danilo Petrucci in the Octo Pramac Yakhnich team while Petrucci recovers from further hand surgery, was not present as he had been assisting Ducati at a WorldSBK test in Valencia. He will join the field for FP3 onwards.
Zarco remains in control in Argentina
After a positive morning session, riders in the Moto2 World Championship were back out on track with arguably the best conditions of the day. While temperatures may have continued to rise, more and more rubber had been laid down and grip continued to improve. Throughout the session riders were able to improve their times with almost every lap, edging closer and closer to the record pace of the previous year.
Leading the way once again at the Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina was reigning Moto2™ World Champion, Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport). A final lap of 1’44.533 cemented the French rider at the top of the table, improving his FP1 time by half a second. 2015 saw Zarco take his first win of the season, spurring on his title charge. His start to the Argentina GP in 2016 is even stronger than in 2015, his time slower due to a lesser track condition. The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is rarely used outside of the Grand Prix and as such takes a long time to bed in.
Nabbing second was Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), the Japanese rider 0.190s behind Zarco. Nakagami has not always had the pace to battle for victory but has the ability to be a cat amongst the pigeons at almost any round.
Third fastest was Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), who set his fastest lap towards the end of the session. Lowes is quickly developing a reputation as a rider who builds to his fastest times, especially in Free Practice, striking right at the end. Luck was not on his side in Qatar, but there’s little doubt the Brit will be a podium challenger come race day.
Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) again showed well as he concluded the opening day of practice in Argentina in fourth. The German was only 0.105s behind Nakagami but a mere 0.048s behind Folger was Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS). The Spaniard has had a mixed time in Moto2™ so far but is beginning to be a consistent challenger towards the front.
Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia), Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), Danny Kent (Leopard Racing), Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) and Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) completed a tight top ten who were within 0.590s of each other.
There was an early fall for Xavier Simeon (QMMF Racing Team) at Turn 13, he was unharmed.
Enea Bastianini ends Friday topping both FP1 and FP2 with Fenati and Migno making it an all-Italian top three.
Having topped the timing tables in FP1, Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3) headed into Free Practice 2 full of anticipation. The opening practice session saw riders in the Moto3™ World Championship struggle for grip, the rear of their machines spinning up due to the fine dust on the circuit. With both the MotoGP™ and Moto2™ classes having had a session on track, the circuit was in a much better condition and Bastianini’s 1’52.467 quickly fell as Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) took command early in the session.
With rain and thunderstorms predicted for the coming days, these sessions could be the only dry track time the riders get. Fortunately, it is far easier to go from a dry setting to a wet setting than the reverse, even just two sessions providing a good base of data for teams and riders to work with.
By mid-session all but two riders had improved their times, Bastianini back on top. ‘The Beast’ would remain unbeaten as he continued his fine form at the track to lead both FP1 and FP2. His 1’51.137 was still over two seconds off the circuit record, but did show significant improvement from the morning session.
Just behind were Sky Racing Team VR46 teammates Romano Fenati and Andrea Migno, the pair within 0.166s of their countrymen. Fenati took a hard fought victory at the Termas de Rio Hondo back in 2014 and is aiming to once again take to the top step of the box after a disappointing Qatar.
Brad Binder continued his hard work, completing 16 laps and setting the fourth fastest lap time of Friday, a 1’51.350. So far in 2016 Binder has been a near perfect teammate to Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), allowing the rookie to follow him and learn the tracks of the World Championship.
Completing the top five was Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0), the Spaniard only 0.274s back on Bastianini. Overall it was an incredibly close session with the top 15 all within a second of the top.
Livio Loi (RW Racing GP BV), Juanfran Guevara (RBA Racing Team), Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing), Philipp Oettl (Schedl GP Racing) and rookie Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) rounded out the top ten.
There was an early fall for Tatsuki Suzuki (CIP-Unicom Starker) at Turn 9, he was uninjured and re-joined the session. Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold) suffered a late fall at Turn 1 and was also able to walk away unhurt.