MotoGP heads to Argentina – Is there anyone to stop the charge of Maverick Vinales…?
West of Buenos Aires and east of the Andes, MotoGP now touches down beyond the borders of the old Inca Empire as we gear up for the Gran Premio Motul de la Republica Argentina. It’s a stark contrast to Qatar, as the Pampa of Argentina and Termas de Rio Hondo welcome the paddock to the passion of Latin America for the second race of the year.
This is the fourth season MotoGP will race at Termas de Rio Hondo. With Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) taking the first win, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) the second and the number 93 hitting back last year, Argentina hasn’t yet let one clear favourite for the win emerge – but based on the winner first time out, this year that could be different.
Despite the weather difficulties of the Qatar GP, the superstar so far remains Movistar Yamaha new recruit Maverick Viñales. Topping the timesheets and then staying calm to take his first win for Yamaha, the number 25 is still ominous – and he was also in podium contention last season in Argentina, as a sophomore.
“After the amazing race in Qatar I’m super excited to be back on my M1 this weekend in Termas de Río Hondo. Now we have the difficult challenge to continue getting good results, Qatar was only the first race of 18. I can feel the pressure a little bit because the level of my rivals is very high, but that motivates me even more to keep working hard. We have to be cautious, work step by step and race by race.”
2015 winner and teammate Rossi also created some Sunday magic in Qatar, and despite some preseason struggles, the nine-time World Champion was back with a bang when the lights went out. This race is his 350th in the World Championship, and he’ll want to make it another showstopper.
“It wasn’t an easy start to the championship. We have worked so hard during the test, but during the weekend of the first race we have fixed a few things, especially in the front. The race went very well and I was very happy to be able to get on the podium. Now we go to Argentina. This is a track that I like very much and I’m happy to go there. I hope that there are good asphalt conditions because last year it was difficult for us. We will try to work better and try to go once again on the podium!”
His key rival on the way to the win in 2015 was Marquez. With great form and pace shown at the track, this could be time for the reigning Champion to stamp some authority on the early stages of the season. Choosing the wrong tyre in Qatar, Marquez kept it on the road and showed the same commitment to the long game that took him to the title last year – and Argentina could be a good place for a planned attack.
“Qatar was a hard Grand Prix but we improved a lot over the weekend even if we couldn’t reach the podium on Sunday. Now we’ll see if the work we did there will be fruitful in Argentina. The track is nice; I’ve always felt good there, but the grip level is always pretty low. Tyre life is something to be aware of, as it’s normally very short, so we’ll work to reduce this issue and also to further improve the general bike setup. We look forward to fighting for the podium in front of our Argentinian fans, who are very passionate and supportive.”
Dani Pedrosa, on the other side of the Repsol Honda box, is a man Marquez consider a threat in Argentina, too – with Termas de Rio Hondo more suited to the bike, and the number 26 having been a quietly threatening presence on the preseason timesheets.
“We’ve remained positive after the first race, which was quite strange due to everything that happened before the start, and now we aim to keep working hard, looking to improve in Argentina. We’ll start with basically the same setup we finished with in Qatar, of course adapting the gearbox and the mapping setting to the track, and on Friday we’ll see where we are. It’s difficult to make predictions before getting to the circuit, as we must see how the track conditions are and how the tyres work. But we are ready and excited to get there and jump on the bike. Usually the asphalt there is very dirty and hard on tyres, but it tends to improve over the weekend. We’ll do our best to get a good result.”
The layout of Argentina is also good reading for the Ducati Team. With a double podium on the cards last year until disaster struck at the final corner, the Borgo Panigale factory have shown form both at the venue and in 2017 with Andrea Dovizioso’s stunning ride to second in Qatar.
Jorge Lorenzo had a difficult first race, but the five-time World Champion will have more track time under his belt after a private test in Jerez, and the conditions should be more constant than the ever-changing Qatar.
Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) could be a dark horse again, after getting in the mix at Losail. At mistake cost him a result but the Italian’s pace was right up there, and the Suzuki is another bike that could gain from the Termas de Rio Hondo track.
Teammate and top rookie in Qatar Alex Rins may have a harder time, after crashing in training ahead of the event and travelling to Argentina with a small fracture in his ankle.
The rookie stealing the headlines in Qatar was Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), after teammate Jonas Folger did the same in preseason.
“I am really looking forward to racing in Argentina on the Yamaha because I thoroughly enjoy the Termas de Rio Hondo track and it is one of my favourites. The layout is quite different to Qatar but I am keen to experience the fast flowing nature of the South American circuit on a MotoGP bike and I am sure that we can have a positive time. My target is to improve and finish higher up the field after what was a solid race in Qatar and for sure, I will be a bit more relaxed this weekend. I am certain that I can make a step up so I’m excited to go there and I am determined to show the people, as well as myself, that I can do a better job than at the last GP.”
Zarco took the lead and stunned the big hitters first time out despite his crash, and both Tech 3 rookies will be looking to convert their pace into positions in Argentina.
“It will be my second MotoGP race this weekend when we go to Argentina and I’m excited to see what we can achieve. I like the venue, it’s quite new, and this year will be the fourth year that we will race there. I have had some strong results there in the past, with two victories and setting the fastest lap and pole position time at the track in the Moto2 class. The circuit itself is interesting, fast and quite simple, which is why I enjoy riding on it. After the good start in Qatar, I would like to keep the pace and the momentum going and I hope to use the upcoming opportunity in Argentina to score a great result and collect a lot of points. This is certainly possible for us, so lets see what happens but I am motivated and looking forward to racing in Argentina.”
Fellow rookie Sam Lowes (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) expects to make a big step in Argentina, and teammate Aleix Espargaro put in a stunning ride in Qatar to complete the top six – the Noale factory’s best result since lining up in MotoGP in 2015 – which is a good omen for the RS-GP.
Jack Miller and Tito Rabat head to South America for the Grand Prix of Argentina keen to capitalise on a positive start to the 2017 MotoGP World Championship in Qatar.
Both riders scored points in the opening round, with Miller claiming a top ten finish in eighth and Rabat, who is still recovering from the injuries sustained in his Sepang testing crash, taking the final point in 15th position.
The two Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS riders have mixed memories of the Termas de Rio Hondo track. In last year’s race, which included a mandatory pit stop due to tyre endurance issues, Rabat secured his best result of the season with ninth place, while Miller crashed out in the early stages of the race while battling with Jorge Lorenzo for sixth.
“Qatar was a good start to the season and I was happy with the result. Now we head to Argentina looking to improve further, on a track that should be a good match for our bike. We’ve been getting better and better each time we get out on the bike and I’m confident we can continue that trend at the next two races in Argentina and Austin, two tracks I enjoy racing at a lot. Termas is a circuit that doesn’t see much use, so some caution is required on Friday when the track can be a little dirty, but it doesn’t usually take long to clean up. I’m looking forward to the weekend ahead, as they always put on a bit of a special show for the race in Argentina.”
“In Qatar I finished in the points and closer to the winner than I did all last season, despite the injuries and the track time lost to the weather, so I was satisfied with that. Now we head to Argentina and a very different track, once that I’m very much looking forward to racing on now that I have such a good feeling with the bike and the tyres, especially the front. We know that Friday will be pretty much a lost day if the track is as dirty as we’ve seen in previous years, but for me it will the perfect opportunity to start building my rhythm without taking too many risks. I’m confident that I can make another significant step forward this weekend in Argentina.”
Michael Bartholemy – Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Principal
“We knew from testing that Qatar was not going to be an easy start to the season for us, so to finish with Jack in the top ten and points for both riders was a very positive way in which to kick off our 2017 championship campaign. The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is one that both Jack and Tito like and one at which they’ve both finished on the podium previously in Moto3 and Moto2. Equally important is the fact that the track is fast and flowing in nature, which is much better suited to our bike than Qatar. I’m looking forward to seeing what our two riders can do this weekend, in a race that is an important one for our partners.”
Then there’s Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham (Pull&Bear Aspar Team)… all names with good pace, either looking to convert Qatar into momentum or make Argentina into a comeback.
“I am already looking forward to the next race in Argentina after a good weekend for us in Qatar. It was a very satisfactory first round of the season for us, we have already picked up our first points and I think we can consider that a good start. Now we go to South America for a race in a completely different time zone to Europe. The Autódromo de Termas de Río Hondo is one of my favourite tracks, like Qatar, so hopefully we can keep up this positive trend of performances and results.”
“We have to take the positives from the race in Qatar and head to Argentina with our batteries charged. After a strange weekend to start the season we can reflect on the fact I was running with the front group until the crash, which was a strange one, and that is what’s important. I have been preparing myself physically and mentally, I think we are all feeling highly motivated and ready to make up for it this weekend. Argentina is not a difficult circuit and I think it could be good for the Ducati, as it is very fast. Our objective remains to work hard from the start and see if we can find a feeling that will allow us to fight in the top five. I know that is difficult but in Qatar we were close so that will be our objective again if luck is on our side a little more. We are all looking forward to it, myself and the whole team, so hopefully we can work well all weekend without weather interruptions.”
“We head to Argentina physically stronger than in Qatar. My collarbone has almost recovered completely and I was able to train harder during the last week. We go to this race with high expectations, which is very different from those ahead of the first round of the season. I like the circuit. Last year I finished fifth and I think it will be possible to get a great result again. We feel strong and I am confident about our chances to do a good race on Sunday.”
“In the first race everything went really well, and that’s why I’m looking forward to race in Argentina. In Qatar I probably did my best dry race in MotoGP, but even though, my feeling was not the best. I’m convinced that it is possible to do even better. I love the layout of the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit and I want to do a good race. We will see how the weekend goes, we will keep working step by step to get the best set up and I’ll try to enjoy riding my bike.”
MotoGP World Championship Classification
- Maverick Viñales (SPA – Yamaha) 25 points
- Andrea Dovizioso (ITA – Ducati) 20 points
- Valentino Rossi (ITA – Yamaha) 16 points
- Marc Márquez (SPA – Honda) 13 points
- Dani Pedrosa (SPA – Honda) 11 points
Michelin tyres at the Argentina GP
This season will also see Michelin making its second visit to one of South America’s safest and most modern circuits. The track is one of the fastest on the calendar and is very demanding on tyres, it features fast sweeping bends, high cambers and hard-braking zones throughout the circuit’s layout of nine right-hand bends and five left-handers, allied to a straight over one kilometre long.
The nature of the circuit and its location – situated in the Province of Santiago del Estero approximately 1,100km from Buenos Aires and close to the Andes mountain range – can mean that weather can play a large part in proceedings.
With such demands, the range of Michelin Power Slicks will have a lot of work to do to cope with the high temperatures that are created and the abrasive nature of the surface. Michelin’s series of tyres to handle these challenges will be the soft, medium and hard compound options for the front and rear, these will be identifiable by white bands, no bands and yellow bands respectively.
The soft and medium rear compounds will feature an asymmetrical design with a harder right-hand shoulder, whilst the hard option will be a symmetrical version.
To combat any precipitation the Michelin Power Rain tyres will also be available in a soft and medium compound for both the front and rear of the bikes, these will be identifiable by a blue and no band on the side of the tyre respectively.
Morbidelli leads Moto2 on the road south
After a stunning victory first time out in 2017 – also his first win – Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is the man on the move at the start of the season. Taking the first lead of the year, it’s now up to his key rivals to catch him.
Teammate Alex Marquez will be one up for revenge, after starting in P2 only 0.023 off the Italian in practice. Grip trouble in the race saw Marquez come home fifth, and the 2014 Moto3 World Champion will want to start hitting back straight away – big rivalries often start at home in the pitbox.
The three who finished in between Morbidelli and his teammate in Qatar will be big front threats again in Argentina. Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) took on Morbidelli head-to-head throughout the latter half of 2016, and the Swiss rider is a certain contender for the title this year. His mission, like Qatar’s P3 man Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) – also a man gunning for the crown – is to stop the Italian gaining momentum too early.
Then there’s Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Miguel Oliveira, who took the new KTM chassis into the podium fight first time out. Now he’ll want to finish the job to open the Austrian factory’s rostrum account, whilst Fabio Quartararo (Pons HP 40) – quickest rookie in Qatar – could also be a good bet for another front challenge.
Representing the continent in South America’s GP is Colombian rider Yonny Hernandez (AGR Team) as he settles into life in Moto2 after riding in the premier class – flying the flag and wanting to get his campaign in gear for 2017.
Moto2 World Championship Classification
- Franco Morbidelli (ITA – Kalex) 25 points
- Thomas Lüthi (SWI – Kalex) 20 points
- Takaaki Nakagami (JPN – Kalex) 16 points
- Miguel Oliveira (POR – KTM) 13 points
- Álex Márquez (SPA – Kalex) 11 points
Mir ahead of the pack as Moto3 hits Latin America – All eyes on the Mallorcan as he gets his first chance to defend his lead
2017 started the best possible way for Leopard Racing rider Joan Mir, with a stunning win in Qatar and the points lead for the first time this year. Now it’s time for Argentina – and the first chance for the grid to strike back.
Mir will certainly be tough to beat, with confidence high. Another tough rival is sure to be British Talent Team rider John McPhee, who arrives fresh from his best ever dry result in Qatar. The man who completed the podium, Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3), will also be a surefire threat at the front – carrying through his momentum from an impressive end to 2016.
His teammate, Fabio Di Giannantonio, is another to watch – along with compatriot Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers). Both having more anonymous races than expected in Qatar, they did take strong top ten finishes – but will be looking for more in Argentina. The man just pipped to the podium at Losail – Aron Canet (EG 0,0) – is another who will be fighting hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Likewise Red Bull KTM Ajo teammates Niccolo Antonelli and Bo Bendsneyder. Antonelli took a solid result first time out, and will be looking to convert that into increased confidence. Bendsneyder, who was tapped and subsequently crashed, will go all out at the chance to convert his impressive 2017 pace into a finish this time round.
The two needing a turnaround are Enea Bastianini (EG 0,0) and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46), as the two Italians were further down the timesheets than expected in Qatar. For different reasons, Argentine rider Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Racing Team) will also want the weekend to play out very differently at his home race, after breaking his collarbone in FP1 at Losail. The RBA rider intends to ride but must pass a medical beforehand.
Moto3 World Championship Classification
- Joan Mir (SPA – Honda) 25 points
- John McPhee (GBR – Honda) 20 points
- Jorge Martin (SPA – Honda) 16 points
- Aron Canet (SPA – Honda) 13 points
- Romano Fenati (ITA – Honda) 11 points