Argentina GP preview: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
The 2016 MotoGP™ World Championship season got off to a thrilling start under the Qatar floodlights, Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) producing a near faultless ride to start his title defence with the full set; pole position, a race win and the fastest lap. He wasn’t alone though as Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) stuck with him for almost the entirety of the race.
Not only did 2016 start in Qatar, but the first moves for the 2017 season were also made. Valentino Rossi signed on for another two years with Yamaha while Bradley Smith committed to the KTM MotoGP™ project for 2017 and 2018. The other 22 grid slots still remain a mystery for the most part.
Qatar was unique, not just because of the race’s setting and ambiance but also because of the lead up to action. A three-day test was held at the circuit prior to the event gave riders and teams almost unlimited track time to set up their machines to suit the track, with new tyres and electronics having this base assisted greatly. For Argentina they will not have this preparation, they head to the track knowing how the tyres and electronics behave in Sepang, Phillip Island and Losail, but not at the Termas De Rio Hondo. For some teams and riders this will be a step outside their comfort zone and a true preview of what the season may hold.
Lorenzo heads to the Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina with only one previous podium finish at the Argentine track; his third in 2014. Of all the circuits currently on the calendar this is his weakest track, but new Michelin tyres may change his fortunes.
2016 has been almost a carbon copy of 2015 so far for Andrea Dovizioso: in 2015 he battled with a Yamaha for victory in Qatar and again narrowly missed out on victory. Fortunately for Dovizioso, if history continues to repeat itself it could very well see him in second at the Argentina round again. In Qatar the Ducati blasted the competition down the straight, proving that there is nothing wrong with the new engine.
Speaking of top speeds, Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) was able to reach a staggering 351.2Km/h in Warm Up. He may have crashed during the race but before his fall he was stronger than ever and able to wrestle past both Lorenzo and Dovizioso. In perhaps the best form of his career and with one of the fastest engines ever seen in MotoGP™, expect ‘The Maniac’ to be a real threat around Termas De Rio Hondo’s 4,806meters, 1,076 of which are a long straight. Every visit to Argentina has resulted in a top ten finish for Iannone, in 2015 he only lost out on a podium finish in the final corner.
Back in 2015, Valentino Rossi took victory and took to the top step of the podium in a Diego Maradona shirt with the number ten on it. The number ten is still relevant in 2016 as Rossi still hunts his tenth title, another win in Argentina would be a huge boost to that ambition. Only 0.1s separated Rossi from the podium in Qatar, the Italian left to wonder what could have been had he used the soft rear.
Tyres played a major role in the 2015 race in Argentina, Rossi make a heroic late charge to snatch victory. Could he use the same strategy in 2016 or will he follow Lorenzo’s lead from Qatar and stay strong in front?
Michelin will also face a new challenge in Argentina having tested at the circuit. The options available for front tyres will therefore be the hard (yellow band) and medium (no band) tyres. Rear tyre choices are from the hard (yellow band) and medium options. For the first time this season the full wet and intermediate tyres will also be available should they be needed.
The Argentina GP will be another major test for Marc Marquez, the Spaniard able to turn his fortunes around in Qatar when his team reverted several of their settings back to what they were in the test. In Argentina there will be no same circuit test data to fall back on, Marquez and the Honda still remain a largely unknown quantity in 2016, going well in some tests and struggling in other, starting the Qatar weekend outside the top five and then battling for victory on race day. His record in Argentina is equally as contrasting, winning in 2014 and failing to finish in 2015.
For his teammate, Dani Pedrosa, it’s been a much better start to the season that last year. Although he again failed to finish on the podium in Qatar, he left without injury and is fit to race in Argentina, his second visit to the track. Like Marquez, Pedrosa is still finding his feet with the new electronics.
Much like Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) will also be racing in Argentina for just the second time. In 2014 the Brit missed the race due to injury, but managed a podium finish, his only one of the season, on his first visit in 2015. It was an exceedingly difficult weekend in Qatar for Crutchlow who failed to finish the race due to a crash.
Both Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) had shown well in testing and were expecting strong, potentially podium-challenging rides in Qatar. Neither were quite able to produce that as they were unable to find the same feeling they had during testing. Argentina offers both riders a chance to gain more momentum and focus on a steadier build to a potential podium challenge.
Redding’s teammate Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) will miss the Grand Prix, having aggravated his hand injury during practice in Qatar and requiring more surgery. Michele Pirro, the Ducati test rider, will fill in for his fellow Italian as long as he’s out injured. Petrucci’s recovery period is still unknown.
Can Lorenzo continue his run? Will Rossi repeat his 2015 victory? Or could Ducati return to the top step of the podium for the first time in almost six years? Find out when the Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina begins at 09:00 Local Time on Friday the first of April.
The Qatar GP saw eight riders in the Moto2™ World Championship jump the start, many of them title favourites. Repercussions would be felt right to the end with several penalties coming late in the race and shaking up the podium. But regardless of jump starts and penalties; Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) was the outright winner of the first race of the year, his best opening round to a season in his career, having never previously finished above third in the first race.
Pre-season title favourites Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) and Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) were both hit with ride through penalties for their jump starts but salvaged an eighth and ninth place finish. No doubt the pair have the pace to challenge for victory and will be looking to avoid issues at Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina and come back stronger. Both riders were on the podium in Argentina in 2015, Rins in second with Lowes in third. The competition looks fiercer than ever in the intermediate class so there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to repeat their performance.
One of their biggest challengers may come in the form of Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), the Italian showing himself as a potential race winner for the first time with a sustained challenge. He and Luthi battled head-to-head for almost the entirety of the race, Luthi just beating him to the line. Unfortunately Morbidelli was then handed a 20 second penalty after the race and pushed down to seventh. On both his previous visits to the Termas de Rio Hondo he has scored points with a best finish of fifth in 2015. The hard charging Italian has smelt victory and as he proved at the German GP in 2015 when battling Rabat, once he senses even a podium finish he’ll give it everything.
The Argentina GP was the first of eight wins for Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) in 2015. As in 2015, Zarco’s 2016 season got off to a problematic start as he too was hit with a ride through penalty and only managed 12th as a result. Zarco’s quest to become the first back-to-back Moto2™ champion might not be off to the best start, but it’s already better than his predecessor’s 2015 defence.
Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) is also out for redemption in Argentina after throwing away a race victory that was almost certainly his in Qatar. The move to the Dynavolt Intact GP team has filled the German with a certainty and level of stability he previously lacked, making one to watch throughout the season.
Riding high on their podium return, Luis Salom (SAG Team) and Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) could also be threats. Salom especially has proven to be a rider who excels when he’s confident and feeling good, he also made his Moto2™ podium debut in Argentina back in 2014. Meanwhile Corsi, like his fellow Italian Morbidelli, is infamous for his hard riding style which initially seems to be working well with the Speed Up frame.
In true Moto3™ style it came down to the slipstream in Qatar, Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold) playing his cards perfectly to snatch victory by 0.007s from Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo). The Italian was able to grab the win, his third in the class, even though he was battling illness and a still healing collarbone, but he’s now had a week off and heads to Argentina in a much better physical condition.
Brad Binder looked one of the most consistent riders throughout the race in Qatar, the KTM rider able to lead the race with ease and always seemed to be in control. Despite having taken part in every Moto3™ World Championship since the class began, the South African is yet to take his first win. Qatar saw him come tantalisingly close and post-race he showed few signs of disappointment, putting it down to being ‘just one of those things’. Binder will be able to head to Argentina with confidence having finished fifth there in 2015 while his closest rival, Antonelli, has never scored points at the Termas de Rio Hondo.
Adding to the South African’s confidence will be the fact that the four riders who finished ahead of him in Argentina in 2015 have now moved up to the Moto2™ World Championship. The 2015 race saw Danny Kent dominate and run away to win by ten seconds, it’s set to be a much closer affair in 2016 with the Honda and KTM machines evenly matched and Mahindra continuing to take steps forward with their bike.
A gaggle of Italians were in the mix for third in Qatar with Francesco Bagnaia (Aspar Mahindra Team Moto3) coming out on top to hand Mahindra their first podium since Le Mans 2015, which was also Bagnaia’s last podium. During the weekend Bagnaia and Mahindra used a set of winglets on the MGP3O, the Grand Prix Commission announcing after the race that from 2017 onwards these would be banned in the lightweight class.
Right behind Bagnaia in the race were Sky Racing Team VR46 teammates Romano Fenati and rookie Nicolo Bulega, in fourth and sixth respectively. Bulega impressed on his full time World Championship debut, fighting with the much more experienced riders around him and giving no quarter. The Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina will be another new challenge for Bulega and all his fellow rookies, in Qatar they had the advantage of three days of testing to learn the track, now they will have just three Free Practice sessions.
Eyes will also be on Livio Loi (RW Racing GP BV), who set the pace in practice but was unable to battle for the podium come race day in Qatar due to an early mistake, ending eighth. In 2014 Loi achieved one of his most notable World Championship results when he charged to fourth.
Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3) will be out to re-assert himself as a title contender, the Italian having gone largely unnoticed throughout testing and Qualifying with mid-pack pace. In the Qatar GP ‘The Beast’ awoke and was able to eventually work his way up to the leading group.
As the lone Argentinian rider in the World Championship, Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA Racing Team) heads home with nervous anticipation. He finished 19th in Qatar, matching his second best race result as he continues to look for his first points on the world stage.