Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina, race weekend preview: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
After another all-time classic in Qatar, the fuse is lit and the Championship is in gear. Where are we now? It’s all change from camels to gauchos as the next stop sees MotoGP™ head for Argentina. It’s one of the most incredible events of the season but it’s not the history, not the track, not the corners and not the weather at Termas de Rio Hondo that make it one of the jewels of the year; it’s the people – passionate like no other and raring to see some serious racing. Little wonder the grandstands are packed.
Headlining the carnival after the showstopper in Losail will be the first Championship leader of the season – Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) – and reigning World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). Thought you couldn’t get better than 2017? The Qatar GP already proved that wrong, and both will be pushing to repeat the feat in Latin America. Track records at Argentina make it advantage Marquez of the two early title rivals, but we’ve said that before…
Behind the two men that dueled it out in the desert, there are a few big contenders on the bill. Last year’s star man Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) will want to convert Qatar pace hampered by a trip through Q1 into a first visit to the top step in 2018, and teammate Valentino Rossi will be gunning to stand in his way. After a more difficult preseason for Yamaha, the ‘Doctor’ found some serious traction at Losail and took his first podium of the season to extend his incredible golden years in the premier class. As a previous winner at the venue to boot, who writes off the rider from Tavullia? Another race win to cement his new contract would doubtless be a sweet thing for Rossi.
Then there are those who suffered a little more under the floodlights. It was a case of beauty and the beast at Ducati as Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) suffered a brake problem and crashed as teammate ‘DesmoDovi’ won, and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) will want his pace at Termas to convert him into a candidate for the rostrum. Still suffering slightly with an injured left hand following a crash in testing, the two-weekend break will have been a welcome one before the ‘Little Samurai’ starts a full assault on 2018.
Speaking of full assault, that was – as ever – Johann Zarco’s (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) modus operandi in the desert, as the Frenchman led from the front throughout much of the race. Later suffering with grip and forced to drop back slightly, he crossed the line in P8 and out of podium contention. Planning a strike back? Always. Zarco also lost out on the title of top of the Independent Team heroes in Qatar, as Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) took fourth and had his first visit to parc ferme for the year. And as well as his form this season and in testing, Crutchlow is also former podium finisher in Argentina…
The list of those who could threaten the rostrum doesn’t end there. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is another to mention, after showing incredible pace throughout the Qatar GP before the mood on race day was more one of sorrow after he crashed out of contention. Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) also had frontrunning pace all weekend to put the factory riders under pressure and converted that into a top five, and his teammate Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) is adjusting well to the changes of 2018 as he begins a new career on a new bike, debuting on the Ducati in the top ten.
And what of the absolute beginners? In the rookie battle it’s advantage Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) after the reigning Moto2™ World Champion took a handful of solid points and P12, with Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) on the chase in P14 and the second debutant home. In Argentina, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) will want to change that.
MotoGP™ does the tango at Termas de Rio Hondo from Friday the 6th April, with the race firing up at 15:00 (GMT -3) on Sunday. Will we see another repetition of the desert duel? Or will the next race day give another future legend the chance to stake their claim on the crown…
2018 is going well for Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) so far. The Italian has announced his move to MotoGP™ for 2019 and taken the first win of the year – but it was close in Qatar. Both him and last lap challenger Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40) will be pushing to make it two showdowns from two in Argentina, but what of EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider Alex Marquez?
Marquez was on pole at Losail, but the 2014 Moto3™ World Champion didn’t get to show his full pace throughout the race after a problem with the brakes saw the rear disc lighting up bright red. Nevertheless able to bring the bike home on the podium, Marquez knows he was the fastest man in Qatar by three tenths in qualifying – could that translate into a win in a drama free race at Termas de Rio Hondo?
It’s more than a three-horse race, however. Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) came fourth in Qatar but made huge strides forward come race day, and Red Bull KTM Ajo duo Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder had a tougher race than expected in the desert. They think the conditions in Argentina will suit the KTM chassis much more – will the Austrian factory be the ones to beat again? And what of Sam Lowes (Swiss Innovative Investors), on the same bike and looking for a result after a crash in Qatar?
Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) began 2018 on the top step, but it was far from easy for the now two-time GP winner, pushed all the way by Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0). And although the two dueled it out to the end, that’s not how it began – because Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) was well in the fight before a crash. Now we’re ready to race in Argentina, will that be a similar story?
As ever, there’s a legion of leading talents looking to get in their way. Qatar podium finisher Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing), Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) to name a few, as well as Japanese duo Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) and Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing), who both came home in impressive top tens in Qatar.
One man who’ll also be pushing hard to mount a podium challenge is home hero Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Skull Rider). Opening the season with a solid top five, the Argentine rider is off to a flier and will have the support of the home crowd behind him as he guns for glory.
Last year it was eventual Champion Joan Mir taking the win at Termas de Rio Hondo, so history won’t repeat itself. But can John McPhee (CIP – Green Power) and Jorge Martin repeat their podiums, or go one better? Or will Canet and Bastianini strike back? Find out on Sunday 8th April.