The VROOM Blog: #ArgentinaGP – Aleix and Aprilia make history after tense Termas thriller.

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

This weekend MotoGP returned to Argentina for the first time since 2019, having been missing from the calendar due to the pandemic and a fire which destroyed part of the paddock buildings, and boy did it deliver. If we thought the Indonesian weekend was dramatic, then I’m not sure what the adjective would be to describe the Argentinian weekend. One thing is for certain – MotoGP 2022 is wild!

It all started with a delay affecting the freight – there had been an issue with one of the five planes carrying the MotoGP cargo which resulted in Friday’s track action being cancelled as many teams didn’t have all (or in some cases any) of their equipment. Instead, fans at the circuit were treated to a day of opportunities to meet their favourite riders for photos or autographs, as teams awaited the arrival of the final cargo plane.

Not since Big Jet TV took over the internet during Storm Eunice have we seen such an interest in aeroplanes online, and my timeline quickly filled up with updates from people who had downloaded an app to allow them to track the plane as it made its way to Argentina. The plane touched down in Argentina late on Friday night, but it still had to be unloaded and then the contents transported by road on the hour and a half journey to the circuit meaning that many teams were in for a very long Saturday.

Finally able to start unpacking the crates very early on Saturday morning, teams worked hard to get everything ready in time for action getting underway on what was being dubbed ‘Super Saturday’. It was great to hear stories of the paddock coming together to help each other out in such circumstances – the factory Ducati team were reported to have prepared the Gresini bikes to allow the team to get the garage ready, while Moto2 and Moto3 tyre supplier Dunlop was helping out Michelin by fitting tyres for MotoGP teams.

While the impacted MotoGP teams – including VR46, Gresini, Tech3 and KTM – had some time to relax once everything was ready, Moto3 teams Leopard and Red Bull KTM Ajo had sessions starting at 8:45AM.

Before the weekend got underway, we learned that both Marc Marquez and Taka Nakagami would be missing from action – while Marc is making good progress in his recovery, he was not quite ready for participation in the weekend meaning that Stefan Bradl would once again be replacing Marc.

Taka had tested positive for COVID-19 but was asymptomatic and hopeful of a return for the American GP the following weekend. As it turned out, the freight delay worked in Taka’s favour – he returned the required negative tests on Friday and so was able to fly out to Argentina and participate in the race weekend!

There was also news of a layout change at the Red Bull Ring in Austria – there has been a chicane added at turn two in a bid to reduce the high speeds that have been reached by motorcycles through that section. The previous layout will remain in place for car racing at the circuit. It will be interesting to hear the views of the riders when we return to the Red Bull Ring in August.

With no track action on Friday, we saw a majorly condensed timetable on Saturday – Moto3 and Moto2 would have extended FP1 and FP2 sessions, which would be followed by FP1 for MotoGP. Moto3 and Moto2 would then have their usual Q1 and Q2 sessions before MotoGP had FP2 and then Qualifying.

For MotoGP, track action got underway with FP1 which was extended to 60 minutes, and while the 60 minutes was good for the riders and teams in terms of data and getting up to speed, as a viewer I found 60 minutes just a little too long. Anyway, it was Taka Nakagami who ended FP1 on top despite initially being out of the weekend! Taka was ahead of Fabio Quartararo, Pol Espargaro, Aleix Espargaro, Marco Bezzecchi, Alex Rins and Miguel Oliveira as the session came to a close.

FP2 was another 60-minute session, and would be a crucial one – these two sessions would be the only ones before qualifying due to the condensed schedule, so a top 10 position would be important in avoiding Q1. The session saw early crashes for both Remy Gardner and Pol Espargaro at turn 1, but both were quickly up and ok. Just after halfway through FP2, Brad Binder abandoned his smoking KTM at the entrance to pit lane and ran back to his garage for his second bike. His KTM had blown up coming into the final section of the track, but Brad was quick to move the bike off of the track.

With 6 minutes remaining on the clock, we saw riders heading out of the pits as the time attacks got underway. Two minutes later Darryn Binder had hit the deck – another turn 1 crash – and with just 17 seconds to go Bezzecchi also crashed at turn 1 meaning that there were yellow flags in that section for the end of the session. As the flag came out, Luca Marini crossed the line with a time fast enough to bump Miguel Oliveira out of the top 10, so the most recent race winner would have to face Q1.

The session was topped by – brace yourselves, this is an unusual occurrence – the Aprilia duo of Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales! They would be joined in Q2 by Jack Miller, Fabio, Brad Binder, Rins, Mir, Jorge Martin, Johann Zarco and Luca Marini, with the remainder of the field set to battle for the remaining two Q2 places in Q1.

Q1 once again saw names we perhaps wouldn’t expect to see – Miguel Oliveira who won the last race, Pecco Bagnaia who started the season as one of the favourites for the title, and the current championship leader Enea Bastianini were all looking to take one of the crucial Q2 slots. By the time everyone was back in pit lane before a final run, Taka Nakagami and Enea Bastianini were holding on to those slots while Pecco Bagnaia’s nightmare start to the season looked to be continuing as he sat at the bottom of the timesheets.

With 3 minutes left on the clock, Pecco launched himself to the top of the times, but would find himself bumped down to 4th by the end of the session as Pol Espargaro, Taka Nakagami and Enea Bastianini set faster times. So, it was Pol and Taka who would be heading through to Q2 after a hectic morning.

As Q2 got underway, Joan Mir found himself having to wait to go out as his first bike had cut out as he tried to head away from his garage. A quick bit of work from his team to get his second bike ready to go, and Joan headed out on track. With 10 minutes to go, Miller crashed at turn 1 but was able to return to his garage. After the first set of runs, it was Aleix Espargaro, Jorge Martin and Fabio Quartararo at the top of the times.

Towards the end of the session Fabio Quartararo was gesturing at Miller, and a replay showed that the Ducati rider had been cruising close to the racing line, causing Fabio to lose time on his lap. Miller was given a 3-place grid penalty for his indiscretion. As the chequered flag came out it was Jorge Martin who was holding pole position, but Aleix Espargaro was still on a live lap, and the sectors were all red. Aleix scorched across the line to claim Aprilia’s first ever MotoGP era pole position.

Aleix would be joined on the front row for only his 3rd MotoGP pole – and his first since 2015 – by Jorge Martin and Luca Marini who flew under the radar to put in an impressive lap. With this pole position, Aleix becomes the first rider in the MotoGP era to qualify on pole on 3 different makes of bike – Forward Yamaha, Suzuki and now Aprilia.

On pole in Moto2 is Fermin Aldeguer, who at just 16 years old (he turns 17 this week) becomes the youngest ever rider to take pole in the intermediate class of GP racing. He takes the record by over a year from Jorge Lorenzo who was 18 years and 32 days old at Mugello in 2005. With the age limit of the class rising from next year, Fermin may well hold on to that record forever, unless Zonta Van Den Goorberg can secure a pole before the end of the season.

Warm Up on Sunday morning was another extended session, with riders given 40 minutes of track time, and it was Aleix Espargaro once again on top of the pile, with Fabio and Rins rounding out the top 3.

The race in Argentina was set to be Aleix Espargaro’s 200th MotoGP race start, and in all of those races he has never stood on the top step of the podium making him the first rider to reach that milestone without having won a single premier class race. In fact, heading into this season, Aleix Espargaro was the only rider of the 24 full-time riders on the MotoGP grid to have never won a race at any level of GP racing. Would we see that stat change this weekend? It seemed that the stars were aligning for Aleix and Aprilia, but there was intense pressure on Aleix to take the win, and remember what happened to Taka Nakagami when he started from pole last year? He freely admitted that the pressure of the occasion got to him and he ended his race in the gravel.

Now, if you know me, you’ll know I’m not the biggest fan of Aleix, but even I thought it would be pretty cool for him to take his first win on his 200th start. Could Aleix do it? We would know in 25 laps time…

As the lights went out, it was Jorge Martin who led into turn 1 after a very bouncy start from Aleix, but Aleix rode around the outside of his brother Pol in the first corner to claim 2nd position ahead of Luca Marini, Alex Rins and Pol. Pol soon made his way past Alex Rins for 4th, and Taka Nakagami quickly passed Rins too.

Andrea Dovizioso pulled into the pits at the end of lap one, while fellow Yamaha rider and reigning world champion Fabio Quartararo was going backwards. He was now 11th having been passed by Brad Binder and Bastianini, and it wasn’t long before Pecco and Zarco dumped him back to 13th. Back at the front of the race, Jorge and Aleix were beginning to pull a gap on the chasing pack with the duo now just over a second ahead of Pol, Marini, Rins, Mir and Viñales.

Mir and Viñales were having a bit of back and forth, and although Mir eventually made a move stick on Viñales, it was good to see Maverick back battling with others. Towards the end of his time with Yamaha if someone passed him, he wasn’t able to fight back. On lap 6 Johann Zarco crashed at turn 2, ending his race early, while Mir moved up to 5th at the expense of Marini.

Lap 7 saw the end of Franky Morbidelli’s race as the Italian cruised back to the pits – a puncture having ended his race. Maverick Viñales was in another battle for position, this time with Marini for 6th with the VR46 rider holding on to 6th ahead of the Aprilia man for now. A few laps later Aleix ran way wide into turn 1 and was no doubt grateful for the 2 second lead that he and Jorge had built up over their rivals as he was able to hold onto 2nd place only to run wide again a couple of corners later. If he wanted to win this race, he would need to settle himself down and get back into some kind of rhythm.

Later on in lap 10, Maverick finally made the move stick on Marini as he took 6th place and left Marini to fight with Pecco over 7th. By lap 12 Aleix seemed to have settled and was back on the rear of Jorge Martin’s Ducati, and 1.4 seconds ahead of Rins, Pol, Mir, Maverick, Pecco and Marini.

As his brother looked like he might be on course for a podium, Pol Espargaro crashed out at turn 2. Marco Bezzecchi meanwhile was a man on the move and was now up to 12th ahead of Miguel Oliveira. On lap 18 Aleix must have decided now was the time to make a move for the lead and he passed Jorge, but immediately ran wide allowing Jorge back into the lead. Aleix bided his time and waited another couple of laps before trying again only for the same thing to happen again!

This was of course allowing Alex Rins the opportunity to close the gap to the leaders as they battled amongst themselves. Lap 21 saw Bezzecchi pass VR46 team mate Marini for 9th, before Aleix finally made his move for the lead stick.

With just two laps to go, rookie Fabio Di Giannantonio crashed at turn 11. We didn’t see the crash, but from the sounds of the report from the team it was a big one, and Diggia was lucky to come away with “a few scratches and a hit in the abdominal area without major consequences.”

Finally, it was last lap time, and Aleix had managed to pull a gap of 0.5 seconds over Jorge. He held on until the end of the race and was greeted by his team hanging over the pit wall displaying ‘200’ on his pit board. Clearly overcome with emotion, Aleix stopped at the side of the track and rested his head on the tank of his now race winning Aprilia.

It was lovely to see rivals including Jorge Martin, Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo stop alongside the Spaniard to congratulate him on his milestone victory, as back in the Repsol Honda garage Aleix’s younger brother Pol teared up having just watched his brother win.

Second in the race was Jorge Martin, who was followed across the line by Alex Rins meaning that in the first 3 races of the season, we have seen 9 different podium finishers.

As the riders arrived in parc ferme, everyone was keen to congratulate the new race winner, with both Jorge Martin and Alex Rins giving Aleix big hugs once he got off his bike. In addition to this being Aleix’s first win, this is of course also Aprilia’s first win in the MotoGP era, and the team were delighted!

Aleix’s parc ferme interview with Simon Crafar was delayed as he took an emotional phone call – presumably with his family back home – but he told Crafar that he was very happy as this result was a long time coming. There was another interruption as Pol came over and hugged his brother, before Aleix explained that he felt the pressure on him this weekend was ‘double’ because everyone said the win would be easy given his pace throughout practice and qualifying.

Both Jorge and Alex soaked Aleix with prosecco on the podium before a lovely moment in the post-race press conference when Jorge Martin talked about how happy he was for Aleix, and how Aleix had given him so much in the early stages of his career from training support to a place to stay.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again, but this crop of MotoGP riders may be fierce competitors but they are also genuine, kind and decent human beings.

Up next for this crop of decent humans is a trip to Texas, and COTA certainly has quite the act to follow!

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