MotoGP returns to Argentina for the first time since the 1999 season finale, when Kenny Roberts, Jr. flogged his Suzuki RGV500 to the win, two seconds ahead of a trio of Yamahas headed by Max Biaggi, Norick Abe and Carlos Checa. (At the peak of his career, Roberts would win his only premier class world championship the following year.) In October 1999, the last go-round for the Autódromo Juan y Oscar Gálvez in Buenos Aires, the 3rd place finisher in the 250cc class was a brash 20 year old Italian by the name of … Valentino Rossi.
Fast forward to 2014. Argentina has a new-ish facility, the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo, and MotoGP has a new favorite son in Repsol Honda wonderboy Marc Marquez. Rossi, still competitive after all these years, will join fellow Yamaha pilot Jorge Lorenzo and Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa in the chase, but no one seriously expects anyone but Marquez to finish Sunday standing at the top of the podium.
For $10,000 and the game, when was the last time a premier class rider won the first three races to start a season?
The answer is Rossi in 2001, the season that marked the first of his seven premier-class titles. Marquez appears to be the second coming of Rossi. Only better. Some REALLY old timers will want to claim that Giacomo Agostini was the best ever, and he truly owned the sport in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. But in the “modern era” of MotoGP, Rossi has been the man.
Or had been. Until last year. Motorcycle racing is a young man’s game, and Rossi has had his run, and made the most of it. In the early part of the 21st century, we will be hearing the names Marquez – Marc and little brother Alex, Alex Rins, Jack Miller (the Next Great Australian Hope) and Maverick Vinales – more and more, and the names Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa less and less. This is not to say that the current crop of aliens won’t win any more races; they will, but only when Marquez takes himself out of contests. My guess is that the riders challenging for podiums in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes today want to be the next Marc Marquez, not the next Valentino Rossi.
With the obvious exception of Miller, who wants to be the next Casey Stoner.
About the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo
This little spa town in north central Argentina seems, at least to me, to be an odd place to build a racetrack. It is centrally located smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, as follows:
- Buenos Aires, Argentina 690 miles
- Santiago, Chile 877 miles
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 1715 miles
- Indianapolis, Indiana, USA* 4844 miles
*where I sit writing this article.
The track was originally built in 2008 and has hosted some minor auto races since then. It was to host the Argentine Motorcycle Grand Prix in 2013, but the safety of the Repsol Honda team cameinto question as a result of the government’s nationalization of the local Repsol gasoline subsidiary. The ensuing cancellation of the Spanish oil giant’s gas exports to Argentina forced the event’s postponement to this year.
Running clockwise, the track presents a long front straight that ends in an acute right hand turn, followed by a short straight and a slightly less frightening left. This, then, opens onto one of the longest straights of the season at just under one km. A series of fast, sweeping curves leads back toward the start/finish line, but turns 13 and 14 appear tricky, and there is very little track between the exit from Turn 14 and the start/finish line. It’s easy to envision any number of close contests coming down to the last two turns. At a hair under three miles, it is one of the longer circuits on the calendar, and appears to favor the Yamaha contingent, which is good, since precious little else seems to these days.
Recent History at New Tracks
For the fifth time since 2008 MotoGP heads into uncharted waters as the riders try to come to grips, as it were, with a new facility. The results of these ventures look like this:
|Silverstone||2010||Lorenzo||Dovizioso||Spies||Rossi out; Stoner ill|
Despite the fact that Rio Hondo, probably soon to be known as Rio Honda, appears to be the kind of layout the Yamahas prefer, early returns in 2014 suggest that the Repsol Honda team will be formidable again this week. Lorenzo is in the midst of his own little existential crisis, while Rossi, desperately trying to keep up last time out, uncharacteristically shredded his front tire, doing a reasonable impression of Marco Simoncelli in the process.
Andrea Dovizioso, with a history of performing well at new locations, needs to prove to me and others that his podium finish in Austin was not a fluke, nor the result of the generous fuel allowance attending Ducati‘s modified Open class status. Without exception, since 2008 the winner at the “new” crib has gone on to win the title that year. Unfortunately for fans, 2014 looks to be shaping up as one of those years where pretty much everyone will be fighting for third place, Marquez and Pedrosa appearing, at this point, pretty much untouchable.
Bits and Pieces
Ducati test rider and former MotoGP slogger Michele Pirro will sit in for the injured Cal Crutchlow on the #2 factory Ducati this week, as the Brit is still recovering from his brutal low-side crash at Austin … For the 135th race in succession since winning the world championship in 2006, Nicky Hayden is highly optimistic about his chances heading to Argentina.
While there are no “team rules” in MotoGP, one gets the impression that Sr. Ezpeleta insists that riders speaking with the press appear relentlessly optimistic, including guys like Hiro Aoyama and Hector Barbera who haven’t come anywhere near a podium since their 250cc days. It probably wouldn’t help ticket sales for Karel Abraham to tell an interviewer that he fully expects to get his ears pinned back this weekend, and is merely hoping to escape the southern hemisphere with his chiclets in place. Just sayin’.
Drum Roll, Please …The Weather Forecast
Despite the claims of my critics, the least accurate part of these preview articles consistently seems to be the weather forecast, which comes straight from Weather.com. It’s early fall in Argentina, which means … well, I don’t actually know what that means. The forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with temps in the low 80s and a warm track for all three days. Grip will probably be lousy on Friday due to the lack of rubber on the racing surface, but should improve by Sunday. The race goes off at 1 pm EDT, and we’ll have results and analysis right here on Sunday evening.