Repsol Honda crown prince Marc Marquez recovered from a confusing start to win the inaugural MotoGP chase at the picturesque Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo. After slipping briefly into seventh place from pole position at the start, the charismatic Catalan sliced his way through the field, spent 13 laps in second place giving leader Jorge Lorenzo the heebie-jeebies, and went through Lorenzo’s Yamaha easily on Lap 17. Cruising to the flag from that point, he became the first premier class rider to start the season with three wins from pole since Giacomo Agostini in 1971.
Those of us fortunate enough to watch today’s race witnessed what is the greatest start to a MotoGP premier class season in 43 years. Longer than most of you reading this have been alive. Some have referred to Marc Marquez as the greatest rider to come along in a generation. After his performance this weekend, he is arguably the best rider to have come along in two generations. Maybe ever.
As a rookie, Marquez seized the title from Lorenzo, a reigning double world champion and one of the fine riders of the modern era. Today, he spotted Lorenzo six positions and perhaps five seconds, punked him at the time and place of his choosing, and barely broke a sweat. For Lorenzo, having given up 25 points to Marquez in Qatar and another 19 in Austin, finishing third today and appearing on the podium must have felt like a win. A mere two years ago, a result like this would have had him cursing himself and spitting thumbtacks. Down 53 points after three rounds in 2014, it promises to be six long months of brave smiles for the gentleman from Mallorca.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Aside from the drama up front, there was plenty going on all over the grid today. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa had himself a rough start, too, falling back from the #3 hole on the grid and spending some quality time in seventh position before roaring back later in the day. At the beginning of Lap 8 he sat in fifth place; by the end of Lap 9 he was running third, having put away both LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl and junior Ducati tough guy Andrea Iannone. Pedrosa trailed Lorenzo by four seconds on Lap 12 and ended up beating him by a second and a half, despite having Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi in his rearview for most of the second half of the race.
Rossi, after watching his front tire get torn to smithereens in Austin, went with the Bridgestone Kevlar option today and was all over the board. Finishing the first lap in second position, he ran wide on several occasions, one time courtesy of a hip check from Bradl, before finally settling into fourth place where he finished. Having announced at the start of the season that the results in his first six races of this year would determine his future in MotoGP, I’d guess he’s still wondering whether he has what it takes to meet his own high standards. Certainly, Rossi is too proud (and has too much branding to protect) to become the next Colin Edwards and continue suiting up years after his peak.
Bradl enjoyed a productive fifth place finish after starting ninth, courtesy of a brutal high side in qualifying that left him shaken, not stirred, in his team garage on Saturday afternoon. Iannone, who has been impressive all year on the Pramac Ducati, ran with the first group again early in the day before finally finishing sixth, the top Ducati to cross the line, three spots ahead of factory rider Andrea Dovizioso who, occupying second place at the end of Lap 2, got passed like a hat at a revival meeting the rest of the day.
Let Me Just Say This about Alvaro Bautista
Dude seems to spend way more time and attention on his appearance than on his profession. Cursed with abnormally good looks, he puts blond streaks in his hair, then has them removed. Grows a nice two week beard, and today shaves it off. Narcissists generally sit around wondering, “Gee, what can I do to make myself prettier?” Alvaro Bautista shows all the symptoms. Just sayin’.
Meanwhile, running Fausto Gresini’s factory spec Honda RC213V, he crashes out in Qatar, crashes out in Austin and today, with the pressure on, makes it as far as Turn 5 of the first lap before landing in the kitty litter. This, barely five days after the volatile Gresini expressed “concern” about Bautista’s competitiveness, and three days after Bautista himself vowed to take no unnecessary risks in order to finish the race.
I expected Gresini to give Bautista the boot after 2012 and again after 2013. There is just no way he will sign him to a new contract after this season. With riders like Maverick Vinales and Esteve Rabat looking to move up from Moto2 next season, and Bautista’s history of underachievement and excitability – how many times has he found himself running up front early in races only to crash out, often taking other riders with him – Bautista is toast. Devilishly handsome toast. Adios, muchacho.
Once again this year, the Tech 3 Yamahas seem to be connected at the hip. It was 2012 when Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow seemed to spend the season fighting each other every lap of every week. Last year, Crutchlow had the advantage over then rookie Bradley Smith. This year, however, Smith and new teammate Pol Espargaro seem to be traveling in tandem again. Both riders crashed out in Qatar. In Austin, it was Smith finishing fifth and Espargaro sixth. Today, it was Smith seventh and Espargaro eighth. Unlike 2012, they are usually separated on the track most of the day, but somehow seem to end up back-to-back. Espargaro seems to be slightly ahead of where he was expected to be at this point, Smith slightly behind.
Nicky Hayden got worked by teammate Hiro Aoyama at the finish line today. As if having one of the slowest bikes on the grid isn’t bad enough, the Kentucky Kid gets jammed by Aoyama, who was last seen in a MotoGP top ten at Motegi in 2011. Ugh.
Cardion AB rich kid Karel Abraham, with another dazzling 13th place finish today, has collected more points in 2014 (8) than he did in all of 2013 (5). That Honda Production Racer seems to be working wonders for him.
Finally, before we start licking our chops over Jerez next week, we must note another disappointing weekend for Aleix Espargaro on the NGM Forward Yamaha. Once again, expectations were high after he qualified fourth. Once again they were dashed when he went walkabout on Lap 2. Although he recovered sufficiently to finish 15th, he looks capable of challenging for the podium every time out, but isn’t getting it done. We’re sticking with our earlier call that he will finally get his podium at Assen or The Sachsenring.
|2014 MotoGP Argentina Top Ten Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+1.837|
|3||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+3.201|
|4||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+4.898|
|5||Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda||+15.029|
|6||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Ducati||+19.447|
|7||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+24.192|
|8||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+29.118|
|9||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+33.673|
|10||Hiroshi Aoyama||Drive M7 Aspar||+43.279|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 3 Rounds|
|8||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha*||21|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|