The second Grand Prix de la República Argentina of the modern era started out as a parade and ended with everyone – riders, fans, announcers – gasping for air, going mad over the events on Lap 24. Defending world champion and Honda poster boy Marc Marquez would have, could have and should have won this race. But two errors on his part, combined with one of Valentino Rossi’s finest hours, spelled disaster for the young Catalan, who now sits squarely behind the eight ball heading to Jerez.

Results of the practice sessions on Friday looked as though Carmelo Ezpeleta had drawn the names out of a hat. FP1 included Suzuki #1 Aleix Espargaro 1st, Pramac Racing homeboy (sort of) Yonny Hernandez 4th, Avintia Racing’s hapless Mike di Meglio 8th, and Marquez 10th, sandwiched between non-contenders Alvaro Bautista and Jack Miller. The factory Yamaha contingent featured Rossi in 14th and Jorge Lorenzo 20th. FP2 was closer to form, ignoring Rossi loitering in 9th place.

Aleix Espargaro was a surprise front-row starter on the Suzuki, lining up between Ducati’s Andrea Iannone and pole-sitter Marc Marquez.

By Saturday afternoon, things were mostly squared away. Marquez qualified on pole, with my boy Aleix 2nd (Suzuki’s first front row qualifying run since Loris Capirossi at Mugello in 2009) and factory Ducati #2 Andrea Iannone edging CWM LCR Honda hothead Cal Crutchlow for 3rd place. Lorenzo could manage only 5th place, while Rossi would qualify 8th; more about that later.

Marquez Leads the Parade for 11 Laps

At the start, Marquez jumped out to the early lead, which grew to over four seconds midway through the race. Crutchlow, feeling his oats in his first visit to Rio Hondo, led the trailing group, followed by the two factory Ducatis and the factory Yamahas. Rossi went through on Lorenzo on Lap 6. Moments later, Pramac’s Hernandez was on fire, literally, the Colombian’s bike spewing flames until Yonny, suddenly aware that he was “doing a Zarco”, pulled off-track and ran away before the inevitable explosion, which failed to materialize as the marshals assailed the inferno with half a dozen fire extinguishers. Anyone in the market for a used Desmosedici?

If this had happened last week, we would have made a joke about Texas barbecue. Thankfully, Argentina’s national dish is a form a barbecue called “asado”, so have at you.

By Lap 9, Lorenzo had fallen off the pace, his 2015 season starting to resemble the debacle he experienced during the first half of 2014. In quick succession, Rossi, his fuel load having dropped, went through on Iannone in Lap 9, spanked Crutchlow on Lap 10, and disposed of Dovizioso on Lap 11, emerging in second place, over four seconds behind Marquez. It was at about that time that many of us, presumably including Marquez, realized the first of his two mistakes today: he had abandoned the extra hard rear tire for the softer option after the first sighting lap. Rossi had stuck with his original choice of the harder option, a decision which would prove crucial as the race progressed.

Suddenly, It’s a Race

I quit taking notes on Lap 14, and instead jotted down the gap between Marquez and Rossi, as follows:

Lap 14 4.1 seconds

Lap 15 3.7 seconds

Lap 16 3.5 seconds

Lap 17 3.0 seconds

Lap 18 3.1 seconds

Lap 19 2.3 seconds

Lap 20 2.0 seconds

Lap 21 1.2 seconds

Lap 22 1.15 seconds

Lap 23 0.4 seconds

A rejuvenated Valentino Rossi methodically reeled in Marc Marquez before forcing the youngster into making a mistake.

Things came together, in more ways than one, on Lap 24. Rossi appeared rock solid, breathing down Marquez’s neck. Marquez’s rear tire appeared made of Crisco, as he was sliding all over the place, both tires adrift in the corners. The riders exchanged places twice, leaving Rossi in the lead by a nose. In the middle of turn five the two touched, to no one’s surprise, Marquez dropping back ever so slightly. But at the exit of turn five, they came together again hard, Rossi in front and on the line, the front of Marquez’ Honda folding up, leading to a fast lowside, bike and rider sliding 50 yards into the grass. Race Direction looked at the incident for a full 20 seconds before declaring no foul. End of story.

Marquez’ second mistake? Realizing that Rossi had the pace, and being too stubborn, too willful to allow him through and settle for second place and the 20 points that would have accompanied it. Yes, he has the heart of a champion, and two world titles to show for it. Yes, his lizard brain was fully in charge at that moment. But he needs to understand that he cannot win every race, even those that appear to be his for the taking. Instead, he now trails the fully rejuvenated Rossi by 30 points. Hell, he even trails the toasted Lorenzo, not to mention both factory Ducatis. He has put himself in a bad place, with no one to blame but himself.

A soccer fan and a consummate showman, Valentino Rossi celebrated before the Argentine crowd in a Diego Maradona jersey.

As promised, here’s a quick question for Rossi fans. What do today’s race, the 2015 season opener at Qatar and Phillip Island 2014 all have in common? In all three, Rossi qualified 8th and won the race. For Vale, his career has reached the point where his starting position on the grid is essentially irrelevant. With the right tires and the right setup, one thinks he can win from anywhere on the grid. At age 36, he may be as strong as he’s ever been. He has surpassed Lorenzo as the #1 rider on the Yamaha team, and he may eclipse Marquez as the 2015 world champion. Dude is tougher than a two dollar steak.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The Espargaro brothers had an interesting day. Aleix, on the factory Suzuki, started from the middle of the first row. Pol, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, started from the outside of row six. Aleix managed to finish 7th, three seconds in front of his brother in 8th.

The cantankerous Cal Crutchlow has contempt for his critics. That’s a bigger mouthful than “CWM LCR Honda”.

The CWM LCR Honda team enjoyed a successful day, with Crutchlow’s prototype pipping Iannone at the flag for third place, while Miller, on the production version, finished 13th to take the top open classification award for the day, what I like to think of as the Taller Than Danny DeVito Award.

What I can’t figure out is why Cal always seems to be pissed at someone. He can pretty much be counted upon to complain about something or someone at every single round. Yesterday, he was honked at Lorenzo (a double premier class world champion) and/or Maverick Vinales for preventing him from qualifying on the pole. As if. Today, given Marquez’ ill fortune, he lucks into the last step on the podium on a day he would normally finish fifth. During the obligatory post-race interview with Dylan Gray, he goes all ungracious, thanking “all the people that wrote me off” for the win. For a guy who makes millions of dollars doing something he loves to do, he has a very unbecoming supersized chip on his shoulder. Today’s majestic, awe-inspiring triumph rocketed him up from 7th place coming into the weekend all the way up to 6th. I, for one, am blown away.

From where I sit, Crutchlow ran a good race. On a factory spec Honda, he should.

Sheesh. Even when he’s celebrating a podium finish, Crutchlow looks angry.

On the Horizon: Jerez

Among other things, Marc Marquez needs some home cooking. He’ll get it in two weeks at Jerez, where he will need to dispose of Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Iannone, put himself in back in the top three for the season, and start chipping away at Dovizioso and Rossi. Last year he dealt with the pressure of reeling off 10 consecutive wins to start the season. This year, he has a different kind of pressure to deal with. This year we’ll see what he’s made of.

Marc Marquez has put himself into a hole. He’ll try to rebound with the season’s first European round, May 3 at Jerez.
2015 MotoGP Rio Hondo Top Ten Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha
2 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse +5.685
3 Cal Crutchlow CWM LCR Honda +8.298
4 Andrea Iannone Ducati Corse +8.352
5 Jorge Lorenzo Movistar Yamaha +10.192
6 Bradley Smith Monster Yamaha Tech3 +19.876
7 Aleix Espargaro Suzuki ECSTAR +24.333
8 Pol Espargaro Monster Yamaha Tech3 +27.670
9 Scott Redding EG 0,0 Marc VDS +34.397
10 Maverick Vinales Suzuki ECSTAR +34.808
2015 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 3 Rounds
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 66
2 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 60
3 Andrea Iannone Ducati 40
4 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 37
5 Marc Marquez Honda 36
6 Cal Crutchlow Honda 34
7 Bradley Smith Yamaha 28
8 Aleix Espargaro Suzuki 22
9 Pol Espargaro Yamaha 15
10 Maverick Vinales Suzuki 10
  • RVieira

    I think you are right on the money:

    For Marquez, 2nd place is same as losing, and he never wants to lose. It’s one of the things that drives him but, for obvious reasons, it can also play against him.
    I noticed in warm up that when Marquez was ridding on the extra hard tires, he was running in 4th/5th. So I guess he was forced into making that choice since apparently the Hondas did not work so well on the extra hards.

    Rossi was never great at this 2 qualifying sessions method. It appears he stopped focusing on getting the pole, but instead work on getting the bike race ready as early as possible. I said on Friday that he would go with extra hard tires, while everyone else was still on the fence. This allowed his team time to make the bike work as much as possible with that tire choice. And he is right up there with Marquez in not being afraid to go “all out” in the middle of the pack. They are both so aggressive during the race (which I think is great and makes for a great show).

    Insane overtake by Crutchlow in the finish line!!

    • Bruce Allen

      I failed to shout out to Dovizioso about three second place finishes in three outings. This is no fluke; the GP15 is for real, and Dovi is now a card-carrying Alien.

      • Vrooom

        No doubt, Dovi has been impressive. He may have gotten Lorenzo’s card though. Aleix is going to be dragging Suzuki up on the podium one of these races I suspect. Great coverage as always Bruce.

        • Bruce Allen

          Thank you for the kind words. Still thinking Aleix’s best chances will be at Assen and Germany.

    • Y.A.

      Yea I wish there were more coverage on that. That was insane. And yea the GP15 is the real deal. But this is, if I’m correct, the guy who basically designed the RSV4, and def designed the ART bike, which was a chassis in search of a great engine. Well, Ducati had the opposite (though they needed to shave that engine down to work in a great chassis). It’s a match made in heaven. Dovi deserves the looks too. Lot of people (including myself) counted him down and out once Honda gave him the boot, but now he’s ready to fight.

  • ‘Mike Smith

    This season has had the best racing since I started following it. I can’t wait for round 4!!!

  • Gary J Boulanger

    The SF D-Store crowd and I were on the edge of our folding chairs, nibbling away at our fingernails, when Rossi pulled an Italian rabbit out of his AGV hat. What a race!

  • Bruce Allen

    How about a shout out to Dennis Chung for working on his Sunday and doing a great job, as usual, with photos and captions. Bravo Dennis!

  • TroySiahaan

    In post race interviews, Marquez said he was trying to conserve his tires in an attempt to have something left once VR inevitably came by. MM knew Rossi was coming, and he was formulating a plan – during the race – to deal with the impending battle. And that’s exactly what it would have been. While I think the plan would have ultimately been futile, I give the guy credit for not going out without a fight. Reminds me of the Rainey/Schwantz days. And in the odd chance MM would have come out on top, we’d all be hailing his praises.

    • Bruce Allen

      Troy, you make a good point. As I’ve mentioned once or twice, these guys are so competitive they’d want to whip your ass in tiddlywinks. But discretion is the better part of valor. Perhaps if this had been late in the last lap I’d agree with you. But with a lap and a half left Marquez’ only real hope was to initiate contact and hope Rossi got the worst of it; otherwise MM was not going to win.

      • TroySiahaan

        “Marquez’ only real hope was to initiate contact”

        You mean like Senna did to Prost? I find it hard to believe MM would want to try and take VR out. It’s an awfully dirty – and dangerous – tactic, and one with a high possibility of backfiring, as MM learned first hand. As I said before, I think even if MM didn’t crash VR would have won their little duel to the flag. What I really don’t understand is MM said before the race that his pace was good on both the hard and extra hard tire. If he was so confident in his pace with the extra hard, why didn’t he choose that tire to race on and give himself a much better chance at winning?

        • Bruce Allen

          I didn’t mean to suggest he would take Rossi out, just sayin’ a bump here or there might have forced him wide and opened the door. As for his tire choice, people here are saying he wasn’t quite as quick on the extra hard option. Crutchlow and Redding did pretty well on the softer option, but I thought the heat and the racing surface itself dictated the hardest compound available. In fact, I thought the Ducatis might have done better with the extra hard compound, an instance where the rule meant to give them an advantage actually hurt them.

  • Old MOron

    “Honda Hothead,” ha ha ha. I like it. I think Cal just has a scrappy attitude. Conflict helps him to psyche up. He actually started his interview with Dylan Gray quite graciously. Then he moved on to his bread and butter.

    You know what I thought was hilarious? (And I do mean “hilarious”.) Romano Fenati’s beef with Nicklas Ajo. At the end of this clip, when the riders line up to practice their starts, Fenati and Ajo are on the left side of the screen. Fenati finally got some satisfaction.

    • TroySiahaan

      Agreed, that tantrum from Fenati was a gut buster. And hitting Ajo’s kill switch?! Oldest trick in the book! I mean, he deserves the penalty he got, but I appreciate the theatrics.

  • Backroad Bob

    Boys and girls, if you watched this event you witnessed the most important
    motorcycle race in the last fifteen years of GP/MotoGP. With this
    race, Valentino Rossi did many things and sent many messages, but the
    most important was he showed that Marquez could be beat. Rossi’s win
    instilled confidence and hope in every MotoGP rider and reminded
    Marquez, who hasn’t been around long enough to have witnessed or been
    the recipient of Rossi’s nerve and skill, that there’s a price to
    repassing the Master. I wouldn’t doubt this race played out just as
    Rossi imagined and just as Marquez couldn’t believe before the flag
    dropped. If there was any doubt he is the Master Strategist, there
    isn’t any more. BTW – excellent analysis.

  • Y.A.

    This race demonstrated the difference experience makes. Marquez learned a very hard lesson yesterday. It’s also showing that the MotoGP field is probably as competitive as its ever been. Marquez is a great talent and still definitely WC material, but now with actual competition on the grid, specifically a frighteningly quick, experienced, and strategic Rossi, he’s going to have fight a whole lot harder and SMARTER. He’s got a long road ahead of him and I see Rossi’s growing confidence cycle becoming a feedback loop. It’s already looking like a HELL of a season.

    • Bruce Allen

      Wouldn’t it be great if they were closer in age? I could watch races like this forever. Wasn’t sure I’d ever see the words “Marquez” and “beatable” in the same sentence.

  • JMDonald

    Moto GP is alive and well. Best racing on the planet.