After a convincing performance in the Qatari desert two weeks ago, defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo confronts one of his demons this week. The Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina, running as usual at the shiny new-ish Termas de Río Hondo, operates outside of Lorenzo’s Land. One of five venues on the 2016 calendar where Lorenzo has yet to taste victory in the premier class (quick – name the other four*), Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him this weekend. *COTA, The Sachsenring, Red Bull Ring and Sepang.

Having tested at Losail just weeks ago, the grid had a reasonably good idea what to expect from the standard ECU and Michelin rubber when the lights went out in Doha. Not so at Rio Hondo. Friday will mark the first time the riders have set foot on the Argentine asphalt in 2016. We are reminded of how Repsol Honda star Marc Marquez acquainted himself with the place in 2014 when the track first opened. He strolled around in 14th place during FP1, then cinched everything up, lowered his visor, and topped the charts in FP2, FP3, FP4, Q2, the warm-up practice and, finally, the race itself. Caution will be the order of the day on Friday morning.

Valentino Rossi won last year in Argentina while Jorge Lorenzo finished off the podium in fifth.

Lorenzo’s pursuers in the 2016 chase – Ducati’s Andreas Dovizioso and Iannone, Marquez, Yamaha teammate and nemesis Valentino Rossi foremost among them – have reason to feel optimistic heading for the southern hemisphere. Both Marquez and Rossi have won here, in 2014 and last year, respectively. Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa finished less than two seconds behind Marquez in 2014 and in front of both Lorenzo and Rossi. Dovizioso claimed a clean second place finish last year, while Honda tough guy Cal Crutchlow was busy punking Iannone at the flag for his only podium of 2015. Iannone, especially, having crashed out of the lead in Qatar, needs to make up some ground this week to cut into Lorenzo’s 25 point advantage. God knows he has the bike upon which to do it.

Not Riblets – Winglets!

The feng shui (Japanese for “latest fad”) in MotoGP these days are these little wing thingies that have sprouted from the front fairings of just about every bike on the grid over the past few years. According to Matt Oxley, former rider and current paddock layabout, the appendages on the Ducatis are suspected of producing dirty air – read: turbulence – for trailing riders. Many of us are accustomed to hearing this concept applied to racing yachts and fighter jets, but this is a new finding in MotoGP. Matt cites anecdotal evidence that such turbulence came close to unseating Pedrosa in Australia last year.

Winglets, or strakes if you want to be technical about it, are under heavy scrutiny by MotoGP’s rulemakers.

Several thoughts on this subject: Why are the Ducs being singled out for causing problems, while none of the other manufacturers, all of whom are sporting riblets winglets, stand accused? Sure, the Ducatis flirt with low Earth orbits on long straights, as we saw illustrated vividly at the end of Lap 1 at Losail. But such would appear to be a matter of degree; it’s not like they’re breaking the sound barrier. (Yet, anyway.) Could this be a case of, ahem, “intelligent design,” deployed to discourage other riders from hitching a tow behind Iannone or Dovizioso? The strakes are prohibited in Moto2 and Moto3; why, then, are they permitted on the fastest bikes on the planet?

The irony here is that subsequent to the tragic Marco Simoncelli crash at Sepang in 2011, Dorna and Grand Gouda Carmelo Ezpeleta announced their intention to reduce speeds and make the sport safer going forward. Instead, they allow enhanced aerodynamics which improve traction, while the engineers beaver away to squeeze horsepower and torque out of the engines. The result? Iannone hits 218 mph in the warm-up at Losail, Dani Pedrosa is allegedly getting tossed around like a ragdoll in the wake, and the sport looks to be setting itself up for another pointless fatality.

MotoGP bikes are fast. Fans are unable to distinguish between a motorcycle traveling at 190 mph and one traveling at 200 unless they’re running side by side. Enough already with the winglets.

No one in MotoGP speaks as loudly with his eyes as Cal Crutchlow.

Speaking of enough already, Cal Crutchlow’s lament in Qatar that he crashed because “the bike didn’t know where it was” reveals just how Space Odyssey the electronics have become. (“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”) I, for one, hope it becomes fashionable in the future for the riders to do more and the ECUs to do less, before MotoGP becomes just a big, noisy, expensive video game.

Pity Danilo Petrucci

One rider for whom I had high hopes this season is Danilo Petrucci, Scott Redding’s teammate on the Pramac Ducati team. Despite having averaged 23 points a year during his first three premier class seasons, all of which were spent on execrable machinery, someone at Ducati saw something in him and gave him a ride on a second hand Desmosedici last season. He went from having earned 17 points in 2014 to 113 and a top ten finish last year. With an even stronger bike beneath him, I thought him capable of finishing between sixth and tenth this year.

Be careful with those fist-bumps, Danilo.

Alas, bad luck intervened. Petrucci smashed his right hand in a late pre-season testing crash, and did it again trying to return too soon in Qatar. He is now out indefinitely, his place being taken by highly qualified Ducati test rider Michele Pirro. The familiar melody you hear in the background is the Colonel Bogey March being whistled by Casey Stoner, standing around, under contract to test for Ducati but unwilling to return to the track. Virtually identical to the situation when he was testing for Honda and Dani Pedrosa broke his collarbone. Married readers may detect in all this the invisible hand of Adriana Stoner, who, it must be assumed, has assured Casey that in the event she ever sees #27 on a race day track, the only function left to be served by his didgeridoo will be urination.

Questions in Search of Answers in Argentina

In no particular order:

  • Are any of the other Aliens strong enough to mount a serious challenge to Lorenzo this year? This would seem a good place to begin to find out.
  • Can Iannone (or Dovi) challenge Lorenzo mano à mano on Sunday, assuming he keeps his bike shiny side up? The Alien Club beckons.
  • Have Maverick Vinales, Scott Redding and Hector Barbera improved as much as we thought during the offseason?
Expectations are much higher for Maverick Vinales this season.
  • Is Dani Pedrosa beginning to show signs of wear? Since the end of last season, which he finished strong, his testing and early season performance has been distinguished, in my dad’s words, only by an its lack of distinction.
  • Who gets the last slot on the grid for next season? The name Sito Pons keeps surfacing, with either Pol Espargaro or Alex Rins the favorites to man the bike, whatever the bike turns out to be. A brixxer would be nice.
  • The weather forecast for the Esteros environs calls for hot and mostly dry conditions on Friday and Saturday, with cool, wet air moving in for Sunday. Will the weather get in Lorenzo’s way? The Ducs are voting in favor of rain.
  • Cal Crutchlow’s bike had an existential crisis in Qatar. Can it find itself this week in South America?
  • And what’s up with Aleix Espargaro? Maybe it’s the ECU, maybe it’s the tires; whatever it is, he needs to get with the program. His wingman is making him look sick.

For those of you still able to watch on live TV, the race goes off Sunday at 3 pm EDT. We’ll have results here late Sunday or early Monday.

  • Old MOron

    Colonel Bogey’s March? Ha ha ha, Casey may be the Colonel, but Adri is the General. Or maybe she’s the Colonel and Casey is marching to her tune? Doesn’t matter. Great metaphor either way. Interesting difference from last year. When Dani was out, Casey actually offered to ride, and Honda said no. This time, Ducati may have offered a ride, but Adriana – I mean Casey – said no.

    Possible rain on Sunday, really? Fantastic! Everyone can roll the dice with the Michelin intermediate tires. It would be so fun to see the bravest and most skilled pilot win. (cough, Rossi, cough)

    I wonder how badly Yamaha want the Maverick. Would they let Pol go to the Pons team and lure Maverick onto a factory bike in Tech3 colors? I don’t imagine Herve would complain about having Maverick and Rins on his bikes!

    • Bruce Allen

      I don’t see Vinales going from a factory ride to a satellite team. And I thought for sure you or one of your homeboys would zero in on “didgeridoo,” which I put in exclusively for you Aussies and Kiwis over strong objections from the editors. And it looks like the reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey was too subtle. Whatever. Looking forward to the weekend. BTW, I tuned out of comments on the last article before you and Ozzy Mick started batting the WSBK ball around. Fact is, I know even less about Superbike than I do MotoGP!

      • Ian Parkes

        Bruce, rest assured that just because someone hasn’t commented on one doesn’t mean a cultural reference was too subtle. Feel free to be way more subtle than this: A didgeridoo is a woodwind instrument played with the mouth – so shouldn’t that be her didgeridoo?

        • Bruce Allen

          Not where I come from. In fact, Adriana could play a tune on my didgeridoo anytime she wants. I mean, it’s like a flute, right?

          • Old MOron

            It’s Casey’s didgeridoo, but Adri keeps it in her purse.
            (name that reference)

          • Bruce Allen

            My only guess would be Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Lining Playbook. I would objectify that chick in a heartbeat.

          • Old MOron

            Wait, Silver Lining Playbook? Let me look that up…
            Google says that’s from 2012. Ha ha ha, no Brucey, I’m an Old MOron. My reference is to the late, great Sam Kinison:
            https://youtu.be/9GXPd0fnpKw

          • Bruce Allen

            He was brilliant. I actually remember this bit, the part about asking his friends to kill him. Hilarious.

          • Ozzy Mick

            They’re usually about 4 or 5 feet long…

          • Ian Parkes

            Uh, yes. She plays it, it’s hers. But I understand it’s not difficult.You just put your lips together and blow.

          • Old MOron

            Was you ever bit by a dead bee?

      • JMDonald

        I would have mentioned the 2001 reference but decided to sit back and enjoy it. Don’t think for a second the superior intellectual minds that read your analyses miss your Brucisms. Subtle or not. If we continually compliment your writing your sense of grandeur and entitlement will surpass that of a certain John Burns. How many umbrella girls can any two moto journalists objectify? Answer: One more. Remember us regular guys expect nothing less.

        • Bruce Allen

          OK, you win. Whenever one of you breaks out the Latin references, I’m done, out of my depth. Blame it on inferior American public school education, much of which I slept through. And nobody I know can top the inimitable Mr. Burns.

      • Old MOron

        Yeah, I don’t see Maverick going to a satellite team either. But maybe there’s a chance if the Suzook turns out to be a disappointment, and somebody guarantees him factory equipment on a satellite team.

        But if Yamaha keep their Bruise Brothers, and if Maverick were interested in leaving Suzuki, he’d probably land in Dani’s vacated saddle. Though Dovi’s is possible, too, now that I think about it.

      • Old MOron

        Hey, I just saw something I missed the first time. The MOronic editors objected to “didgeridoo”? Really?
        I’m curious. What was their objection? (I understand that you may not be at liberty to say.)

        • Bruce Allen

          I was just kiddin’ anyway. They used to object to a lot of my nonsense, but not really, anymore. Of course, some of the phallic references manage to slip through un-noticed.

          • Ozzy Mick

            Mate, a didgeridoo is a phallic reference? Hmmmm…it’s actually only good for a blow job. But I know you knew that. Thanks for the reference anyway – why else would an Aussie follow Motogp these days.
            GO MILLER!!!! Miller? Helllooo….are you there?

          • Old MOron

            Miller finished 8th in this morning’s practice. All the riders were kind of tip-toeing around because the track was so dirty. Miller showed a lot of sack finishing 8th in those conditions with his buggered ankle.

          • Old MOron

            Wow, 15 minutes to go in the 2nd practice and Miller is in 2nd position, behind Marquez.

          • Ozzy Mick

            Thanks for the heads up, OM. Checked out the latest and Miller’s 4th – wow, excellent effort, even after #46 got in the way! GO MILLSY!!!!

          • Old MOron

            Yes, not only was he was the top satellite rider (Calvin’s late effort could not unseat him), but he also finished ahead of five factory bikes. I think he said that his ankle is not bothering him, but it still takes guts to push when you’re injured.

          • Bruce Allen

            “Only.” Good one. And your boy Miller seems to like Rio Honda, um, Rio Hondo.

      • spiff

        I would like to see Lorenzo go Italian and Mavric on the Yamaha.

      • Ozzy Mick

        Is Old MO an Aussie? I’ll be buggered if he is, mate. Just give WSBK a shot – we’ll still lap up your every word regardless of how well informed you are. What’s happening with Hayden?

        • Old MOron

          LOL, not fooling you, eh?
          Bruce, I agree with Mick. We don’t necessarily know a lot about WSBK either. Why do you think we’re clamoring for your insight?

  • JMDonald

    A lot of unanswered question this early in the season. It’s one of life’s pleasures MotoGP is.

  • halfkidding

    On the speed, why did they go back to up 1000cc displacement? I thought they should have gone down further to 750. Does anyone who knows a thing about racing at high levers agree or disagree that 750’s might produce better racing, less dependence upon tires and electronics and maybe be safer. The latter probably not but could be. Still I can’t think of a single downside from a fan perspective, or a rider perspective for that matter.

    • Mahatma

      A big who cares.I would have supported that if they took away the electronic gadgetry and all those artificial rules and regulations engine-wise (why do they have them since it’s only the big companies that race in the motogp?),but that’ll never happen.Also,it looks kind of silly if they go slower than WSB.Kind of like current F1 cars being beaten by WTCC if you know what I mean.Although in a few years they might go slower than formula 2 cars…;)

    • Old MOron

      If I recall Moto GP history correctly, when they went from 990 cc to 800, the bikes actually got more dangerous, more dependent on tires, and more dependent on electronics.

      With the smaller, lighter engines, the bikes carried more corner speed. Racers crashed more often, and they were injured because tracks hadn’t yet created more run-off room in the corners.

      The higher corner speeds also changed the requirements for Bridgstone’s tires.

      In order to attain power similar to the 990’s, the 800’s were designed with peaky powerbands; hence they were more dependent on electronics.

    • Michael Mccormick

      What the hell, let’s go back to 500cc 2 strokes and no electronics. I guess the bean oil fumes would wreck the ozone.

    • spiff

      Possibly give them a standard final gear?

  • DKing

    Ahhhh…the suspense is killing me!…lol. Okay; I’m going to take a wild stab at thee of the venues Lorenzo has not had a victory, but no clue on the 4th…. Sachsenring, COTA & Red Bull Ring – Spielberg?

    • Bruce Allen

      What’s funny is that I gave Dennis Chung the answers, and told him to put them wherever he wanted in the article, which was, apparently, nowhere. Oddly, the fourth track is Sepang.

      • DKing

        lol..that is great! Thanks!

  • John A. Stockman

    Good write-up! Speaking of unnoticed references, I liked the second-to-last sentence about “For those of you still able to watch on live TV…”. I detest the fact that beIN Sports has now gotten exclusive rights for MotoGP here, and Fox Sports was dumped or didn’t renew their contract. How is going with beIN Sports increasing viewer numbers in a market that Dorna and Carmelo E. has said is SO important to the series? It’s not even available on many cable provider’s line ups, and both satellite companies want quite a bit more to get it, on top of already increasing monthly bills. beIN screwed up WSBK coverage, each year slowly cutting out more and more laps from Supersport races then entire races altogether; last year hardly any WSS races were shown. And PJ Jacobsen was the ONLY American in the entire series, doing very well, yet beIN decided it wasn’t worthy of air time. beIN didn’t even show Moto2 or Moto3 from Qatar. That’s what motorcycle racing enthusiasts need, a soccer network having the rights in this market. My friends in other countries are still enjoying the same networks and good coverage of all MotoGP classes and WSBK/WSS without a blatant ball-sport bias.

    • Bruce Allen

      Not a good deal for American fans, who would get far superior coverage through the MotoGP website, but for whom $110 for the season is a bit steep. Dorna and The Money Washer don’t give a rip about the U.S. market, which they must view as Harley-centric, instead focusing on places like Singapore and Thailand where the OEMs can sell millions of small bikes. I was the only American journalist in Jerez in 2010 and had to buy a scalped ticket just to get into the place, having been deemed unworthy of receiving a press credential despite having traveled there on my own dime. Not a big fan of Dorna.

  • Old MOron

    My, oh my, eventful FP4, eh?

    • Ozzy Mick

      Sure was! End of Honda’s ‘dominance’ with 3 each of the major players and one lone Suzi in the top ten.
      Miller? 15th. Can’t help wondering if he would have done better by moving into Moto2 instead of leap frogging into MotoGP? Hope he proves me wrong.
      BTW, Hayden was 6th in the first race at Aragon yesterday.

      • Old MOron

        Yeah, I watched the whole thing. Seemed like very time Miller crashed, it was on a flying lap that was destined for glory. I like that his pitboard identifies him as “Jackass”. It’s good to keep some levity in such a high-pressure environment.

        Speaking of pressure, seems like young VDM was feeling it a bit today instead of dishing it out. Good to see a new face at the top of the podium. We’ll see how things go tomorrow.

  • Gruf Rude

    Michelin isn’t exactly covering itself with glory so far this season. Hopefully the extra 30 minute practice tomorrow will allow the teams to find an appropriate set-up for the new stronger, slower carcass. Or, of course, find a set-up for rain and hope the Michelin rain tires are up to the challenge . . .