To the casual observer looking at the final result, the 2016 Argentine Grand Prix would appear to have been just another MotoGP race. Marc Marquez topped the podium, flanked by usual suspects Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa. Upon closer examination, however, it becomes clear that the racing gods were in complete control for the entire weekend. From FP1 to the final turn, it was el mano de Dios calling the shots.
Friday was as hot as the hinges of hell. The Yamahas cowered in the heat; defending world champion and Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo finished 12th in the morning, improving to 14th in the afternoon. Rossi managed 6th and 7th on Friday, but was not setting the world on fire, as it were. Riders complained that the track was dirty, that no effort had been made to put it in racing condition since its last use back in December. Turn 1 hosted a weekend-long series of crashes reminiscent of a 1960’s Jan and Dean anthem. Naturally, Dorna responded to the criticism by signing a new three year deal with Termas de Rio Hondo on Saturday.
Saturday afternoon, Octo Pramac Ducati pilot Scott Redding was minding his own business, doing 200 mph down the back straight when he experienced a private deus ex machina, the tread flying off his rear casing like a semi shedding a retread. The impact removed a chunk of his rear fairing and left Redding with a welt on his back that looked like he’d been hit with a 2×4. Dorna immediately went into lockdown mode (curiously re-starting the practice session) and, in consultation with a chagrined Michelin, began issuing releases faster than the scribblers could send them home, the last and most coherent of which (on Sunday morning) follows:
The race distance is changed to 20 laps.
IN THE CASE OF THE RACE STARTING IN DRY CONDITIONS:
- Riders must change bikes at the end of their ninth, tenth or 11th Lap.
- If rain starts and Race Direction consider the situation to be dangerous the red flag will be shown and all riders should enter pit lane.
- Teams will be given 15 minutes between the display of the red flag and opening of pit lane to make adjustments to the machines.
- The second part of the race will be for 10 laps. Grid positions will be based on the result of the first part and will be declared a wet race.
IN THE CASE OF THE RACE STARTING IN WET CONDITIONS
- Riders may enter the pits to change machines only from the end of their ninth lap.
- If the wet race is red flagged for other reasons when more than 13 laps have been completed then the result will stand and there will be no restart.
Marquez laid down a blistering first flying lap during Q2 which stood up, maintaining his perfect record of starting from the pole in Argentina. Lorenzo and Rossi had regrouped after Friday and traded places several times late in the session, with Rossi ending up second and Lorenzo third. The second row included young phenom Maverick Vinales on the Suzuki, joined by the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team, Dovizioso and Iannone.
A fifth practice session was hastily arranged for Sunday morning to introduce the riders to Michelin’s Fustercluck tire, an emergency compound intended for use only in the event of a Phillip Island 2013-scale disaster, which this was becoming. The session was abandoned when Sunday dawned wet; the Moto3 race was a wet race, the Moto2 affair declared “dry” but far from it. The track was drying quickly, the leaden clouds holding their water, so to speak. After twisting itself into knots trying to determine how to avoid sending the riders out on tires they had never previously tried, Race Direction ended up with a dry race run under the ad hoc rules published above.
As the riders lined up on the grid waiting for the lights to go out, the racing gods, done messing with the weather, were casting lots to determine who would end the day frolicking with the lambs in the “Lucky” column and who would end up with the goats in the “Unlucky” column. They apparently decided to consign one rider to a third category, “Thick as a Brick.”
Seriously, Are You Ever Going to Give Us the Race?
The start was dicey at best. Iannone and Pedrosa made contact in Turn 1, sending the Spaniard way wide and apparently ending his podium bid. The front group emerged late on Lap 1 comprised of Dovizioso, Rossi, Marquez, Vinales and Lorenzo. Goats Cal Crutchlow and Aleix Espargaro slid off simultaneously at Turn 1 (no kidding) of Lap 2, Crutchlow evading Espargaro’s unguided missile by inches. (Both would re-enter and continue racing, for whatever reason.) Yonny Hernandez, suffering the ignominy of starting his “home race” from the back of the grid, crashed out moments later. Goat.
Jack Miller, on the Marc VDS Honda, appearing lamb-like, climbed all the way up to 7th position and actually went through on the laboring Lorenzo before crashing out on Lap 3, unlucky as usual. Lorenzo himself, fresh off his win in Qatar, slid off at Turn 1 of Lap 6, his goat horns appearing as little winglets on his helmet.
As the front group began thinking about their mandatory pit stops, Marquez led Rossi by less than a second, followed by Vinales and the two factory Ducatis. Rossi and Marquez went through on each other twice on Lap 9, providing a déjà vu of last year’s race. Vinales, Iannone and Pedrosa, among others, pitted on Lap 9 without incident. On Lap 10, Rossi tailgated Marquez into pit lane. Both made clean swaps, Marquez holding the lead exiting the pits. Along comes Tito Rabat on his Marc VDS Honda, a BFF of Marquez. Somehow (wink wink) Marquez managed to enter the track in front of Rabat, while Rossi was forced to yield. In the next minute, Marquez stretched his lead over Rossi from a few tenths to over two seconds. At the time, it appeared Rabat was helping his buddy; Rossi’s comments after the race dispelled that notion, as his #2 bike wasn’t nearly as sharp as #1 had been.
Marquez puts down a vapor trail, leaving Rossi to duke it out with upstart Vinales, the two Andreas snapping and snarling right behind him (Rabat had checked out, pitting on Lap 11), Pedrosa a mile behind. This went on for a while, with Vinales appearing to be lining Rossi up for a memorable pass. (Farther back in the pack, Redding, in pure goat mode, had climbed all the way up to seventh position before his Ducati stalled, putting the capper on a gruesome weekend for the likeable Brit.)
You could almost hear the gods howling with laughter during the final two laps. Vinales approaches Turn 1 on Lap 18 two feet off the racing line, finds a tiny puddle of water, and goes from lamb to goat in an instant, thoughts of his first premier class podium up in smoke. Rossi, clearly a lamb, is suddenly relieved of one serious threat to his podium hopes, but has two more, the Andreas, to contend with, both of whom seem to have more pace. Still, if you want to go through on Valentino Rossi late on Sunday, you had better pack your lunch, because it’s not gonna be easy.
Lap 20: Rossi is holding off Dovi, with Iannone threatening, in full Maniac mode, in the last three turns. Iannone, desperate for a podium after crashing out of the lead in Qatar, sees a possible opening in the last turn, dives inside, loses the front, and collects Dovizioso on his way into the kitty litter. Boom – game over. Dovi, the blameless lamb, is stuck with the worst luck of the day. Iannone must explain his actions to Race Direction and Gigi Dall’Igna, Thick as a Brick tattooed on his forehead. Pedrosa is shocked to suddenly find himself on the podium. And Eugene Laverty, on the Aspar Ducati, the luckiest lamb of all, finishes the day in fourth position, the leading satellite rider, a full eight spots higher than his previous best MotoGP career finish in Qatar two weeks ago. The only word to describe the look on his face in Parc Fermè is “stunned.”
The Big Picture
Marc Marquez seizes the 2016 championship lead, ahead of Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo. Pedrosa, looking thoroughly downcast after the race, needs to figure out what’s up with his 2016 RC213V. Hector Barbera resides in seventh place for the season, ahead of off-season strivers Vinales and Redding. And The Maniac, who I had tagged as an Alien-in-waiting, having crashed out of five of his last six races, is 0 for 2016 after two rounds.
Next week it’s another Honda-friendly track in Austin. One hopes that the racing gods got their fill today. American racing fans don’t like all that livestock wandering around their racetracks.
|2016 MotoGP Argentina Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+7.679|
|3||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+28.100|
|4||Eugene Laverty||Aspar Ducati||+36.542|
|5||Hector Barbera||Avintia Racing||+36.711|
|6||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+37.245|
|7||Stefan Bradl||Aprilia Gresini||+41.353|
|8||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+50.709|
|9||Tito Rabat||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+50.983|
|10||Alvaro Bautista||Aprilia Gresini||+1:01.388|
|11||Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki Ecstar||+1:08.868|
|12||Michele Pirro||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||+1:18.987|
|13||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+1:33.419|
|–||Andrea Iannone||Ducati||1 Lap|
|–||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda||1 Lap|
|–||Maverick Vinales||Suzuki Ecstar||3 Laps|
|–||Scott Redding||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||5 Laps|
|–||Loris Baz||Avintia Ducati||8 Laps|
|–||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||15 Laps|
|–||Jack Miller||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||17 Laps|
|–||Yonny Hernandez||Aspar Ducati||18 Laps|
|2016 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 2 Rounds|