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In a perfect world, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a thrilling fight to the flag here at the Middle of Nowhere Grand Prix. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he carelessly lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat.

Marc Marquez tumbles into the gravel after crashing with the lead early in the race.

In winning his first two races on the factory Yamaha, Viñales tied two records dating back to the 1990’s. Kenny Roberts, Jr. won his first two races on a new team in 1999 after having abandoned the Modenas KR3 team for Suzuki. And Wayne Rainey (not Valentino Rossi, not Jorge Lorenzo) was the last Yamaha pilot to start the season with two wins back in 1990, well before Viñales was born. Had Marquez not lost his grits today, both records might still be standing. We’ll never know.

Practice and Qualifying Weirdness

Practice was dry on Friday. Viñales topped FP1 and FP2, with lots of big names way down the order. Some unfamiliar names popped up in the top five – Danilo Petrucci, rookies Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, and Karel Abraham, of all people, in FP1; both Abraham and Petrucci appeared in the top five again in FP2. Saturday was a wet day, the first ever for Viñales on the Yamaha. Accordingly, in FP3 he slipped all the way down to second place, behind LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, with Marquez in fifth.

Johann Zarco’s starting to make a believer out of Bruce.

Thus was the die cast for the first qualifying sessions of the season – Qatar cancelled theirs due to some Biblical rain – and the separating of the goats into Q1 and the lambs into Q2, but in a Bizarro kind of configuration. The lambs cinched into Q2 included, and I’m not kidding, Petrucci, Loris Baz, Folger, Alvaro Bautista, and Abraham. The goats, relegated to the ignominy of Q1, and again I’m not kidding, included BOTH factory Ducatis, Dani Pedrosa, everyone’s new fave Johann Zarco, and Valentino Freaking Rossi. Rossi and Pedrosa snuck into Q2 on their last laps of the session. They aren’t called Aliens (or Alien Emeritus) for nothing.

Karel Abraham was all-smiles after qualifying on the front row.

Qualifying itself was more or less routine, with the notable exception of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 sitting in the middle of the front row beneath Karel Abraham. Marquez started from pole, going four-for-four in Argentina, with Crutchlow sitting third, Pedrosa 5th and Rossi 7th. Figuratively speaking, the wheels fell off for the factory Ducati team on Saturday, with Andrea Dovizioso slotted 13th and Lorenzo occupying his customary wet weather position of 16th on the grid.

Trouble at the Start

Jorge Lorenzo crashed out after making contact with Andrea Iannone’s rear wheel. Iannone received a ride-through penalty, not for this crash but for jumping the start. Photo by Suzuki.

Lorenzo, the Great Spanish Hope of the factory Ducati team, saw his day end in the congested first turn as he tagged Andrea Iannone’s back wheel and quickly ended up in the gravel, the dream of one-upping Rossi in his own Yamaha-to-Ducati defection having morphed into a nightmare. After two rounds, he trails series leader Viñales by 45 points. (Although Marquez trails by 37, his deficit seems much smaller than JLo’s, since Marquez looks fully capable of winning races, while Lorenzo looks fully capable of nothing right now.)

Trouble in the Middle

Cal Crutchlow finds himself the top Honda rider in the race – and on the season, ahead of factory riders Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.

Marquez’s gaffe on Lap 4 left a top five of Viñales, Crutchlow, Rossi, Pramac Ducati ex-cop Petrucci and Repsol’s Pedrosa. Petrucci, who would finish seventh, and Pedrosa spent the middle third of the race carving one another up until Pedrosa submitted a carbon copy of Marquez’ fall at Turn 2 on Lap 14. Moments later, on Lap 15, Aleix Espargaro, who has been overachieving on the Gresini Aprilia, lost the front at Turn 1 and collected factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso on his way to the runoff area. Dovi, accustomed to getting creamed by  Iannone and Pedrosa, appeared nonplussed at having been clipped by the likable Spaniard. Ducati team boss Gigi Dall’Igna, shown briefly in his garage at that moment, appeared to be throwing up in his mouth.

After the podium party, to which neither was invited, Pedrosa and Marquez could be seen in their garage, drunk, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, singing Citizen King’s “I’ve Seen Better Days” in some very ragged Spanish.

Ridiculous Results

Crutchlow, looking strong, managed to hold off Rossi until Lap 19. He chased the Italian around for a few laps before calculating that 16 points were better than none, settling for third and a place on the rostrum. No surprise there. But who would have guessed that Bautista, flogging the Aspar team Ducati, would cross the line fourth, followed by two rookies? Zarco, who is starting to make a believer out of me, came from 14th at the start to finish fifth, while Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Jonas Folger worked his way from 11th at the start to a legit sixth place finish and 10 points. Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal, smiling like the cat who swallowed the canary, allegedly texted his counterpart with the Repsol Honda team, Livio Suppo, after the race, asking Livio if he was interested in a few tips about racing in South America.

Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi have Yamaha riding high after two rounds. They were the only factory riders in the top 10 at Rio Hondo.

Scott Redding on the Pramac GP16, Jack Miller on the Marc VDS Honda and the aforementioned Karel Abraham completed today’s top ten. Right. That makes eight satellite bikes in the top ten, which last occurred during the 1952 Tour de France.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that both KTM riders, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, finished in the points, putting KTM in the MotoGP books for the first time ever. This is not ridiculous, either. But KTM bosses issuing press releases declaring their intent to title in MotoGP within three years – ridiculous.

The Big Picture

Count Jonas Folger and Alvaro Bautista both find themselves in the top 10 in the points standings after two races.

After two rounds, the big picture looks like a Jackson Pollock canvas. Sure, the Movistar Yamaha team rules the world early in the season; I get that. But Scott “The Whiner” Redding sits in fourth place, as if he belongs there. Rookie Jonas Folger sits sixth. Jackass Miller sits seventh, with Marc Marquez tied for eighth with Alvaro Bautista. WTF? But the most acid-flashback-ish sight on the board is that of triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo tied for 18th place with the helpless Tito Rabat. I did a fast double-check – the walls of my hotel room do not appear to be melting, nor does the flesh seem to be falling off my face in great gross chunks. I’m not having a flashback. Jorge Lorenzo, uninjured, has earned five (5) points thus far in 2017. The bosses in Bologna need to lower their expectations. Right now would be fine.

What does it all mean? Other than Maverick Viñales seizing the 2017 season by the throat, not much. There are 16 races left to go, and the precocious Spaniard is unlikely to win them all. He will face some adversity along the way, allowing the rest of the Alien contingent – Marquez, Rossi and Dovizioso – back into the picture.

Everything has been going Maverick Viñales’ way thus far in 2017.

Viñales admitted to feeling some pressure this weekend, especially in the wet on Saturday. After today’s race, the pressure has fallen squarely on defending champion Marc Marquez, who let one get away from him this afternoon. Whether today’s crash has ruined his season is unclear. What is clear, however, is that #93 needs a win in Austin, where he is undefeated, in two weeks in order to avoid joining Jorge Lorenzo in the very bad place where he now resides.

2017 MotoGP Argentina Race Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Maverick Viñales Movistar Yamaha
2 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha +2.915
3 Cal Crutchlow LCR Honda +3.754
4 Alvaro Bautista Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati +6.523
5 Johann Zarco Monster Yamaha Tech 3 +15.504
6 Jonas Folger Monster Yamaha Tech3 +18.241
7 Danilo Petrucci Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati +20.046
8 Scott Redding Octo Pramac Ducati +25.480
9 Jack Miller Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +25.665
10 Karel Abraham Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati +26.403
11 Loris Baz Reale Avintia Ducati +26.952
12 Tito Rabat Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +41.875
13 Hector Barbera Avintia Racing +42.770
14 Pol Espargaro Red Bull KTM +43.085
15 Bradley Smith Red Bull KTM +43.452
16 Andrea Iannone Suzuki Ecstar +46.219
Not Classified
DNF Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse 11 Laps
DNF Aleix Espargaro Aprilia Gresini 11 Laps
DNF Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 12 Laps
DNF Sam Lowes Aprilia Gresini 14 Laps
DNF Alex Rins Suzuki Ecstar 14 Laps
DNF Marc Marquez Repsol Honda 22 Laps
DNF Jorge Lorenzo Ducati Corse 0 Laps
2017 MotoGP Top 10 Standings After 2 Rounds
1 Maverick Viñales Yamaha 50
2 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 36
3 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 20
4 Scott Redding Ducati 17
5 Cal Crutchlow Honda 16
6 Jonas Folger Yamaha 16
7 Jack Miller Honda 15
8 Marc Marquez Honda 13
9 Alvaro Bautista Ducati 13
10 Dani Pedrosa Honda 11