MotoGP 2017 Rio Hondo Preview
Repsol, LCR Teams Anxious for Argentina
Having left the wide-open spaces of the Persian Gulf, The Greatest Show on Two Wheels heads south of the equator to Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina. Round Two of the tantalizing 2017 season, The Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina, promises to answer a few questions that popped up in the desert two weeks ago. The various and sundry Honda teams, especially, have a few things to prove at this very RC213V-friendly circuit. But is the 2017 bike up to it?
What we know now that we didn’t know two weeks ago is how Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow ended up with the medium front Michelin instead of the hard option. All three blame Michelin for advising them to make the change, which did not work. Marquez and Pedrosa had to nurse their fronts to respectable 4th and 5th places, respectively, while Crutchlow, also blaming his front tire. crashed out of what could have been a meaningful haul of points. Twice. Oh, and before I forget, Maverick Vinales won his first GP on the factory Yamaha and appears to be the next anointed rider.
Props to Aleix Espargaro, who put his Aprilia in sixth place, and one Jack Miller, who placed eighth on the Marc VDS Honda, punking Alex Rins at the finish. Jonas Folger made the top ten, while suddenly everyone is on the Johann Zarco bandwagon for his seven superlative laps at the start.
We are temporarily suspending the Alien status of Jorge Lorenzo until he cracks the top five in a race. Or the standings. Whichever comes first. This suspension, it appears, could last up to two years. Let’s see how he does Down South.
Here’s an early look at how my entrants (rider/bike) break down. This will be a work in progress as we approach Valencia. We would love to hear how yours differ. Not really, but go ahead anyway.
- Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
- Tranche 2: Pedrosa, Iannone, Crutchlow, Bautista
- Tranche 3: Petrucci, Lorenzo, Zarco, (Rins), Miller, Barbera, A. Espargaro
- Tranche 4: Baz, Redding, P. Espargaro, Folger
- Tranche 5: Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham
Once again, I may have let Qatar over-influence me. And before anyone gets too whooped up, these factor in the quality of the bike as well. Bradley Smith is a 3 or a 4 on the Tech 3 Yamaha but a 5 on the first iteration of the KTM. I’m optimistic about both Alvaro Bautista and Hector Barbera on the Ducati Desmosedici GP16. Lorenzo is probably under-ranked and Bautista perhaps over-ranked. I’m taking a pass on criticism about the rookie rankings until we get to Europe in May.
“I hope that it’s the first and the last of this year.”
This is Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone, referring to his unforced crash out of a possible podium in Qatar, as quoted elsewhere. I would argue that this is possibly the most hilarious statement we will hear this season. Dude crashed out of six of his 14 starts last year, some with collateral damage to other riders. His riding style is aggressive. He shatters limbs. After last season, he has one iota of risk aversion in his whole body, compared to none at all previously. All these things cost him the job on the factory Ducati. I expressed concern at the time that he might attempt to over-ride the Suzuki, with similar results. But at least he got the first part right.
Recent History at Rio Hondo
Marquez memorably acquainted himself with the place in 2014 when the track first opened. He strolled around in 14th place during FP1, possibly on a Derbi Bullet 50, then cinched everything up, mounted his bike, lowered his visor, and topped the charts in FP2, FP3, FP4, Q2, the warm-up practice and, finally, the race itself. This was his second of ten consecutive wins to open the memorable 2014 season.
2015 was the year Valentino Rossi and Marquez came together late in the race, with Marquez going down and out in what would become his worst premier class season to date. He had started well from pole and appeared to be disappearing early but couldn’t get away. Rossi had started eighth, but found something in the middle of the race (“Here comes Rossi!”) while Marquez’s rear tire was busy decomposing beneath him. It was an all-Italian podium, with Spaniards sucking wind down on the tarmac. Lorenzo, never a factor that day, would come back later in the year for his third title.
Last year was the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race pit stop with Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as he re-entered the race, allowing Marquez to get away (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1). After the restart, Marquez would be joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa.
It was also the day Iannone took himself and teammate Dovizioso out of podium contention with the Bonehead Move of the Year, the winner by an eyelash over himself and his similar takedown of Lorenzo in Barcelona later in the season. (Finishing third in the BMY competition was Dani Pedrosa, who accidentally T-boned Dovizioso at Austin in Round 3.)
So now we have another Pacific round, this one in Thailand beginning next year. Hurray. The Thai papers are full of allegations of government malfeasance in securing the rights. Whatever. All I can tell you about the Grand Prix of Thailand is that it will be hot, and crowded. Rest assured that we will have our crack research staff on this like a cheap suit once, um, Valencia is out of the way.
Many readers will be amped over the news that potential Rookie of the Year Alex Rins broke his ankle in training last week. This strengthens the hands of those holding Zarco and even Folger cards. Someone who’s not German please tell me why I should root for Jonas Folger. And before you know it some writers are going to start referring to Sam Lowes as “plucky.”
Ezpeleta & Co have now dumped the ridiculous “points” system that arguably cost Valentino Rossi the 2015 title. (I wouldn’t argue that, but others would.) They replaced a former system deemed arbitrary with a different arbitrary system and have now returned to the original arbitrary system. These guys need more to do.
Your Weekend Forecast
This is Marquez land. He is two-for-three in races here, having been knocked out of the third. He finished fourth last time out in Qatar due to tire issues decided, in effect, by Michelin. Unlikely to happen again. He loves this place, where the Hondas have historically done well. Cal Crutchlow is licking his chops. Vinales appears unperturbed. Rossi is Rossi, and Lorenzo seems as nervous as a nun in a cucumber patch. Pedrosa and Dovizioso sit together in a corner smiling.
Weather in greater Termas de Rio Hondo is expected to be hot and wet on Friday, with conditions improving on Saturday and Sunday. This is shaping up to be one of those races where the season could be more easily lost than won. For several riders, it means finishing the race and getting back in the points chase, Cal. For those at the bottom of the food chain it means collecting data and beating your teammate. For the top five, it means take no stupid chances. It might possibly mean watching Maverick lay down a vapor trail. One hopes not.
Not this week. Not in Marquez land.