West of Buenos Aires and east of the Andes, MotoGP™ now touches down beyond the borders of the old Inca Empire as we gear up for the Gran Premio Motul de la Republica Argentina. It’s a stark contrast to Qatar, as the Pampa of Argentina and Termas de Rio Hondo welcome the paddock to the passion of Latin America for the second race of the year.
This is the fourth season MotoGP™ will race at Termas de Rio Hondo. With Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) taking the first win, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) the second and the number 93 hitting back last year, Argentina hasn’t yet let one clear favourite for the win emerge – but based on the winner first time out, this year that could be different.
Despite the weather difficulties of the #QatarGP, the superstar so far remains Movistar Yamaha new recruit Maverick Viñales. Topping the timesheets and then staying calm to take his first win for Yamaha, the number 25 is still ominous – and he was also in podium contention last season in Argentina, as a sophomore. 2015 winner and teammate Rossi also created some Sunday magic in Qatar, and despite some preseason struggles, the nine-time World Champion was back with a bang when the lights went out. This race is his 350th in the World Championship, and he’ll want to make it another showstopper.
His key rival on the way to the win in 2015 was Marquez. With great form and pace shown at the track, this could be time for the reigning Champion to stamp some authority on the early stages of the season. Choosing the wrong tyre in Qatar, Marquez kept it on the road and showed the same commitment to the long game that took him to the title last year – and Argentina could be a good place for a planned attack. Dani Pedrosa, on the other side of the Repsol Honda box, is a man Marquez consider a threat in Argentina, too – with Termas de Rio Hondo more suited to the bike, and the number 26 having been a quietly threatening presence on the preseason timesheets.
The layout of Argentina is also good reading for the Ducati Team. With a double podium on the cards last year until disaster struck at the final corner, the Borgo Panigale factory have shown form both at the venue and in 2017 with Andrea Dovizioso’s stunning ride to second in Qatar. Jorge Lorenzo had a difficult first race, but the five-time World Champion will have more track time under his belt after a private test in Jerez, and the conditions should be more constant than the ever-changing Qatar.
Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) could be a dark horse again, after getting in the mix at Losail. At mistake cost him a result but the Italian’s pace was right up there, and the Suzuki is another bike that could gain from the Termas de Rio Hondo track. Teammate and top rookie in Qatar Alex Rins may have a harder time, after crashing in training ahead of the event and travelling to Argentina with a small fracture in his ankle.
The rookie stealing the headlines in Qatar was Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), after teammate Jonas Folger did the same in preseason. Zarco took the lead and stunned the big hitters first time out despite his crash, and both Tech 3 rookies will be looking to convert their pace into positions in Argentina.
Fellow rookie Sam Lowes (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) expects to make a big step in Argentina, and teammate Aleix Espargaro put in a stunning ride in Qatar to complete the top six – the Noale factory’s best result since lining up in MotoGP™ in 2015 – which is a good omen for the RS-GP. Then there’s Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Team)…all names with good pace, either looking to convert Qatar into momentum or make Argentina into a comeback.
The engines fire up for Termas de Rio Hondo on Friday as we return to the three-day regular schedule, with MotoGP™ on track from 9:55am (GMT -3). Maybe it doesn’t just take two – this time, it’ll take 23 to tango.
Text courtesy of MotoGP.