2016 Argentina MotoGP Post-Race Notes: On Redding vs Pedrosa, a Brilliant Malaysia, and Aprilia

Argentina left us with an awful lot to talk about. So much, that most of the discussion focused on just a few points: the problems with Michelin tires; the chaotic process by which Race Direction arrived at a race with compulsory pit stops, and the effect it had on the outcome of the race; and the various ways in which riders found to crash out of the race, and how it affected the championship. That overshadowed several aspects which will affect the championship down the line. Time to take a look back at what we missed.

It was a surprise podium, not least to those who actually ended up in second and third spot. Valentino Rossi had resigned himself to another fourth place until Andrea Iannone made what Race Direction colorfully described as an 'overly optimistic pass' on his teammate Andrea Dovizioso, and robbed Ducati of an outstanding double podium. He was not surprised when it happened – Rossi criticized Iannone's earlier pass as being too aggressive, saying it lost him two places – but he had not expected to be on the podium. Ducati's strong showing at Termas de Rio Hondo bodes well for Austin, but more of that later.

He ain't heavy

Dani Pedrosa was even more surprised to be on the podium, calling his race 'horrible' and the luckiest race of his career. The distance to the winner – over 28 seconds – showed just how improbable his podium was. His problem was the one thing which all of the Hondas have been struggling with, a lack of acceleration. The issue was illustrated all too poignantly by the sight of Scott Redding – second tallest and heaviest rider on the grid – firing out of Turn 4 and on to the back straight, leaving Pedrosa – the smallest and lightest rider on the grid – for dead.

Physics says that should not happen, when all things are equal, but clearly, equal is something they are not. Pedrosa simply could not get his bike out of corners, something we saw from the Hondas last year as well. A modified engine may have helped in one area, but the problem remains. It seems that the bike is not wheelying so much out of every corner any more – possibly a by-product of reversing the crank direction of the RC213V – but the bike still badly lacks mechanical grip. The rear still spins, and the Honda cannot get its horsepower to the ground.

A similar pattern was visible at Qatar, and with Márquez at the front of the race at Termas de Rio Hondo. The Yamahas were capable of attacking and beating the Hondas off the corner and passing down the straights, something previously unheard of.

It's all about the acceleration

This is going to be an issue at Austin, more so than in Argentina. At Termas de Rio Hondo, there was only one spot where the Hondas really suffered with acceleration. At Austin, there are several, including two crucial points: onto the back straight, onto the front straight. Marc Márquez has won every race held in the United States since he joined the MotoGP class. If the Hondas are struggling with acceleration as much as we believe, then his reign as King of America could be about to come to an end.

That offers opportunity, for the Yamahas, but especially for the Ducatis. The 2016 Desmosedici GP now has agility to go with its horsepower, as they showed in Argentina, and throughout testing. The Yamahas get fantastic drive out of corners, but the Ducatis do even better. The lesson of Argentina is that if there were to be a race where the Ducatis were going to get their first victory since 2010, Austin might just be the place.

Those straights are likely to be curtains for Maverick Viñales' hopes of a podium. The Spaniard had an outstanding ride at Argentina, competing with Rossi and the Ducatis on equal terms. But the demands of the straights will likely be too much for the Suzuki GSX-RR. Viñales once again showed that he could race the front runners despite being on an inferior bike, but his alien status is still at the application stage. Viñales needs to podium and win first, but you get the feeling that is now a distinct possibility. With the Spaniard looking very likely to take Lorenzo's place at Yamaha from next year, if it doesn't happen in 2016, then it will in 2017.

Aprilia on their way?

It is also worth nothing that Aprilia had a good race, with Stefan Bradl crossing the line in seventh aboard the brand new RS-GP. That looks good on paper – and is a result Romano Albesiano will be able to use to placate impatient Piaggio management – but it should not be seen as a sign the Aprilia is competitive. The reality is that Bradl crossed the line over forty seconds behind the winner. In a twenty lap race, that is over two seconds a lap.

On the other hand, Bradl was not far behind what ended up being the battle for fourth. He was five seconds behind Eugene Laverty, four seconds behind Hector Barbera and Pol Espargaro. A lot of that can be put down to conditions, of course, but Aprilia still have a mountain of work ahead of them.

Bradl was more fortunate than his teammate, Alvaro Bautista. The pit stops proved extremely treacherous for the Spaniard, Bautista locking the front of his Aprilia on the wet tarmac in pit lane, protected from the drying sun by the overhang of the media center at Termas de Rio Hondo. Bautista fell, his bike careening into a mechanic and knocking him down. It was a lurid illustration of the dangers of flag-to-flag racing. The incident is to be reviewed by Dorna and Race Direction, to examine ways of preventing a repeat. Given the hectic nature of the process of swapping bikes, eliminating danger completely is impossible. That is the price MotoGP has to pay to stick within TV schedules. The teams and the riders will have to decide whether it is a price worth paying.

Stefan Bradl still managed to finish ahead of Bradley Smith, however. Despite having signed a well-earned factory contract with KTM ahead of the first race at Qatar, Smith has not had an easy time of it in the first two races, with Argentina a low point. A feeling that the front Michelin of his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha was defective meant he was just downright slow, and finishing a long way behind his teammate Pol Espargaro. All last year, Espararo was aching to get onto the Michelins. Though he has not performed as he had hoped to on the new tires, he is still closer to the pointy end than he was before.

The East shall rise

In the Moto3 race, we witnessed history being made, and in spectacular style. Khairul Idham Pawi took off like a scalded cat from the start, braving a still damp track on slicks. The only rider who could stay with him was Livio Loi, but Loi had the benefit of wet tires, a gamble which would later turn against him. But Pawi was too much for Loi even on wets, and the young Malaysian rider was soon lapping two seconds or more faster than the rest. To call his win dominant would be an absolute understatement, Pawi scorching to victory in the face of pleas from his crew to please slow down.

Where did Pawi come from? The Malaysian rider spent last year in the FIM CEV Moto3 championship, where he impressed right from the start, scoring podiums and ending the year right in the thick of the talented crop who form this year's rookies. Overlooked by the major teams, he was picked up by Honda Team Asia, under the watchful eye of Tady Okada. This is proving to be a fruitful partnership, and Pawi has all the makings of being a genuine contender.

There were very nearly two Malaysians on the podium, with Adam Norrodin crashing out in the penultimate corner. Norrodin rode superbly, the crash understandable. What followed showed real grit and determination, the young Malaysian picking up his bike and pushing it across the line to finish eleventh. Andrea Dovizioso would follow his example in MotoGP, bagging a couple of valuable points in the championship. In a championship where anything could happen, those points could end up having a massive effect at the end of the year, for both Dovizioso and Norrodin.

The drama did not finish once the race was over, however. The flight which was due to take the vast majority of the paddock from nearby Tucuman airport to Buenos Aires, and thence onward to Texas, did not appear, apparently canceled due to poor weather conditions. Travel plans were hastily rescheduled, buses wrangled and the better part of the paddock was whisked off on a 12-hour odyssey to Cordoba. From there, they went in different directions, spread across many flights to the US. By midnight on Wednesday, almost every was on American soil. They will be ready for the US GP in Austin, but there will be a fair few who need matchsticks to keep their eyes open.


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Comments

I realize that a lot of comments have been sitting waiting for approval to be published. This is entirely my own fault, and a result of my travel schedule. I will go back and publish them as soon as possible. 

I am following Aprilia's process as close as possible (unfortunately very few journalists currently cover them at all, except the Italians and sometimes the Germans, although they're mainly touting Bradl's "brilliant" performances) and I personally think their performance at Argentina was considerably better than Bradl's result. Sure, his result is entirely due to staying upright while everyone in front crashed, but on the other hand Bautista was once again ahead of his teammate in the first part of the race despite a worse grid spot, showing a pretty decent pace, passing people and before the pit stop was about to overtake Espargaro for 10th - the same guy who was fighting for 4th at the end. Aside from the nasty incident in pitlane, Bautista apparently also properly crashed before entering the pits, thanks to a near-collision with another rider, but picking the bike back up and getting into pitlane for a second fall. None of this ever made it to TV of course, but all in all cost him a huge amount of time which lost him all the places he made up at the start and more, took him out of the fighting group and opened a huge gap he could never recover. He basically lost two laps, with 9 and 10 being almost half a minute off the pace. While Bradl was going backwards in the fights and not doing any overtakes, eventually collecting the reward for consistency instead of race pace; his teammate once again looked positively competitive with the machine and comfortable in a fight, which makes me very hopeful for the future progress of the bike. It obviously handles much better and can clearly keep up with most satellite bikes already, especially if Bautista and Bradl manage to qualify a little better, and in crazy circumstances like this Bautista's speed at least would have made a Top 5 finish absolutely feasible on Sunday and with a much smaller gap to the front than Bradl's. Hence, I think the current state of Aprilia is better than it may appear, my yard stick for the bike's race performance is definitely Bautista at the moment, Bradl is the candidate for single qualifying laps. Anyway. In other news, Pawi was deeply impressive. Absolutely outstanding performance, I am hoping for and looking forward to more great stuff from him. That race was really special. The Rookie selection in Moto3 is a sight to behold this year.

Aprilia seem to be the proverbial red headed step son of MotoGP generally.  Why they are considered to be below Ducati (in general) is hard to understand.  Aprilia have won 19 GP world championships and 3 WSBK.  In 125 and 250 they took on the Japanese head-on and beat them fair and square, H&Y eventually taking their bat and ball and going home, leaving the classes to wither (admittedly in the face of some extreme profiteering by Aprilia who contributed to their own demise).  In the 500 class their V2 went well despite it's obvious disadvantage, just a shame they never made a 500-4.  Okay, even I'll admit that their RSCube was a noble failure, but when they returned even their CRT bike was pretty impressive really.  OK it often ran near the back but that was a streetbike derived machine and with a little tyre help did pretty well at times with Aleix on board.

In comparison, Ducati have won exactly ONE GP world championship, and meanwhile it's been pretty obvious that if they had anyone but Stoner on board from 07-10 their record would be significantly worse.  It took poaching the top man from Aprilia before they really got their GP project back on the rails.  Obviously they were much more sucessful in WSBK but at least some of those titles came with the rules quite heavily in their favour.

Not trying to bash Ducati, but just wondering why one is considered so highly and the other hardly at all when the figures do not match up.  So yeah, I'll be cheering on the underdog too!

None of Aprilia's GP titles were in the premier class where Ducati's one was.  That's a big difference.  Honda put some effort into an outdated bike with a good rider and took the last 250 GP title so how much was Aprilia dominating due to everyone else's apathy towards 2 stroke development?  One never knows in the smaller classes but that does not happen in the premier class.  Also, while Ducati only have 1 GP title they entered the series with impressive early success in the 990cc era.  No titles but lots of wins and they were far from backmarkers.  Sort of like now, they are getting attention because they are in the front.  Aprilia are far from the front.  If that changed they would be getting some good press.

Also, they are a manufacturer.  And for a couple of years they brought a knife (CRT) to a gun fight.  That's sad.  They had their reasons, but its still sad.

Chris

The pressure and pride surrounding this battle, with the imminent announcement of Lorenzo in the "background", will be one of the more intriguing stories to watch this weekend.

Most of us had already annointed Iannone as the one to stay at Ducati, but Dovi seems to have his mojo back, and his wiley experience and racecraft have illustrated what Iannone lacks.  Crazy Joe has always battled hard and is known to fight back (Rossi/Marquez style), which is exciting to watch, but Dovi takes a long term view of races, and at least for the start of this season has paid dividends.

Dovi got to the end of Qatar and scored big points for Ducati, showing what the bike is capable of.  Surely, Iannone could have done the same or even one position better had he kept a calm head, but we know what happened, being a big overaggressive with Dovi even in that race.

Dovi in Argentina again rode a very solid race.  He did something very subtle in the last lap in the corner where he and Iannone came together.  He ran a tight defensive line in that corner where Iannone had actually passed him earlier in the race.  That is ultimately what caught Iannone by surprise and caused the crash.  It was something Iannone did not expect (but should have, 100% his fault), and it resulted in another non-score.  I'm sure that "overambitious" move was born out of the frustration that Iannone appeard faster than Dovi, but a bad 1st corner and then a slow pit stop (he lost a 1.0 sec to Maverick and 1.6 to Dovi) left him trailing Dovi twice.  That has cost him and his innocent (but cunning) teammate top positions in the championship and it will be hard for them to claw it all back.

Will cooler heads prevail this weekend?  I'm looking forward to it as they appear to be VERY closely matched at the moment and there is a great deal on the line for both riders.  I will gain look for Dovi to be smart, he demonstrated that beautifully at Austin last year in roughing up Vale on his ailing front tire.  How smart will Crazy Joe be?

He was very impressive. I thought for sure he was going to crash. He was still sliding around on the last lap. I think he will be one to watch.

After the first lap, I said to myself "well, he's going to chuck it at the scenery very soon".  By the end I was copying his pit crew, giving it the SLOW DOWN signals.  Terrific performance in very difficult conditions.  Hope to see much more of Pawi this season.

What about Cal? He crashed twice (!) during the race at Termas de Rio Hondo, after a crash in Losail as well. Merely electronic issues? Contract pressure? A stubborn Honda?

i hope that the calamity at Argentina will not result in bad blood within the Ducati garage. 2016 seems to have the possibility of being the season in which the elusive last 1/2% falls within Ducati's grasp and they have a legitimate shot at the World Championship. Dovizioso will always be my emotional favorite, but i bear Iannone no ill will. Pedrosa punted Hayden at Portugal in 2006 and Mr. Hayden mananed to shrug it off after some most public venting in the litter. all best wishes to every rider on the grid. these men and the men and women who support them are may sports heroes.

"The issue was illustrated all too poignantly by the sight of Scott Redding – second tallest and heaviest rider on the grid – firing out of Turn 4 and on to the back straight, leaving Pedrosa – the smallest and lightest rider on the grid – for dead.

Physics says that should not happen..."

 

Isn't this exactly what physics say should happen? The bigger heavier rider puts more weight on the rear tire, giving it more grip. What am I missing?

Are they meant to employ lighter, shorter riders, reduce their power and torque?

Ducati never had a tyre problem before Michelin came along and there is a big difference between a tyre coming apart and a tyre losing grip! 

The best thing about Pawi is that he was happy to win but he had the attitude of 'that's the first of many' rather than 'Oh my God! I won a race!' I think that's just as exciting a prospect as the way he won and that he was riding awesomely. 

If, as predicted, Lorenzo goes to Ducati and Vinales takes Lorenzo's seat (that's what I assume by "Vinales going to Yamaha" means, he wouldn't be going to Tech 3 would he?) where does that leave Suzuki?  The bike looks like it's getting better quickly compared to Suzuki's of old.  With Vinales out of that seat, I don't see Aleix getting the bike further up the front, and who else will they attract?  Suzuki, like Ducati, need an alien.  Even one who's application is waiting to be confirmed. for the bike to improve.  I fear that if/when Vinales leaves they won't have anyone to fill that spot, will stick to the mid/lower end of the grid and then Suzuki will wonder why they are pouring all this money into it and leave.

Not to say he'd be their first choice (nor that he's an alien in waiting), but if it came down to it, I could see a case for signing Pol Espargaró. A savvy marketing team could milk The Racing Espargaró Brothers angle for some kind of sales bump for at least a couple of seasons. And I have to believe that pitting them against each other on the same machinery would likely yield the best performance from the pair. 

This is reported as if it was confirmed, is it now accepted that it has happened, if so to all Hondas?

Does this make the Honda engine now rotate the same way as the Yamaha?

Is that better for corner entry and worse for exit which might explain the evident hook up problems the Hondas are having? If so why did Honda change it?

As evident by the above the change raises lots of questions for me and I would appreciate general feedback on the impact of a change in crank rotation.

Honda reportedly changed the rotation of the NSR500 engine for 1987 (the year Gardner won) To quote Michael Scott quoting Jeremy Burgess about the 1986 Honda NSR500

"One problem was that the handling was unpredictable, it would oversteer on some bends and understeer on others. .... We discovered that it was engine torque from the wide crankshaft, that was lifting the front of the bike at high revs"