Analysis

2017 Argentina Saturday Round Up: Wild Weather, The Wizard Of The Wet, And The Great Tire Conspiracy

MotoGP's weird and wonderful Argentina trip continues to confuse, with qualifying turning out as topsy turvy as ever. Or perhaps not quite as topsy turvy as yesterday: though the front of the MotoGP grid still contains more than a couple of surprise names (more on that later), there are the first signs that some semblance of normality is starting to creep back. That doesn't mean it's going to be 2009 again any time soon, when the grid basically predicted the finishing order, bar accidents, but bookies everywhere are worrying less about the chance of a rank outsider staging an upset. On Friday, all bets were off. On Saturday, they were hedging their bets again.

Oddly enough, part of that was down to the weather. It was a peculiar day in terms of weather, the morning starting cool and dry, but rain starting to fall at the end of MotoGP FP3. It dried out again after that, allowing Moto3 to start their qualifying session on a dry track, before the rain returned with a few minutes to go. MotoGP FP4 took place on a wet track, but the rain lifted and the track started to dry during qualifying. Q1 was wetter than Q2, and tire choice became crucial. Vacillating between the soft and the hard tires cost more than one rider passage through to Q2.

By the time Moto2 took to the track, a dry line was starting to form. Andrea Iannone had gambled on going out on slicks during Q2 but came straight back into the pits when it turned out to be impossible. The Moto2 riders went out on wet tires at first, but were quickly able to switch to slicks. With the track improving with every lap the riders put in, pole position was changing hands just about every time a rider crossed the line. In the last 22 minutes of qualifying, the pole time was slashed by eight and a half seconds.

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2017 Argentina Friday Round Up: Why The Weird And Wonderful World Of MotoGP Came About

Scanning through reactions on social media and forums during the first day of practice in Argentina, and there is one phrase that seems to be popping up everywhere. "What is going on?" cry fans everywhere. Or a variation of that phrase, with an Anglo Saxon word or two thrown in for good measure, along with capital letters and a handful of exclamation marks.

Why the fans' confusion? A quick glance at the results answers that question. That Maverick Viñales should be at the top of the timesheets is hardly a surprise, in fact it feels like it is on the verge of becoming an iron law. Nor is Marc Márquez in second anything which would normally raise an eyebrow. But Karel Abraham in third? Sure, the Ducatis are quick, and the Czech rider got a tow behind his Pull&Bear teammate Alvaro Bautista, who has proven to be quick throughout testing.

Look further, and you see Danilo Petrucci, Loris Baz, Cal Crutchlow, Jonas Folger. The next factory rider is Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia in ninth, followed by Suzuki's Andrea Iannone in tenth. Of the twelve factory riders in MotoGP, only six of them are in the top fifteen. Dani Pedrosa (29 MotoGP victories) is in thirteenth. Valentino Rossi (7 MotoGP titles, 88 MotoGP wins)? Sixteenth. Jorge Lorenzo (3 titles, 44 wins)? Eighteenth. The world has gone mad.

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2017 Argentina MotoGP Preview: Dirty Tracks, New Tires, And The Doctor At 350

After the first MotoGP race held at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit had finished, Jarno Zafelli, the brilliant track designer behind the transformation from humdrum car track to fast, flowing, challenging circuit layout, was both deeply satisfied and mildly disappointed. Satisfied, because the riders had to a man raved about the layout of the new track. Disappointed, because the average speed around the track had maxed out at 177.1 km/h, just a few kilometers per hour short of Phillip Island, at that point in time the fastest circuit on the calendar. But it was only a minor let down: having so many riders enthusiastic about what he had done to the track was a far greater triumph.

Since then, both Termas and Phillip Island have been surpassed in terms of average speed by the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, round which Andrea Iannone was clocked at 186.9 km/h. But Spielberg is a collection of long straights joined together by a few tight corners. It may be fast, but it is anything but flowing. It cannot hold a candle to either Argentina or Australia.

It's not just the corners that slow riders down in Argentina, however. There is also the track surface. Not so much with asphalt – not much wrong with that – but rather the lack of use the circuit gets. For some unfathomable reason, the circuit owners don't like the track to be used much. The last event at the circuit was three weeks ago, when a track day was held for bikes. There are a dozen or so other events at the circuit through the year. Assen, by contrast, sees the track being used for 200 days of the year, and activity at circuits in Spain and Italy is even higher.

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2017 Aragon WorldSBK Review, Part 1: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition...

Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies went toe to toe and bar to bar in both races at Aragon, and while they shared the spoils with a win apiece it was clear that Aragon could be a defining moment in the 2017 WorldSBK season.

Over the course of two 18 lap races there was nothing to separate both riders. Even so at the end of an eventful weekend of racing Rea had still extended his championship lead by a further 20 points over Davies. Saturday's Race 1 crash came at the conclusion of a thrilling back and forth between the two riders who have defined WorldSBK in recent years.

It's easy to criticize Davies after his costly error but having lost a full morning of running due to an engine problem he was on the back foot. The 30 year old cited an issue with weight transfer on used tires as the cause for his crash which likely came from not having enough track time over the opening two days. When asked if he had pushed over the limit in search of the win the Ducati rider made it clear that striving to win was the single thought on his mind after having been on the back foot in Australia and Thailand.

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2017 Qatar Extra Notes: Zarco's Exceptionalism, Morbidelli's Maturity, Moto3 Madness

We need to talk about Johann Zarco. For a rookie to lead his very first race on a MotoGP bike is not just unusual, it has never been done before. To do so for six laps is beyond remarkable, and a sign that something rather special is happening.

To put this into perspective, it is worth noting that not only did Zarco lead the race, but he also set the fastest lap in his first race. The last rookie to set the fastest lap during their first race? Marc Márquez, Qatar 2013. Before that? Valentino Rossi, Welkom 2000. And before that, Max Biaggi, Suzuka 1998.

Zarco's downfall came at Turn 2 on lap 7. Quite literally: he got a little off line, hit a dirtier part of the track, and down he went. There is no shame in crashing out of your first MotoGP race. Valentino Rossi crashed out of his first premier class Grand Prix too. On the other hand, Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa all finished on the podium in their MotoGP debut race. Max Biaggi actually won his first 500cc race at Suzuka.

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2017 Qatar MotoGP Sunday Round Up: New Stars Shine, Old Stars Fade

Race day in Qatar would turn into a microcosm of the entire weekend. The hopes and fears of fans and riders alike were both realized and averted. The idea that any kind of plan could be made to deal with this weekend went out the window pretty quickly. And yet at the end, three great races (or rather, two fantastic races and one interesting race) happened, and everyone got out more or less in one piece.

Stars were born on Sunday, some prophesied, some appearing out of the blue. It felt like the beginning of the new era we had been hoping for. MotoGP – once it got underway – was as topsy-turvy as expected. In Moto2, favorites performed as they needed to, while new stars emerged from behind. And in the Moto3 class, last year's rookies matured, and produced a heady brew of thrilling racing.

The weather conditioned it all. Spots of rain ahead of the Asia Talent Cup – like the Red Bull Rookies Cup at European races, the most frenetic racing of the weekend – soon dissipated, the sun soon breaking through. Fine weather prevailed for most of the evening, but as the Moto2 bikes rolled back into pit lane at the end of the race, the rain once again made its presence felt. Lightly at first, and quickly disregarded, but a little heavier as 9pm, the scheduled start of the MotoGP race, approached.

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2017 Qatar Saturday MotoGP Round Up: Playing The Blame Game For A Canceled Day

Saturday was the kind of day that makes you question the wisdom of allowing Qatar to be the first race of the MotoGP season, and to hold the race at night. Doing one or the other – either being the first race of the season but holding it during the day, or taking place later in the year and racing at night – is feasible, but doing both is a risk. If it wasn't for the fact that the sanctioning fee the Losail International Circuit at Qatar pays to Dorna for the privilege basically covers the overseas travel budget for the teams for the entire season, the MotoGP season opener would be very different.

It was an entirely wasted day. Or perhaps not entirely wasted: we learned that the Qatar circuit badly needs the drainage fixed. Whatever the decision on racing in the rain, when it does rain, the track and the run off areas just don't drain fast enough. That led to Loris Capirossi, Dorna's representative in Race Direction, trying to explain in increasingly exasperated tones that there was no point trying to test during the day or at night, because there was simply too much standing water in the gravel traps and in certain sections of the track to allow it to be used safely.

Capirossi was speaking at an impromptu press conference organized directly after the qualifying press conference, to explain why all on-track action had been canceled on Saturday. It had started with the cancellation of the Asia Talent Cup, and a revised schedule was issued containing a track inspection, then a twenty-minute session for the riders to go out and see whether it would be possible to ridein the wet under the floodlights. But as each schedule approached, events were delayed. In the end, the entire day was canceled. The track was unusable after such intense rainfall.

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2017 Qatar Friday MotoGP Round Up: Wild Weather, Viñales Crashing, Real Race Pace, And Decoding Lorenzo

A growing sense of, not panic, perhaps, but certainly concern is enveloping the MotoGP paddock in Qatar. The ever unstable weather is forcing the series organizers to make contingency plans for every possible scenario the conditions in the desert may throw up. Heavy rains which have been sweeping across the peninsula have made it uncertain how and when the race is to be held. It could be Sunday night in the wet, it could be Sunday afternoon, it could even be Monday.

Despite the bizarre weather – hailstones fell in the afternoon, then a downpour flooded the country in the night – practice has been pretty much unaffected. The advantage of rain in the desert is that it dries up pretty quickly when it stops. The track was a little dirtier when the MotoGP bikes took to the track for FP2 at 6pm, but it was still dry when FP3 ended, nearly four hours later.

The downpour only started at 1am, and stopped an hour later. Which suggests that the weather is weird enough for all of the emergency planning being made to be in vain, and qualifying and the race will take place as planned, in the dry, with no disruption. Still, not preparing for the possibility is a sure-fire guarantee that it will rain.

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2017 MotoGP Preview: Part 4 - The Five Rookies, Folger, Zarco, Rins, Lowes ... And KTM

2017 sees arguably the strongest group of rookies to enter the MotoGP class in a very long time. Perhaps only 2006 was stronger, when Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa moved up to MotoGP, along with Randy De Puniet and Chris Vermeulen. There have been plenty of promising riders (some of whom have lived up to that promise) moved up in the past, but it has been a while since so many of them, all equally strong, entered MotoGP at the same time.

Will Alex Rins, Johann Zarco, Jonas Folger, or Sam Lowes match the achievements of Stoner or Pedrosa, Márquez or Lorenzo? It is far too early to tell. But testing has only confirmed the pedigree of the four newcomers. They were all fast in Moto2, racking up a total of 25 wins between them, and they have been quick during the preseason. There is no doubt these four are an exciting addition to the MotoGP grid.

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