Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina
Qualifying in MotoGP is always important, but at the Termas de Rio Hondo track in Argentina, it matters just that little bit more. That would seem odd at such a fast and flowing track, but the problem is that the circuit doesn't get used much. That leaves the surface dusty, and without much rubber on the track to provide grip. Over the three days of the Grand Prix weekend, the three classes gradually clean up the track and put down a layer of rubber, adding to the grip.
The trouble is, because it is practice and qualifying, most of that rubber gets laid down on the racing line, as everyone tries to find the quickest line around the circuit. Stray from that line, and you are quickly back in green, dusty tarmac, with nary a hint of rubber on it. The grip is gone. "That's an important thing, because if you go 1 meter wide, you feel the bike like it is floating," is how Danilo Petrucci describes it.
That's why qualifying matters so much. If you start from the first couple of rows, you stand a chance of getting in the leading group, and biding your time until a safe opportunity presents itself. But if you don't qualify up front, or you mess up the start, then you have to take your chances out on the dirty part of the track, and hope your luck holds.
Run wide at your peril
Marc Marquez covercame a broken chain on his number one bike Saturday and topped the timesheet in FP4 as the riders worked on race-setup with qualifying up ahead at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit.
Cal Crutchlow, who effectively is the number two factory Honda as Jorge Lorenzo recovers from injuries, finished only a tenth arrears of Marquez as the two swapped fast laps. Crutchlow won the bizzare 2018 race which saw a solo race start by Jack Miller and three penalties for Marquez.
Marc Marquez maintained his stranglehold on the MotoGP class in Argentina, dominating the final session of free practice from start to finish. The Repsol Honda rider led for most of the session, unseated temporarily during the final push for Q2, but claiming back top spot toward the end, before opening a gap of a couple of tenths over Jack Miller with his final lap.
Remy Gardner has topped the timesheets after the final session of free practice for the Moto2 class. The Australian just held off a charge by Luca Marini and Tom Luthi to clinch top spot by mere hundredths of a second.
Jorge Navarro impressed on the Speed Up, taking fourth just behind Luthi, while Jorge Martin was the quickest of the KTMs, under two tenths off the pace of Gardner. Nicolo Bulega, another rookie, was sixth quickest.
John McPhee has topped the timesheets in the final session of free practice for the Moto3 class, and leads the way into Q2, along with the top 14 riders of the class. The Scotsman had a big advantage over Niccolo Antonelli, who took second, while Marcos Ramirez ended the session in third. Lorenzo Dalla Porta ended FP3 as fourth fastest, just ahead of Romano Fenati, making it five Hondas in the top five. Raul Fernandez was the first KTM to cross the line.
It feels as if MotoGP has been talking about nothing but aerodynamics for a while now. It has been growing in importance since the advent of spec electronics made winglets a viable method of managing wheelie control, but the protest and subsequent court case against Ducati's use of its swing arm-mounted spoiler has meant we have spoken of little else since then. The decision of the MotoGP Court of Appeal did nothing to quell the controversy, but then again, whatever decision it made was only going to make the arguments grow louder.
But there is reason to believe that we are approaching the endgame of Spoilergate. On Friday night, reports say, Honda submitted its design for a swing arm-mounted spoiler to Technical Director Danny Aldridge, and had it accepted. This would not normally be remarkable, were it not for the fact that Honda had also submitted the same spoiler on Thursday night, and had it rejected as illegal.
How did this happen? On Thursday, Honda presented the spoiler, saying it was to generate aerodynamic downforce, reportedly. That goes against the guidelines issued by Danny Aldridge, and so he had no choice but to reject it. On Friday, Honda submitted the same spoiler, but told Aldridge it was to increase the stiffness of the swing arm, according to British publication MCN. Because that is not prohibited under the guidelines, Aldridge had no choice but to allow it.