Sam Lowes set a new lap record at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit to claim the top spot in FP3 Saturday. Lowes was the sole rider in the 1'42s. Even so it's a tighly bunched field with a one second margin from first to 21st.
However Lowes, who was first in Austin one week ago, finished only four-hundredths of a second over Johann Zarco (2nd) and eight hundredths better that Alex Rins (3rd). Tito Rabat claimed fourth.
The first through fourth FP3 ranking mirrored the finishing order in Texas one week ago. Qatar race-winner Jonas Folger was fifth as temperatures continued to climb.
2015 Argentina MotoGP Friday Round Up: Real-Deal Suzukis, Hard Tire Dilemmas, And Ducati's Fuel Issue Explained
Eight years. That's how long it has been since a Suzuki last led two consecutive sessions in the dry. It was 2007, at Shanghai, when John Hopkins topped both FP2 and FP3 on the Suzuki GSV-R. Suzuki had a great year in 2007, spending the previous year developing the GSV-R ready for the start of the 800cc class. John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen amassed one win (in the wet), seven podiums and a pole position that season, including a double podium at Misano. That Suzuki was a great bike, but sadly, it was the last time a Suzuki was truly competitive. It was pretty much all downhill from there.
Until today. Aleix Espargaro was fastest in the morning session at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, but we put that down to the conditions. The track was still very dusty in the morning, turning the standings upside down. Marc Márquez was tenth fastest, behind Mike Di Meglio and Jack Miller, while Valentino Rossi was fourteenth and Jorge Lorenzo twentieth. It was a fluke, we thought.
Then came the afternoon, and Espargaro was fastest once again on the ECSTAR Suzuki GSX-RR. No excuses about the track this time: the combined assault from the fat rubber adorning the MotoGP and Moto2 bikes had cleaned the track up considerably. Moto2 FP1 had already seen Jonas Folger lapping under the pole record set last year, and Danny Kent was just a few hundredths off the Moto3 lap record in FP2. Espargaro's time on the Suzuki was half a second under the race lap record, and half a second faster than the rest of the field. It was just a straight up fast lap.
Press releases from Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the first day of practice at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit:
Johann Zarco climbed back to the top of the perch just ahead of Sam Lowes by a six-hundredths of a second at the Termas do Rio Hondo circuit Friday. Zarco's 1'43.239 puts him two seconds faster than his FP2 time from 2014. Sam Lowes, winner last week in Austin, came in a tenth back.
Mika Kallio, who was slightly off the pace at COTA and again in Argentina in FP1, appears to found some addiitonal pace for FP2 and finished just a tenth off Zarco's pace. Points leader and Moto2 rookie Alex Rins came in 10th, six-tenths back.
With four minutes left in the first Moto2 free practice Friday, Jonas Folger set the quickest-ever Moto2 lap at the Termas de Rio Hondo track in Argentina. Folger, the race winner in Qatar, clocked a 1'43.816 to beat last year's pole time (set by Tito Rabat) by nearly a tenth of a second. Rabat -- second in the first free practice this year -- managed to close within two-tenths of Folger but could not equal his own top time from 2014. Lorenzo Baldassarri took a leap forward with the third-best showing in FP1.
And where was Sam Lowes? The dominant rider at last week's Austin contest spent much of FP1 at the top of the timesheet. But Folger's late session run (among others) saw him drop into seventh, behind Franco Morbidelli (4th), Thomas Luthi (5th) and Johann Zarco, the second-place finisher in Austin.
Times in all classes, especially MotoGP, are expected to continue to drop as the racing line cleans up at the track which first saw MotoGP racing in 2014.
2015 Argentina MotoGP Preview: Of Price Gouging, Ducati's Tire Disadvantage, And A Tough Moto3 Battle
From Austin, MotoGP heads south, to the most expensive GP of the season. The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit lies in one of the poorest regions of Argentina, but the economic reality is not reflected in the prices around the Grand Prix weekend. The cost of renting a compact car from one of the nearby airports would get you a luxury vehicle at any other place. Room rate cards for even the most modest hotel look like they have been borrowed from Claridges for the week. Local businesses appear bent on extracting as much revenue as possible from the poor souls who have no choice but to attend, such as journalists, team staff and riders. Those (such as your humble correspondent) without a wealthy employer to cover the costs for them stay away. Many teams stay up to a couple of hours away, where accommodation prices drop from the truly extortionate to the merely pricey. For much of the paddock, the Termas de Rio Hondo GP is a black hole, capable of swallowing money at an exponential rate.
Yet fans from around the region flock to the circuit. They are much smarter indeed, many bringing tents, vans, RVs, or even just sleeping bags in the back of their trucks. The money saved on accommodation is well spent: the party around the circuit is stupendous, massive amounts of meat and drink being shared around all weekend. That adds real local flavor to the event, the passion of the fans being evident at every turn.
Bradley Smith summed the whole experience up rather succinctly. "I don't think anyone enjoys coming down to Argentina. It costs a lot of money for a lot of people. There always seems to be more hassle than positives from the logistical side," Smith said. "But in terms of the track, once we're out on track, it's an awesome track and they've done a great job here. The night atmosphere, the fact that the fans are so passionate, so it's a trade off. If we sit here on Wednesday and Thursday, we don't like the place, but once we get into the weekend, it's OK."
It may cost a fortune to get there, but the track itself is worth it. Fast, sweeping, with a good variety of fast and slow corners. The nature of the track is reflected in the tires: Bridgestone are having to bring an extra hard rear tire to the circuit, to cope with the extreme loads placed on the tire. There are long corners, and corners where a lot of braking has to be done while still heeled over. They all take their toll, as we learned last year.
Keep Austin Weird is the slogan of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, meant to promote small businesses in the Texan city. The Circuit of the Americas certainly did its bit this weekend. We had a delay due to marshals and medical support staff not being at their posts. We had a red flag due to a stray dog on the track. We had delays due to fog, we had one day of rain, followed by two days of peering at the skies wondering when the massive rainstorms which had been forecast would arrive. They never did. We had Keanu Reeves, star of both The Matrix and Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, in the paddock, as well Carol Vorderman, British TV's brainiest beauty, at least for gentlemen of a certain age. You wouldn't imagine it could get much weirder.
It did get weirder, though. The MotoGP race ended up delayed by half an hour, because rainwater was dripping off a bridge over the track around Turn 3, leaving a puddle of standing water on the circuit. There had been some water there during the Moto2 race, Sam Lowes saying he had been very cautious through that section, as the bike was moving about. Franco Morbidelli had reveled in it, enjoying the feeling of the rear moving around as he powered through the puddle. Racers will be racers.
The sun which emerged at the start of the MotoGP race made the situation worse, paradoxically. Elsewhere, the track was fully dry and warm, but standing water remained in the shadow of the bridge. While making its final inspection lap of the track five minutes before the start, the safety car reported the water to Race Direction, and Race Director Mike Webb pushed the big red button to delay the start. That is not an easy decision. Webb knows that as soon as he presses the button to delay the start of a MotoGP race, it costs Dorna millions of dollars in TV penalty clauses around the world. It does not stop him pressing it, however, safety being paramount. If anyone ever wondered if Dorna sacrificed safety for TV money, their question was answered on Sunday.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after Sunday's races at Austin:
The press room is usually a pit of cynicism. Races and laps which have the fans on their feet are met with polite applause at best, mild disinterest at worst. But not today. After Marc Márquez had parked his ailing Repsol Honda against pit wall, vaulted over the wall and sprinted back to his garage, jumped on to his back up bike – fitted with the wrong front tire and a far from perfect set up – then set off on his out lap, making it back across the line with three seconds to spare, and post one of the most fearsome laps ever witnessed aboard a MotoGP bike, the room erupted in heartfelt and solid applause. There was no cheering, no utterances of joy. Just loud and prolonged applause, appreciation of what we had just seen. We knew we were witnessing a piece of MotoGP history, and were in awe of what we had just seen. If you ever wanted to see the definition of awesome – something that will fill you with awe – then just watch that lap by Marc Márquez.
Johann Zarco made a steady climb to the top of the timesheet Saturday finishing the third free practice two-tenths clear of the field at the Circuit of the Americas. Tito Rabat, also a top finisher Friday, managed to grab second place and showed no ill effects of previous practice crashes.
Sam Lowes, who was dominant in two previous practices,took third at three-tenths off Zarco's top time of 2'10.310. In the end, it was the same three top riders as FP2 but with the order changed. The third practice was in the dry with questions remaining about rain forecasted for later in the day.
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams after the first day of practice at Austin: