2015 Argentina MotoGP Post-Race Round Up: On Rossi Vs Marquez, And Why You Shouldn't Believe The Pundits
You should never believe professional pundits. We writers and reporters, forecasters and commentators like to opine on our specialist subject at every opportunity. The wealth of data at our fingertips, which we study avidly, fools us into thinking we know what we are talking about. So we – and I do mean all of us, not just the royal we – tell our audience all sorts of things. That Casey Stoner is about to return to racing with Ducati. That Valentino Rossi is set to join the Repsol Honda squad. That Casey Stoner is not about to retire, or that Dani Pedrosa will.
Your humble correspondent is no different. In 2013, during his first season back at Yamaha, I was quick to write Valentino Rossi off. At the age of 34, I pontificated, the keenest edge had gone from his reflexes, and he was at best the fourth best motorcycle racer in the world. He would never win another race again, unless he had a helping hand from conditions and circumstances, I confidently asserted. Rossi proved me wrong, along with the many others who wrote him off, at Misano last year. Now, after three races of the 2015 season, Rossi has two wins and a third, and leads the championship.
After the race at Argentina, the experts and pundits are all rubbing their hands with glee once again. Analyzing the coming together between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez, ascribing intention to one rider or another, confidently claiming that they can see inside the minds of the men involved. We are certain that Márquez was trying to intimidate Rossi when the Yamaha man came past. We are convinced that Rossi saw Márquez beside him, and deliberately took out his wheel. Or that Márquez made a rookie mistake, or that Rossi is now inside Márquez' head, or any other theory you care to mention. We can be so sure our claims will go unchallenged and unchecked, because the only two men who are genuinely in a position to challenge them have much better things to do. Like race motorcycles for a living, and try to win a MotoGP title, for example.
So what did happen? What we know is that the two men collided on the penultimate lap of the race. The collision was the moment that the fans remember, but how they got to that point is a far more interesting story. One which starts at the beginning of the weekend, when the riders got to try the new tires Bridgestone had brought to the track. Having seen extreme wear from the highly abrasive track the first year MotoGP came to the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, Bridgestone changed their allocation. They built a new, extra hard tire to bring for the Hondas and Yamahas, with a harder compound on the left shoulder. The tire felt less comfortable in the early laps, but it had better durability over the course of the race.
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and the circuit designer after Sunday's thrilling MotoGP race in Argentina:
Argentina Race Results Below:
2015 Argentina MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Ducati Disadvantage, Tire Choices, And How Great Tracks Create Surprises
Fast tracks are good for racing. Phillip Island demonstrates this every year, and the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is confirming it in 2015. The mixture of fast sweepers and tricky braking sections places an emphasis on bike handling and rider ability, over and above sheer engine power. This gives enterprising riders opportunities to excel, and overcome any horsepower disadvantages they may have.
Today was a case in point. The Suzukis had shown yesterday that they were extremely fast around the Argentinian track, and Aleix Espargaro came into qualifying as a favorite to take pole. The medium tire (the softest compound available, which the Hondas and Yamahas do not have in their allocation) gave Espargaro plenty of speed, but would it be enough to stay with Márquez? Perhaps some sleight of hand would be needed. With the hard tire his only race option, Espargaro had some mediums to play with. Taking a leaf out of Marc Márquez' Big Book Of Strategy, he and crew chief Tom O'Kane decided that his best hope of getting pole would be a two-stop strategy: coming in twice to change bikes, using three new tires to chase a top time.
The trouble with stealing from Marc Márquez' Big Book Of Strategy is that you find yourself going up against the man who wrote it. It was at Argentina last year that Márquez and crew chief Santi Hernandez saw that a two-stop strategy might be possible, putting it into practice at the next race at Jerez. "Already last year, when I finished the qualifying practice here, we spoke with the team and saw that it was possible to use three tires, because the good lap was on the first lap," Márquez explained at the front row press conference in Argentina. They had done it at Jerez last year, and went for it in Argentina as well. He was amused that Espargaro had gone for the same trick. "We did it, and Aleix also, I saw that he had the same strategy as me. It was interesting."
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after qualifying at the Termas de Rio Honda circuit in Argentina:
In the tire selection contest known as FP4, Marc Marquez emerged as the fastest rider as the first qulaifying session loomed. Cal Crutchlow continued his strong showing one-tenth of a second off Marquez pace. Jorge Lorenzo, looking quick for the first time all weekend, grabbed third as all of the riders worked less for time and more for determining which tires combinations will work for a full race distance on the hot, abrasive track.
Marc Marquez managed to pull a slim advantage over the field in the third free practice Saturday at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina. Marquez's narrow margin over Cal Crutchlow -- three hundredths of a second -- mirrors what ended up as the smallest differential for the entire field this year: Less than a second separates first through 13th and it is less than three seconds between top spot and 21st and last bike, Alex De Angelis' ART.
The Andreas' Ducatis grabbed the next two slots -- Ianonne 3rd and Dovizioso 4th -- closely followed by the story of the weekend thus far: Aleix Espargaro's factory Suzuki which led the first two practices. The factory Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo (6th) and Valentino Rossi (7th) spent much of the session outside the top 10. But late in FP3 with a slightly softer rear tires in place, both climbed into the top 10 and earned a spot in Q2. Danilo Petrucci put his satellite Ducati into 8th. Right on his heels is the second factory Suzuki of MotoGP rookie Maverick Vinales.
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 the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone after the first day of practice at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina:
Aleix Espargaro shocked the field with a 1'38.776 lap to lead the second practice at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit Friday in Argentina. Espargaro's time pushed the Spanish rider more than half of a second clear of second place and put Suzuki on top of the timesheet for the second practice in a row.
Suzuki, which this year retured to MotoGP after a three-year absence from motorcycle road racing's top class, has not led two MotoGP practices since former MotoGP rider John Hopkins topped FP2 and FP3 in China in 2007 (according to MotoMatters.com Netherlands-based analytics department). With the strong, top-10 showing by the two-bike team in Austin last week, development of the new GSX-RR appears to be ahead of schedule.
Andrea Iannone put in a late fast lap to take second from World Champion Marc Marquez (3rd). Cal Crutchlow also put in his quick lap near the session's end to grab fourth. Andrea Dovisioso completed the top five, slightly more than six-tenths slower that Espargaro's Suzuki. Yamaha factory riders remained off the pace with Jorge Lorenzo in seventh and Valentino Rossi in ninth.
Aleix Espargaro, taking advantage of a slow initial session, put his factory Suzuki at the top of the timesheet at the first Motogp free practice at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina. Espargaro's 1'40.806 put him half a second clear of the field on the dusty track. The pair of factor Ducati Andreas -- Inannone (3rd) and Dovizioso (4th) -- rounded out the top three.
But here's where the leaderboard gets a bit odd: Riders four through six include Yonny Hernandez, Scott Redding and Nicky Hayden, all of whom appeeared more willing to push their bikes while the factory Hondas and Yamahas used the first session to establish a clean racing line on the dusty track. World Champion Marc Marquez finished in 10th while the Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo completed the session in 14th and 20th respectively.
Despite the session's slightly more moderate pace -- at least among some of the top riders -- Espargaro's 1'40 is nearly two seconds faster than last year's FP1 at the new track located 1000 km from Buenos Aires. Last year's race was the first for the 4.8 km (3 mi.) track.
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.