Along with a thrilling weekend of racing, several interesting items of news emerged in Argentina. Brad Binder and Remy Gardner were injured, and face surgery. Discussions were held in the Safety Commission on deciding who progresses to Q1 and Q2. And at a press conference, Dorna announced that the WorldSBK championship will be racing in Argentina in 2018, at a new circuit in the west of the country.
Binder breaks arm, Gardner damages ankle
First, to the injury news. Brad Binder had his best result on the KTM Moto2 bike so far, but his weekend was far from a success. The reigning Moto3 champion has been struggling all off season with a broken arm which was healing slowly, after a plate put in his arm to fix the broken bones in place had only partially succeeded in doing so. Speaking at the Jerez test in February, he described his arm as being "nowhere near where we'd hoped it would be." Progress has been slow since then.
Things got worse during practice in Argentina. After his arm had swollen up overnight, Binder had the arm X-rayed on Sunday morning. That revealed that the arm had broken again, and the plate holding the bone together had shifted. Binder raced anyway, and achieved his best result of the season, finishing in ninth place. It was an act of remarkable fortitude, given the pain he must have been in. He joked to BT Sport reporters Gavin Emmett and Neil Hodgson, "the Clinica have some really good painkillers," after the race.
Binder is now flying back to Barcelona, where new surgery is planned to fix the plate in place again. The recovery period from that surgery is likely to be six weeks, meaning he will miss at least the Austin and Jerez races, but could be back in time for Le Mans. While the KTM Ajo team are waiting for the results of surgery, there has been no word on a replacement.
Another rider flew back to Barcelona on Monday for surgery. Tech 3's Remy Gardner was taken out by another rider for the second race in a row. Unlike in Qatar, where the Australian escaped relatively unharmed, Gardner suffered a suspected fractured ankle in the crash at Termas De Rio Hondo. Once he arrives in Barcelona, he will be examined by Dr Mir at the Dexeus Institut to assess whether he will require surgery to fix the ankle.
It is an unfortunate turn of events for Gardner. The young Australian had been showing improving form since joining the Tech 3 team, but bad luck in races – brought on in part by qualifying well down the order – means he is yet to complete a lap in a race. Whether Gardner will be forced to miss any further race will be assessed once a decision has been made about his injured ankle.
From Free Practice to Qualifying
The Safety Commission in Argentina had plenty to discuss. Along with the saga of the additional Michelin front tire, it appears the riders also discussed an alternative approach to qualifying, according to the Catalan radio station Catalunya Radio.
The idea under discussion is that times from FP1 and FP2 would no longer count towards deciding who goes straight through to Q2, and who would have to pass through Q1 instead. The free practice sessions on Friday would then return to being about bike set up, and FP3 on Saturday morning would turn into a pre-qualifying session for determining Q2. According to Catalunya Radio, the riders asked Dorna and IRTA to consider the proposal at the next meeting of the Grand Prix Commission at Jerez.
The issue for the riders is that the have to spend time every session trying to put in a "banker lap", a single flying lap fast enough to ensure safe passage to Q2 in case rain spoils the remaining sessions. It means that in practice, the riders and teams only get around 35 minutes of actual set up time, while having to dedicate a couple of laps to setting a quick time. By having pre-qualifying concentrated in FP3, they could focus more on setup on Friday.
While this would be good for the riders and the teams, it may not be as attractive for the fans. Because each session now actually matters, counts towards who lines up in Q2, it adds a welcome note of tension to all three free practice sessions. Free practices 1, 2, and 3 all have an element of excitement about them, and give crowds and TV viewers more reason to watch them. Dorna will have to weigh up how much of a factor that added excitement is in helping to sell TV rights packages to broadcasters.
Dropping FP1 and FP2 from pre-qualifying may have unintended consequences on the racing as well. Giving the teams more time to focus solely on setup would remove a random element from the equation. The more time teams have to work on setup, the greater the gap between the big, successful factory teams and the smaller independent teams.
Factory teams have more engineers going over the data, and more resources to find the right setting for each rider at each track. Independent teams have fewer resources, and need to get the setup very close right from the start of the weekend. Less setup time means less time for the factories to exploit their advantage (an advantage obtained solely as a result of having more money to throw at the problem) over the independent teams.
WorldSBK in Argentina
Finally, there was a non-MotoGP announcement at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit. On Saturday, Carmelo Ezpeleta and Daniel Carrera of Dorna, along with Sergio Uñac, the Governor of the Province of San Juan, and Orly Terranova of the OSD Group announced that they had signed a three-year agreement to hold World Superbikes at the Villicum Circuit, at Albardón, near San Juan, in the west of Argentina.
The circuit is currently under construction, and is due to be visited for homologation later in the year. If the circuit is approved, then the WorldSBK series will visit the track from 2018 onwards. Where it will fit in the calendar is still to be determined, but the most likely place in the schedule will be after the opening flyaway rounds in Australia and Thailand, or before the final round of the season in Qatar.
The reason for building the circuit where it is is because of its proximity to the Andes. It is situated beside Route 40, the main road which runs from north to south just east of the Andes, and is a tourist destination in itself. The track is also 550km from the Chilean capital Santiago, making it a likely destination for race fans from Chile, as well as Argentina.
The press release announcing the deal appears below:
Argentina prepares to host WorldSBK in 2018
Province of San Juan joins the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship Calendar
The Government of the Province of San Juan (Argentina), Dorna WSBK Organization and the OSD Group are pleased to announce the signing of a three-year agreement to host WorldSBK Rounds at the Villicum Circuit, which is currently under construction.
In the province of San Juan, near the city of Albardón the new Villicum Circuit is in the process of being built, which was designed by Argentine architect Leonardo Stella. Work began in October 2016 and will make Argentina the 26th country to host a Round of the world´s fastest production-based motorcycle series. Riders and fans will enjoy the action and excitement of a 4.2 kilometre track with 19 corners - 11 left and 8 right.
WorldSBK is expected to visit the circuit in 2018, as the Government of the Province of San Juan and OSD Group are hoping to have the track homologated by the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) later this year.
The region of San Juan has an outstanding history in motorcycle racing and motorsport in general. The world-famous Dakar Rally has passed through the province in recent years, and the El Zonda circuit continues to host racing events across the year.
The new circuit is located on the symbolic Route 40, a 5,000km road which stretches from the north to the south of Argentina, along the breathtaking Andes. Route 40 is a tourist attraction not only for motorsport fans, but for all travellers who go to discover the best landscapes in the country.
The Governor of the Province of San Juan, Sergio Uñac said that the new circuit "is a project which will position San Juan at the heart of the sport, as the best categories of motorcycling and the motoring world will discover a stunning circuit with The Villicum, creating an unbeatable thrill".
"As well as this," added Governor Uñac, "there will be a hotel nearby - the old La Laja hotel. We are also talking with interested parties to build a hotel in front of the racetrack, which is one of the necessities in order to put this racetrack the highest international level”.
Carmelo Ezpeleta, Dorna Group CEO, expressed his satisfaction at WorldSBK's arrival to South America for the first time in history. "Without doubt this is very good news. Knowing that Argentina will have a World Superbike Round is a solid step forward. The presence of the two of the most important world championships in motorbike racing in Argentina, reflects the passion of a country which has a vast and deep rooted history in motor sports."
Orly Terranova, CEO of OSD: "I am very pleased that the new Villicum Circuit - which has already received the first approval from the FIM - allows us to work with another world-class international event like WorldSBK. As well as this it provides us with a definite option of attracting other categories of motorsport. In addition we believe that this is the opportunity for Argentina to have one or more riders competing, as the category will be a great platform for Argentine and Latin American motorcycling. Undoubtedly, the new racetrack - located on the legendary Route 40 - will generate a positive impact in the Cuyo region, increasing the levels of tourism the province of San Juan has to offer.”
Daniel Carrera, Executive Director of WorldSBK said: "We are very proud that the government of San Juan selected WorldSBK to help develop the economic activity of the Circuit, and the province of San Juan. In recent years WorldSBK has been present in destinations around the world such as the United States, Thailand, Australia or Qatar, where events have been developed with great results. The Villicum Circuit is projected as a top-level facility, with an exciting track that will surely be welcomed by our paddock and all the fans of our sport in Argentina."
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