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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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Additional Front Tire Withdrawn After Getting Stuck In Customs

The MotoGP riders will not have the additional soft front tire at their disposal for the Argentinian Grand Prix. In a meeting of the Safety Commission on Friday night, the riders agreed that they did not need the tire, as the current allocation of three fronts was sufficient for safety purposes.

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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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Michelin - Argentina An Important Test For Tires

The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit proved to be quite an ordeal for Michelin in 2016. In their first year as official tire supplier, Michelin arrived at the Argentinian circuit with only limited data from testing. They were not entirely to blame for that situation: test riders had ridden at the track in 2015, but had the weather conditions against them. A damp track and the slower pace of test riders meant that the tires did not get the workout they needed to stress them to the limit.

That did happen during practice for the race. The rear Michelin of Scott Redding's Pramac Ducati delaminated during FP4, causing a radical shakeup for the race. The race was once again cut in two, and compulsory pit stops added. As a result of that event, Michelin responded by becoming a lot more conservative in their tire selection, producing tires which were much more hard wearing, but also provided less feel and less grip.

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Qatar To Be Moved To February, Resurfaced, Substrate Heating Added

As many of you will have spotted, this was in fact an April Fool's story. While the Losail International Circuit is indeed due to be resurfaced after thirteen years of use, as yet, no contract to do so has been agreed. No plans exist to fit underfloor heating, as far as I know, and given the astronomical cost involved, it seems very unlikely to happen. Normal service has now been resumed... 

The Losail International Circuit is to be resurfaced, with the aim of moving the opening race back to February. The question of resurfacing came to a head after last week's season opener MotoGP round at Qatar, when light rain caused the start of the MotoGP race to be delayed, raising concern among the riders over the evening dew, which starts to form on the track surface at around 10pm. There were serious concerns that the track would become too treacherous to race on, if the race were to be delayed for too much longer.

The surface and condition of the Losail circuit was a talking point all weekend. The asphalt itself is nearly fourteen years old, as the track has not been resurfaced since it was first built. Because the MotoGP race runs at night, the evening dew makes the track slippery, but the dew patches are impossible to see. And the fact that the race runs at night means that the event is in peril if it rains.

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Alex Rins Suffers Ankle Injury In Training Crash

Alex Rins has suffered a setback which could see him not participate in the second race of the season in Argentina. The factory Suzuki rider crashed while riding his Suzuki motocross bike, and suffered a partial fracture his talus, the bone which sits at the top of the ankle and transfers the weight between leg bones and the foot.

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Grand Prix Commission Scraps MotoGP Penalty Point System

The MotoGP penalty point system is no more. The system, introduced for the 2013 season, whereby Race Direction could punish rider infringements with penalty points, which would accumulate throughout the year and could result in a race ban, has been scrapped at the latest meeting of the Grand Prix Commission.

The penalty points system had been introduced in response (at least in part) to a number of incidents involving Marc Marquez through the 2012 season. There were complaints from the fans, but also from teams and other riders, that Race Direction was not being even-handed in applying existing penalties to riders. It was sometimes hard for Race Direction to explain why one rider had been given a particular punishment, but another rider who had done something apparently similar had not.

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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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Qualifying Canceled At Qatar Due To Rain - Viñales, Morbidelli, Martin Awarded Pole

Practice and qualifying at the Losail Circuit in Qatar has been canceled due to track conditions. Torrential overnight rain, followed by another downpour during the day left the circuit wet, with standing water in some sections of the track, as well as in the gravel traps. After waiting for conditions to improve, the organizers were finally forced to abandon any hope of running qualifying or FP4 for any of the classes.

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Revised Schedule For Saturday At Qatar - Updated

The schedule for Saturday at Qatar has been revised. With the track still wet, and rain falling on and off, Dorna and the teams have agreed to test the track first, and then, after the Safety Commission has met and declared the track safe in the wet, run a later schedule for practice and qualifying. The revised schedule is below.

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Saturday MotoGP Schedule Under Discussion At Qatar - Revised Schedule Expected Later

The teams and Dorna are currently meeting to discuss the schedule for Saturday's qualifying and practice sessions for all three classes at the MotoGP season opener at Qatar. Torrential rain on Friday night and Saturday morning has left the track waterlogged, and while the circuit is doing all it can to clean and attempt to dry the surface, the track is still wet.

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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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