Today’s Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina had something for every taste and budget, even after the laughable theft of the pole on Saturday. Wait-a-minute weather? Check. Chaotic, delayed start? Check. Seat-of-the-pants rulemaking? Check. Quadruple MotoGP world champion having a mental Mardi Gras? Check. Riveting finish that shakes up the world standings? Check. Satellite teams kicking posteriors? Check.
Practice and Qualifying
Friday was a Honda clambake, with the factory guys and Cal Crutchlow hogging the top three spots on the combined FP1/FP2 timesheet. Andrea Dovisioso and Jorge Lorenzo looked dazed and confused in the dry, Dovi mailing in a clean 24th in FP2. Factory Yamaha pilots Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales were keeping their powder dry in 6th and 7th. The two anomalies in the top ten were Tito Rabat, Honda alum and current (GP17) Ducati pilot, sitting impudently in fourth position, as if he belonged there, and Andrea Iannone, copying him in 5th on the Suzuki. My boy Alex Rins sat 8th after finding over a second in FP2. Johann Zarco was loitering down in 9th, Lorenzo, in full Replay-of-the-Horror-of-2017 mode, lagging in 16th place. Miles to go before he sleeps.
Saturday’s wet FP3 meant the standings from FP2 stood, which, in turn, meant that big names, like Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Danilo Petrucci and Hafizh Syahrin would have to slug their way out of Q1 to even have a shot at the first four rows on Sunday. Two satellite Ducatis (Rabat and Jack Miller) found their way directly into Q2, along with a bevy of Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis. Q1 saw Aleix Espargaro flog his Aprilia into Q2, joined therein by Dovizioso. Meanwhile, Petrucci, eyeing a Ducati factory seat next year, starts from 18th, while Lorenzo, trying to defend one, could manage no better than 14th.
The last three minutes of Q2 are becoming my favorite part of the weekend. One by one, the Alien class and its aspirants reach back and take aim at pole, holding nothing in reserve, fuel loads minimized, soft new rubber on the back. One by one, they flash into pole position, only to be immediately deposed by the next red-eyed dervish with the throttle pegged. Marc Marquez, incandescent all weekend, sat in pole position for most of the session, until he was blistered late, in the described fashion, by Alex Rins (?), Tito Rabat (??), Johann Zarco and Dani Pedrosa. While the announcers were busily gushing over Dani’s 50th grand prix pole, Jack Miller, who had pitted very late on a drying track to try a final lap on slicks and had his transponder go out on him, crossed the line almost unnoticed and stuck the fastest lap of the day on pole. In the process, he became the first satellite Ducati rider in history to occupy pole for a premier class grand prix.
Jack Miller has taken to the GP17 like, pardon the expression, a duck to water. Fast in Valencia last November. Fast all winter. Fast in practice in Qatar, although he whiffed on race day. Now, fast here, at least for one lap. Jack Miller is making a case for enhanced respect from these quarters. As is Tito Rabat, who seems to be breathing air again after two years of sucking canal water. Both on used Desmos.
Before the Lights Went Out
Due to the persistent light rain they have in this part of Argentina, which works the way my kitchen lights do when my grandson is fiddling with the switch, virtually everyone on the grid started bailing into pit lane five minutes before the start, all planning to switch from rain tires to slicks, all planning to start from pit lane. All except for one, the polesitter, Jack Miller, on his Alma Pramac Ducati, sporting slicks and ready to race. Race Direction, citing legitimate safety concerns pertaining to having 23 powerful men and machines crammed into the space of an eat-in kitchen, decided to change the rules of the sport on the spot, re-forming the grid three rows back of Miller.
MORE DRAMA! Now for @marcmarquez93 on the grid!
— MotoGP (@MotoGP) April 8, 2018
The weirdly re-formed grid sat waiting for the lights to go on when Marquez, anxious in the six hole, waved to indicate his bike had stalled, pushed it a few yards, nonchalantly jump-started it, and pushed it back into his grid spot, waving off that Danny guy who was gesticulating wildly that Marquez needed to return to pit lane. So #93 started the race under a cloud, out of breath, suspecting he would be penalized. Unbalanced.
During the Race
There were so many key moments in the race that I can only bullet-point them:
— MotoGP (@MotoGP) April 8, 2018
- On the opening lap, Johann Zarco, jockeying with the factory Hondas up front, gave Pedrosa a slight hip check sufficient to send Little Big Man over the handlebars.
- Marquez went through on Miller on Lap 2 and the world prepared for him to get away, when
- He was given a ride-through penalty for dissing Mr. Aldridge at the start, entered pit lane in first place and exited in 19th with some serious motowood going on and that look in his eye. This left a top three of Miller, Rins and Zarco, with Crutchlow loitering in fourth, keeping his powder dry, thinking deep thoughts.
- Marquez, slicing his way recklessly through the field, dove through a non-existent opening, displacing Aleix Espargaro, who retired five laps later. For this second foul Marquez was ordered to give up one place, which became two in the midst of the pure confusion in command of the track.
- On Lap 17, Miller, whose tires were turning to syrup, ran so far wide that Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins all went through on him and stayed there. He deserved better on a day when he had, by himself, earned an enormous strategic advantage over the field which the powers that be took away from him.
- On Lap 21, Marquez, for no apparent reason, thought it would be smart to reprieve his stunt with Espargaro with his old buddy Valentino Rossi, who ran wide into mud. Down and out. A buzz went through the crowd. Not this again.
- Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins put on a sensational show over the last three laps. After two rounds there have been six separate riders on the two podia.
- Before being demoted to 18th position, Marquez had worked his way back from 19th to 5th, and, in the process, confirmed the opinions of everyone out there who already thought he was a jerk.
After the Race
— MotoGP (@MotoGP) April 8, 2018
Immediately after the race, Marquez and two of his handlers, with about 20 MotoGP.com video cameras on them, walked down to Rossi’s garage, to offer an apology for his comportment on the track. Mr. Rossi’s representative, a Mr. Vaffanculo, let it be known that Mr. Rossi was not currently interested in Mr. Marquez’ apology, and that perhaps Mr. Marquez should go perform a physically-impossible act. The cheek-turning exercise failed to produce the desired results. So now we have to spend the next six months listening to people bang on about The Rivalry. Which, if you believe what you hear, never actually went away.
The Big Picture
The season standings have been reshuffled, which is good news for some and not-so-good news for others. To wit:
Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi each lost five spots in the championship chase. Marquez lost three, but it could have been worse, as many will argue he should have been black-flagged after the Rossi incident. He may still find himself with some penance to pay in Texas in two weeks.
Winners include Alex Rins, who went from zero to 9th place, Miller, who went from 10th to 6th, and Zarco, who moved from 8th to 3rd.
Of the top ten riders for the year, four ride satellite bikes and two ride Suzukis. And the top team thus far this season is LCR Honda.
Next time out is Austin, which is Marquez’ personal sandbox. If he faces any kind of challenge at COTA, it portends an interesting year. A year that’s getting off to a grand start.
Rider Rankings after Two Rounds
Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Zarco, Crutchlow
Tranche 2: Viñales, Rossi, Rins, Miller, Iannone
Tranche 3: Petrucci, Pedrosa, Rabat, Syahrin, Lorenzo, A. Espargaro
Tranche 4: Redding, Bautista, Nakagami, Morbidelli, P. Espargaro
Tranche 5: Luthi, Abraham, Smith, Simeon
|2018 MotoGP Rio Hondo Results|
|1||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda Castrol||40:36.342|
|2||Johann Zarco||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||+0.251|
|3||Alex Rins||Suzuki Ecstar||+2.501|
|4||Jack Miller||Alma Pramac Ducati||+4.390|
|5||Maverick Viñales||Movistar Yamaha||+14.941|
|6||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+22.533|
|7||Tito Rabat||Reale Avintia Ducati||+23.026|
|8||Andrea Iannone||Suzuki Ecstar||+23.921|
|9||Hafizh Syahrin||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+24.311|
|10||Danilo Petrucci||Alma Pramac Ducati||+26.003|
|11||Pol Espargaro||Red Bull KTM||+31.022|
|12||Scott Redding||Aprilia Gresini||+31.891|
|13||Takaaki Nakagami||LCR Honda Idemitsu||+32.452|
|14||Franco Morbidelli||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+42.061|
|15||Jorge Lorenzo||Ducati Corse||+42.274|
|16||Alvaro Bautista||Angel Nieto Ducati||+42.625|
|17||Thomas Luthi||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+43.350|
|18||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||+43.860|
|19||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+52.082|
|20||Karel Abraham||Angel Nieto Ducati||+1:03.944|
|21||Xavier Simeon||Reale Avintia Ducati||+1:10.144|
|DNF||Bradley Smith||Red Bull KTM||7 Laps|
|DNF||Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia Gresini||11 Laps|
|DNF||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||0 Laps|
|2018 MotoGP Top 10 Standings After 2 Rounds|
|1||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda Castrol||38/td>|
|2||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||35|
|3||Johann Zarco||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||28|
|4||Maverick Viñales||Movistar Yamaha||21|
|5||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||20|
|6||Jack Miller||Alma Pramac Ducati||19|
|7||Danilo Petrucci||Alma Pramac Ducati||17|
|8||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||16|
|9||Alex Rins||Suzuki Ecstar||16|
|10||Andrea Iannone||Suzuki Ecstar||15|