Qatar set the stage for 2018 MotoGP and teams are chomping at the bit to get back out there and go to battle. South American sport fans are some of, if not the most passionate fans in the world, so there is no doubt that round two at Termas de Rio Hondo this weekend will be full of excitement both on and off the tarmac.
After another all-time classic in Qatar, the fuse is lit and the Championship is in gear. Where are we now? It’s all change from camels to gauchos as the next stop sees MotoGP head for Argentina. It’s one of the most incredible events of the season but it’s not the history, not the track, not the corners and not the weather at Termas de Rio Hondo that make it one of the jewels of the year; it’s the people – passionate like no other and raring to see some serious racing. Little wonder the grandstands are packed.
Headlining the carnival after the showstopper at Losail will be the first Championship leader of the season – Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) – and reigning World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). Thought you couldn’t get better than 2017? The Qatar GP already proved that wrong, and both will be pushing to repeat the feat in Latin America. Track records at Argentina make it advantage Marquez of the two early title rivals, but we’ve said that before…
Behind the two men that dueled it out in the desert, there are a few big contenders on the bill. Last year’s star man Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) will want to convert Qatar pace hampered by a trip through Q1 into a first visit to the top step in 2018, and teammate Valentino Rossi will be gunning to stand in his way. After a more difficult preseason for Yamaha, the ‘Doctor’ found some serious traction at Losail and took his first podium of the season to extend his incredible golden years in the premier class. As a previous winner at the venue to boot, who writes off the rider from Tavullia? Another race win to cement his new contract would doubtless be a sweet thing for Rossi.
Then there are those who suffered a little more under the floodlights. It was a case of beauty and the beast at Ducati as Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) suffered a brake problem and crashed as teammate ‘DesmoDovi’ won, and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) will want his pace at Termas to convert him into a candidate for the rostrum. Still suffering slightly with an injured left hand following a crash in testing, the two-weekend break will have been a welcome one before the ‘Little Samurai’ starts a full assault on 2018.
Speaking of full assault, that was – as ever – Johann Zarco’s (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) modus operandi in the desert, as the Frenchman led from the front throughout much of the race. Later suffering with grip and forced to drop back slightly, he crossed the line in P8 and out of podium contention. Planning a strike back? Always. Zarco also lost out on the title of top of the Independent Team heroes in Qatar, as Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) took fourth and had his first visit to parc ferme for the year. And as well as his form this season and in testing, Crutchlow is also former podium finisher in Argentina…
The list of those who could threaten the rostrum doesn’t end there. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is another to mention, after showing incredible pace throughout the Qatar GP before the mood on race day was more one of sorrow after he crashed out of contention. Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) also had frontrunning pace all weekend to put the factory riders under pressure and converted that into a top five, and his teammate Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) is adjusting well to the changes of 2018 as he begins a new career on a new bike, debuting on the Ducati in the top ten.
And what of the absolute beginners? In the rookie battle it’s advantage Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) after the reigning Moto2 World Champion took a handful of solid points and P12, with Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) on the chase in P14 and the second debutant home. In Argentina, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) will want to change that.
MotoGP does the tango at Termas de Rio Hondo from Friday the 6th April, with the race firing up at 15:00 (GMT -3) on Sunday. Will we see another repetition of the desert duel? Or will the next race day give another future legend the chance to stake their claim on the crown…