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.

Nor was his time just a result of the softer rear tire – at Argentina, the Yamahas and Hondas have extra hard and hard rear tires, the rest, including Suzuki, have a hard and a medium – being used to better effect. Yes, he set his fast time on the medium, but he had spent most of the session on the hard tire, and been fastest for nearly all of FP2. His race pace is strong – mid 1'40s – and good enough to match that of Jorge Lorenzo and the two factory Ducatis. Only Marc Márquez is showing a quicker pace.

So could Espargaro be a contender for the podium on Sunday? It is way too early to tell. The bike is quick alright, and at a track like Termas de Rio Hondo, the GSX-RR's outstanding handling is of much greater importance than its lack of top speed. There are few places where the bikes are accelerating hard from a low gear, and a lot of places where turning ability is key. "Judging by their speed in sector four in Texas, that bike has good side grip and good turning ability," was Bradley Smith's verdict. Marc Márquez concurred. "When you ride behind them, you can see that it is a bike where the chassis is working really well," he told the Spanish media. "This is a circuit where the engine is less important, which is what they are missing."

In the race, it will come down to how well the Suzuki can make the tire last. At the moment, that is something of an unknown, but by this time tomorrow, we should know more. But where the Suzuki is a real threat is in qualifying. Though betting against a pole from Marc Márquez always seems rather rash – the Spaniard has 23 poles from 38 MotoGP starts, a rate of just over 60% - the likelihood of a Suzuki on the front row looks pretty high. That will be a huge boost for the Japanese manufacturer, in just its third full race since returning after absence.

Like the success of the Ducati, Suzuki's strong initial showing seems to validate Dorna's handling of the MotoGP series over the past few years. Yes, the rules are confusing, with Factory Option, Factory Option with concessions, and Open class bikes. But if the aim was to expand the grid and create a more level playing field, then their objective has clearly been achieved. Though Yamaha and Honda still dominate, Ducati have caught up with the two Japanese factories, and Suzuki are now well on their way. Aprilia may be suffering this year, but the freedom to test and develop their engines, while successful factories are kept in check by an engine freeze, means they stand a realistic chance of closing the gap. While Yamaha and Honda monopolize the best riders, the other factories have very little chance of wrapping up a title. But they do now have a much better chance of actually persuading Marc Márquez or Jorge Lorenzo (or even Valentino Rossi, if he was much younger) to take a leap of faith and join them. It may be messy, but it works.

The other big talking point at the first day of testing was tires, and especially what the race tire might be. The Suzukis and Ducatis have no choice, the medium tire unlikely to last the full distance under the punishment dished out by the Argentinian track. But the Hondas and Yamahas face a dilemma, choosing between the hard and the extra hard tire. The hard is the best choice for the riders, but it suffers a big drop after a few laps. The extra hard makes for a much slower lap time, but it is guaranteed to make it to the flag at a consistent pace. "With the hard tire, the bike become very difficult to ride, and the lap time is a lot worse," Valentino Rossi said. "But it looks like that tire is the tire that can provide the race distance. When you put the soft, the bike is a lot better in general, but after some laps, for me it is difficult."

The key will be to try to calculate the time lost in the early laps using the extra hard versus the time gained over the drop from the hard tire in the latter part of the race. That will also depend on the condition of the track, as well as the weather. Track temperatures were relatively cool on Friday, the sun hiding behind clouds for most of the day, with even a few scattered drops of rain at one point. Temperatures are expected to rise tomorrow, and if the sun comes out, the choice may well get easier.

Some light was shed on Ducati's fuel problems at Austin as well. In an interview with the Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport, Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna explained that the problem was not running out of fuel, but due to cavitation preventing fuel from being pumped properly. When there is very little fuel in the tank, heat from the exhaust and engine caused the fuel temperature to rise rapidly, creating bubbles in the fuel and making it impossible to pump. The problem had been present on the GP14, and was less prominent in the GP15. The small air inlet on the left-hand side of the fairing had gone some way to mitigating the issue, taking cool air and leading it directly towards the tank, to remove the heat. But at very low speed – such as on the cool down lap after the race – it could still occur, as it did in Austin. No doubt that having just 22 liters in the tank instead of 24 made it a little more likely to happen, but the danger during the race is limited.

If there were surprises in practice in MotoGP, Moto3 looked like another repeat of Austin. Danny Kent dominated from the outset, posting fast laps on his own and easily outpacing the competition. He is a man on a mission, and is establishing himself as the favorite for the title this year. There is still a very long way to go, but there does not appear to be a rider who can consistently threaten Kent. Well, not until the astounding Fabio Quartararo gets up to speed, that is.

Moto2 looks a lot more open than it did at Austin, on the other hand. Jonas Folger led in the morning, while Johann Zarco was fastest in FP2, just edging out Sam Lowes and a mass of other riders. Eighteen riders ended within a second of Zarco, Alex Márquez falling just outside a second in nineteenth. Zarco, Lowes and Tito Rabat still look like the quality of the field, but it is a lot more open.

At least the Moto2 riders don't have to worry so much about their tires. A point raised by Bradley Smith. "The Bridgestones just work slightly differently around here," Smith said. "For some reason, the actual chemical reaction to the track is different to Dunlop. Dunlop don't seem to struggle as much with this type of surface. I don't know why, but that seems to be the way it is."

For Saturday, all eyes will be on the weather. A dry and warm track will give a clearer idea of just where the various teams lie. In MotoGP the Suzuki is clearly quick, but then so are the two Ducati Andreas, as well as a lot of the Yamahas. Both Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding are fast on the satellite Hondas, and the Pramac Ducatis are not far behind. Even Nicky Hayden isn't too far off on the Open class Honda. It has been a promising start to the weekend so far.

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Interesting to see that. The route to order is inevitably some chaos.

Would this, or more hopefully, is this making Casey consider coming back? One of his major issues I remember was MotoGP taking a 'different direction' with the disappearance of the prototypes. If the opposite is now happening, could his desire to 'help a friend' in Texas be a hint of things to come...?

"There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. " -G.K. Chesterton. This quote comes to mind when I hear people say "shut up and stop talking about things that I don't want to talk about"

The rude reactions to your comment are childish and uncalled for. It is true that Casey has stated emphatically that he won't be returning, but he also stated emphatically that he won't be retiring, not long before he retired. Plus he just surprised the hell out of everyone,- including those with a hell of a lot more insight into these matters than us (aka David)- when he announced how disappointed he was that he wouldn't be riding for Dani. I think speculating about his possible return might even be good for the sport. It creates intrigue and drama which in turn makes good headlines and draws a crowd. I think Casey is doing more for the sport's entertainment now than he has for several years. I am more entertained by the prospect of his return for a wild card than I was by the many races he dominated.

However, I still don't think he will make a full time return, and as curious as I am about how he and Marc would compare, I think the sport is better off without him right now, unless he is on something like an open honda because I think Casey is the most impressive and entertaining when he is blowing everyone's minds with his ability to find a way to win on less competitive machinery. I'm happy that stoner is happily retired, because 90% of the races he won were painfully boring, and he won a lot of them. I think being a test rider suits Casey way more since he didn't always enjoy the kind of racing that was entertaining. No ill will towards the man. He deserves his time away and he deserves to be acknowledged as one of the most talented riders ever, if not thee most talented in terms of raw speed and the ability to turn a shitbox into a race winner.

Don't get scared off Desmonaut. I bet you were unaware that there has been history here re a few "touchy" topics, perhaps top of the list being the Stoner-Rossi "debate." It reached its zenith after the Laguna Seca battle we all loved so much, and some folks here were not at their best around the subject. Lots of personal attacks on each other and especially Stoner and Rossi fans. Lots of it was not good reading. It took forever for it to be snuffed out. Now the "Stoner return" dream touches on it again, and here we go, again, with personal animosity that is primarily directed at Stoner for his way of managing difficulties with the strains of being in the paddock and especially press and publicity crap.

Take zero of it personally. Different people have very different areas of knowledge and at its best the commentary here is, at least for what is available in English, the best I have found anywhere else. Just scroll down a lot past the topic areas that are peevish, the self-involved "I know everything and get to tell others about reality" readers, etc. And don't post hunting for stars of approval. Anytime you say something that people can agree or disagree with you get 3 stars on your post not because your post is bad, but because a strata of readers plain old disagree with a statement.

You'll see. Hang around a bit.

(Oh, and I am tired of second guessing Stoner's plans too btw, but never had any trouble with how he handled anything but did think he was whining about Rossi committing transgressions. That is just how it goes sometimes. Racing makes people full of intense glandular activity, my pupils would be huge and hands trembling when I got off the track and into the paddock, glad no one recorded anything I said. I was high as a kite).

Ok, back to racing...

CASEY ISN'T COMING BACK! Can we please get used to this reality, and just shut up on the subject? First off, you're going to have to convince Ms. Stoner that this is desirable. Than, if you can get past her objections, you've got to get thru the guy's objections - which are probably more than his wife's.

HE'S NOT COMING BACK! And it would really be nice if all the commentators would just deal with the guys who are actually mounting those bikes every other weekend, or so. And if the current stable of riders "isn't enough", I'll suggest upping your skills to the point where you can get a contract with some team and personally add to the show. Instead of praying that some disinterested party changes his mind for your entertainment.

Even if Casey is seemingly willing to do some substitute rides, can we please stop groveling for his return? Let the man be for Christ's sake. Quit maundering.

A lot of fans, including me, didn't really like Stoner when he was there-the Randy punch in the back was on top of a long list of why I believe he wasn't liked by a great deal of punters, but certainly respected for his riding ability.

And why all the talk of him coming back-and the need for it? He is not needed at all, we have Marc-who is better in 'every' way. Rossi who is still beyond brilliant and a VERY healthy stable of extremely talented riders who want to be there, and deserve to be there-Stoner doesn't fit into either of these categories in my opinion....leave him in peace-fishing, and enjoy the spectacle of what is shaping up to be one of the best seasons since the 990 era.

And this track is fantastic, looking forward to Sunday!

"A lot of fans", haa? Yup, every spiritual developed (evolving) human being knows that plump generalisation is an attribute/sign of weakness. You try to extrapolate from your own personal "opinion", your emotions towards Casey to "a lot of fans". I assume it makes you (hormons etc.) feel better (cognitive-emotional manifestation in your left/right hemisphere; study the work of brain researchers like professor/doctor Gerald Huether).

Casey Stoner was a fantastic MotoGP rider, the best of the 800cc era (wins, podiums), better than Dani and at least as good as Jorge. To claim that nobody misses his pure riding talents is simply ignorant; you obviously pay to much attention to all irrelevant things ("The BlaBla") outside the actual racing.

Sorry man, but Casey vs Marquez on the same material (or Marquez on his Honda and Casey on a Ducati GP16...) is what a true racing fan is dreaming of. Dani never was and will be able to match the speed of MM93, Casey could (if his mind was right and focussed; that is the only reason why he probably won´t come back: his FOCUS - attention & flow of energy - changed at the moment when his daughter was born and he was able to win a title with a REPSOL Honda; like his childhood hero MD...).

A true racing fan like myself (watch F1, 500cc/MotoGP for over 25 years and do not care about media interviews/obligations, evocative gestures and facial expression etc.) would love to see him back and compete against MM93 and VR46 (because Casey is young enough to become/be a Top-3-MotoGP-rider again); sensitive human beings with a "properly working" heart however fully respect the pro-family decision he made some years ago...

You can be a great rider and also a great pain in the ass. They are absolutely mutually exclusive. Casey was a prodigy, but he was also a prima donna and threw fits when contractually compelled to do something he didn't want to do; rode aggressively yet acted out when others did the same. The chip on his shoulder was more a part of eternally viewing himself as a victim and he got as good as he gave.
Last season, while the table was essentially run by Marquez, we still had some fantastic fighting and 2015 Qatar was a thriller.
He is no different than US pro-athletes who ars tremendously gifted and excel while playing their sport on field yet are selfish pricks that upend locker room harmony and can't seem to stay out of trouble or the news for all the wrong reasons when off field. Now don't bother chiming in that he never got in trouble - that is not what i am suggesting. He just has DNA of cry baby, sore winner and even worse loser.
The grid is packed with more world champions and race winners than ever before. The grid, sport and world has moved on. You should too.
Please, just please, stop the 'Bring back Casey' petition. I swear it is the same as those that refuse to acknowledge Elvis is dead.

Melandri finally had something resembling a decent session. Just one tenth off of Bautista's time.

I wonder what helped him achieve it. The flowing nature of the track? Or maybe the abrasive tarmac? And I wonder which tire he was on. Whatever it is, he seemed to finally be able to get some feel on those tires. Let's see what they can do in QP.

On the German webside "motorsport-magazin.com" they write that Melandri for the first time was able to ride the Aprilia the way he "normally" rides a racing motorcycle. His team tried something totally new with the setup and it obviously seems to work for Marco "The Philip Island 2006 King Of The Drift" Melandri...

That's a name I haven't heard of in a while. Poor chap destroyed his leg when a Kawi superbike hit a false neutral right?

Those one and a bit seasons on the Kawasaki really killed his career. He was obviously never going to win the motogp title, but he had a pretty solid chance in WSBK (IMO). A few technical issues and then his leg injury brought that to an end though. I think he might be on the commentary team for motogp in Australia now.

Certainly are a breed apart.

Enjoy the racing with the legends who will line up on Sunday. Or watch something else

What the world REALLY wants to know is:

Is Hopper coming back?

Will Desiree join him?

Suzuki needs him! Geriatric US race fans need him and his titanium hip! MotoGP needs another ex-500cc guy! Umbrellas need Desiree!

... is not racing here. So please, no more comments about him until it is relevant. There is so much to talk about, it seems bizarre to be discussing a rider who is not there.

So, where are all those people complaining that the softer tires were too much of an unfair advantage?

The knife cuts both ways and in Argentina, Ducati and Suzuki will be at a disadvantage in race trim and distance. The race being where it really counts after all. The better qualifying performance just means we get to watch faster race paced bikes who couldn't qualify as high have to work their way past those teams. Fun to watch and you never know what can happen.

I wonder if there will be as big a swing in advantage from track to track in The Europe. I don't think so but it would be nice if it was (for the sake of the entertainment).

Last but not least, I hope the folks who came up with this plan and got the manufacturers to buy into it get a nice bonus for a job well done. Don't get me wrong, I think if Yamaha and Honda start to look too weak, all hell will break loose behind the scenes and there will be rules changes unexpectedly -- to allow the real technologically advanced factories stay where they belong ... ahead. Till then, love their roles as spoilers (even if it is on less capable machinery).