Argentina left us with an awful lot to talk about. So much, that most of the discussion focused on just a few points: the problems with Michelin tires; the chaotic process by which Race Direction arrived at a race with compulsory pit stops, and the effect it had on the outcome of the race; and the various ways in which riders found to crash out of the race, and how it affected the championship. That overshadowed several aspects which will affect the championship down the line. Time to take a look back at what we missed.
It was a surprise podium, not least to those who actually ended up in second and third spot. Valentino Rossi had resigned himself to another fourth place until Andrea Iannone made what Race Direction colorfully described as an 'overly optimistic pass' on his teammate Andrea Dovizioso, and robbed Ducati of an outstanding double podium. He was not surprised when it happened – Rossi criticized Iannone's earlier pass as being too aggressive, saying it lost him two places – but he had not expected to be on the podium. Ducati's strong showing at Termas de Rio Hondo bodes well for Austin, but more of that later.
He ain't heavy
Dani Pedrosa was even more surprised to be on the podium, calling his race 'horrible' and the luckiest race of his career. The distance to the winner – over 28 seconds – showed just how improbable his podium was. His problem was the one thing which all of the Hondas have been struggling with, a lack of acceleration. The issue was illustrated all too poignantly by the sight of Scott Redding – second tallest and heaviest rider on the grid – firing out of Turn 4 and on to the back straight, leaving Pedrosa – the smallest and lightest rider on the grid – for dead.
Physics says that should not happen, when all things are equal, but clearly, equal is something they are not. Pedrosa simply could not get his bike out of corners, something we saw from the Hondas last year as well. A modified engine may have helped in one area, but the problem remains. It seems that the bike is not wheelying so much out of every corner any more – possibly a by-product of reversing the crank direction of the RC213V – but the bike still badly lacks mechanical grip. The rear still spins, and the Honda cannot get its horsepower to the ground.
A similar pattern was visible at Qatar, and with Márquez at the front of the race at Termas de Rio Hondo. The Yamahas were capable of attacking and beating the Hondas off the corner and passing down the straights, something previously unheard of.
It's all about the acceleration
This is going to be an issue at Austin, more so than in Argentina. At Termas de Rio Hondo, there was only one spot where the Hondas really suffered with acceleration. At Austin, there are several, including two crucial points: onto the back straight, onto the front straight. Marc Márquez has won every race held in the United States since he joined the MotoGP class. If the Hondas are struggling with acceleration as much as we believe, then his reign as King of America could be about to come to an end.
That offers opportunity, for the Yamahas, but especially for the Ducatis. The 2016 Desmosedici GP now has agility to go with its horsepower, as they showed in Argentina, and throughout testing. The Yamahas get fantastic drive out of corners, but the Ducatis do even better. The lesson of Argentina is that if there were to be a race where the Ducatis were going to get their first victory since 2010, Austin might just be the place.
Those straights are likely to be curtains for Maverick Viñales' hopes of a podium. The Spaniard had an outstanding ride at Argentina, competing with Rossi and the Ducatis on equal terms. But the demands of the straights will likely be too much for the Suzuki GSX-RR. Viñales once again showed that he could race the front runners despite being on an inferior bike, but his alien status is still at the application stage. Viñales needs to podium and win first, but you get the feeling that is now a distinct possibility. With the Spaniard looking very likely to take Lorenzo's place at Yamaha from next year, if it doesn't happen in 2016, then it will in 2017.
Aprilia on their way?
It is also worth nothing that Aprilia had a good race, with Stefan Bradl crossing the line in seventh aboard the brand new RS-GP. That looks good on paper – and is a result Romano Albesiano will be able to use to placate impatient Piaggio management – but it should not be seen as a sign the Aprilia is competitive. The reality is that Bradl crossed the line over forty seconds behind the winner. In a twenty lap race, that is over two seconds a lap.
On the other hand, Bradl was not far behind what ended up being the battle for fourth. He was five seconds behind Eugene Laverty, four seconds behind Hector Barbera and Pol Espargaro. A lot of that can be put down to conditions, of course, but Aprilia still have a mountain of work ahead of them.
Bradl was more fortunate than his teammate, Alvaro Bautista. The pit stops proved extremely treacherous for the Spaniard, Bautista locking the front of his Aprilia on the wet tarmac in pit lane, protected from the drying sun by the overhang of the media center at Termas de Rio Hondo. Bautista fell, his bike careening into a mechanic and knocking him down. It was a lurid illustration of the dangers of flag-to-flag racing. The incident is to be reviewed by Dorna and Race Direction, to examine ways of preventing a repeat. Given the hectic nature of the process of swapping bikes, eliminating danger completely is impossible. That is the price MotoGP has to pay to stick within TV schedules. The teams and the riders will have to decide whether it is a price worth paying.
Stefan Bradl still managed to finish ahead of Bradley Smith, however. Despite having signed a well-earned factory contract with KTM ahead of the first race at Qatar, Smith has not had an easy time of it in the first two races, with Argentina a low point. A feeling that the front Michelin of his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha was defective meant he was just downright slow, and finishing a long way behind his teammate Pol Espargaro. All last year, Espararo was aching to get onto the Michelins. Though he has not performed as he had hoped to on the new tires, he is still closer to the pointy end than he was before.
The East shall rise
In the Moto3 race, we witnessed history being made, and in spectacular style. Khairul Idham Pawi took off like a scalded cat from the start, braving a still damp track on slicks. The only rider who could stay with him was Livio Loi, but Loi had the benefit of wet tires, a gamble which would later turn against him. But Pawi was too much for Loi even on wets, and the young Malaysian rider was soon lapping two seconds or more faster than the rest. To call his win dominant would be an absolute understatement, Pawi scorching to victory in the face of pleas from his crew to please slow down.
Where did Pawi come from? The Malaysian rider spent last year in the FIM CEV Moto3 championship, where he impressed right from the start, scoring podiums and ending the year right in the thick of the talented crop who form this year's rookies. Overlooked by the major teams, he was picked up by Honda Team Asia, under the watchful eye of Tady Okada. This is proving to be a fruitful partnership, and Pawi has all the makings of being a genuine contender.
There were very nearly two Malaysians on the podium, with Adam Norrodin crashing out in the penultimate corner. Norrodin rode superbly, the crash understandable. What followed showed real grit and determination, the young Malaysian picking up his bike and pushing it across the line to finish eleventh. Andrea Dovizioso would follow his example in MotoGP, bagging a couple of valuable points in the championship. In a championship where anything could happen, those points could end up having a massive effect at the end of the year, for both Dovizioso and Norrodin.
The drama did not finish once the race was over, however. The flight which was due to take the vast majority of the paddock from nearby Tucuman airport to Buenos Aires, and thence onward to Texas, did not appear, apparently canceled due to poor weather conditions. Travel plans were hastily rescheduled, buses wrangled and the better part of the paddock was whisked off on a 12-hour odyssey to Cordoba. From there, they went in different directions, spread across many flights to the US. By midnight on Wednesday, almost every was on American soil. They will be ready for the US GP in Austin, but there will be a fair few who need matchsticks to keep their eyes open.
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