MotoGP - Argentina: Slicks and Shenanigans
There is always much to say of particular tracks favouring certain manufacturers, and with the second round of the MotoGP circus taking us to Argentina’s tyre punishing Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo, a track historically favouring Japanese machinery, it appeared at first glance that the ball would be firmly in Yamaha and Honda's court.
But with less than ideal conditions during practice and a barely emerging dry line in qualifying; it was Pramac Ducati rider, Jack Miller who sat his GP17 on the top spot, stunning the damp crowds with a blisteringly hairy last minute lap during the final seconds of qualifying. A feat made even more impressive by his persistent choice of slicks over the wet tyres of every other rider on track.
Further rain was forecast for the race, meaning all riders were kitted out on the grid with wet rubber. All, however, but pole-sitter Miller, who gambled again opting for slicks, a gamble, that would define the Argentine GP start for all the wrong reasons.
But with the track surface drying quickly, and as the scheduled start edging ever closer, every other rider returned to the pits and fit slicks, leaving a perplexed looking Jack Miller sat all alone at the front of the grid. A surprise move which delayed the start even further, and earned all other riders a grid place penalty for the privilege.
The surreal starting grid of 23 booming MotoGP machines sat over 50 meters behind the start line was made even more bewildering as Marquez managed to both stall and bump-start his Honda on the fully-formed grid before riding the wrong way to retake his slot.
Once the lights finally went out, the cushion out front allowed Miller to retain control in the opening few laps, until he was hurriedly reeled in by a charging Marquez, who after inching out a two-second gap, was finally hit with a ride-through penalty for his earlier mischief on the grid.
This nightmare was compounded for the Repsol team, as teammate Dani Pedrosa ended his race with a high side crash after Zarco had nudged him wide in the opening lap.
The reigning world champ re-entered the melee in 20th place with the fastest pace on track and began to snake his way back through the field before a misjudging his line and clattering into the side of Aleix Espargaro, luckily both managed to hang on, but the move saw him have to relinquish the position.
With four laps to go, Marquez had made good progress and dragged himself onto the back wheel of Valentino Rossi, but in almost identical fashion, he once again went up the inside far too hot, and the pair collided. Both went wide, and Rossi was forced on to the wet grass and off his M1, while Marquez was able to stick to the track and continue.
In the closing stages, a top four of Miller, Alex Rins, Zarco and Crutchlow all stuck intently to each others sliding and smoking rear wheels, running in formation until Rins began to attack. The pair traded the lead on several occasions before the young Suzuki rider made the move stick, allowing him to lead his first ever MotoGP race, only to run wide a lap later and drop to fourth. However, a major moment for Miller at turn 13 saw Crutchlow take the lead, and sent the Aussie out of the fight into fourth position.
Zarco soon snuck past Crutchlow briefly, but a well-timed slipstream on the penultimate lap allowed the British rider to hold on and claim his third MotoGP win. An ecstatic Rins celebrated his maiden MotoGP podium in third behind Zarco, who equalled his best-ever finish, while Miller was forced to settle for fourth.
Marquez managed to cleanly pass Vinales the other Movistar machine on the final lap to take fifth, but was gifted a 30-second penalty for his clash with Rossi, which dropped his result down to 18th; interestingly, still a place higher than the number 46 rider managed to nurse his mud filled Yamaha home.
If this controversial round has shown us anything, it’s that the Championship fires are now well and truly ignited, and the rivalries are already heating up. Crutchlow heads to Texas as the first British points leader since the 1970s, meanwhile, Marquez faces an uphill battle, and with his first zero of the year marked in dramatic fashion, will he produce some more magic in Texas?