Marc Marquez rode the ride of his life yesterday to win the second race of the season in challenging conditions in Argentina.
An eventful weekend at the demanding Termas de Rio Hondo circuit saw Scott Redding’s rear tyre delaminate during qualifying, showering the track and the rider in debris as the carcass exploded in spectacular style. Luckily the inner tube remained inflated and Redding remained upright, but it was enough for Michelin to withdraw both rear tyres from this weekend’s proceedings.
However, heavy overnight rain meant the riders couldn’t test the extra tyre so a further decision between Michelin, Dorna and IRTA was taken to make the race a two stage event on safety grounds, with riders being allowed to use the tyres that they had tested all weekend, but a mandatory rule was made that they had to pit after nine, ten or eleven laps and change to another bike with the same spec tyres. The distance was also reduced to 20-laps to accommodate the extra safety measures.
The race started under heavy cloud, but the track had dried out sufficiently to allow the rides to push hard straight from the off. Pole-setter Marquez got a good start, as did Dani Pedrosa, but a desperate lunge by Ducati pilot Andrea Iannone pushed the diminutive Spaniard wide and dropped him down to the back of the midfield pack. However, Marquez’s Honda looked lively, front constantly skipping out of line, and Jorge Lorenzo hit the front on his Yamaha. Marquez was then passed on the first-lap by Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, a position he held until lap-three when Marquez took over at the front.
Marquez was engaged in a thrilling battle with Rossi for first position, swapping the lead and pushing each other hard. However, every time Rossi passed, he ran wide and allowed the Spaniard to retake the lead.
Rossi’s team-mate Jorge Lorenzo endured a miserable time in the tricky conditions, dropping back to sixth before crashing out at Turn One after losing the front.
At the front Marquez and Rossi both entered pitlane for the mandatory tyre change on lap 10, and while Rossi was desperate to gain an advantage it was Marquez who joined the track in the lead.
Marquez put in a stunning set of lap times on his second bike, stringing together a sequence of fast laps that nobody was able to match, and in just five laps he opened up a gap that allowed him to comfortably cross the line with a 7.6-second advantage.
As the race continued Marquez stretched his lead, while Rossi got involved in an epic four rider tussle with Andrea Dovizioso and his Ducati team-mate Andrea Iannone, along with Suzuki’s Maverick Viñales.
With all four vying for positions it looked to be going right to the last lap, before Viñales crashed out on a damp-patch on lap-18, leaving the three Italians to battle for the remaining podium places.
This looked like being the case, right up until the final corner when Iannone tried another hard last-minute manoeuvre on his team-mate and the pair crashed, leaving Rossi to come home in second, with Honda’s Dani Pedrosa profiting from the crash to take third.
A delighted Marc Marquez said: “I’m really happy with this win because we’ve worked very, very hard during the pre-season, in Qatar and here. Honda is working very well and I feel the support; we’re going in the same direction, and that’s the most important thing. It’s a special win, not only because it’s the first one of the year but also because with the team, we managed the situation very well, and after what happened in Australia on a similar occasion [in 2013], it was important for us to do well.
“I knew that the first part of the race would be tough because it was still damp in some places, and with the first bike I hadn’t felt as good as with the other one even during practice. I knew that the second part of the race was the key. I pushed 100% in the first five laps after the bike change, I opened a gap and after that I just kept the distance.
“This weekend was a special one for the tyres and I completely understand what happened. For every manufacturer it is difficult to understand every new circuit, especially one with a difficult surface. We had some troubles with the tyres, plus the rain this morning, so it made everything more difficult. I think Michelin did a big effort and they chose the right decision to make two races in one, because safety is a big point. I believe in Michelin because they are working really hard and making a big effort, and I totally understand what they are doing and that they are working hard to give us the best quality.”
The conditions and the crash fest saw a lot of riders profit from the chaos ahead of them and Ireland’s Eugene Laverty on a satellite Ducati took fourth and the honour of First Independent Team Rider, with another Ducati, this time belonging to Hector Barbera crossing the line in fifth. Pol Espargaro on a Yamaha was sixth, Stefan Bradl seventh on an Aprilia and Bradley Smith was eighth. MotoGP rookie Tito Rabat on the Marc VDS Honda took ninth, while the second Aprilia, ridden this time by Alvaro Bautista rounded out the top-ten.
After the race the last lap incident between the warring Ducati Factory riders was investigated by Race Direction, and Iannone was handed a three place grid penalty for the next race at Austin. The Italian was also handed a penalty point for an ‘overly optimistic overtake’.