The Grand Prix of Argentina showed us the importance of staying on the bike as well as the difficulties Michelin face as the tire manufacturer forced teams to make a bike change halfway through the race.
The 2016 MotoGP Grand Prix of Argentina was a thrilling race with controversy before the race had even started. Crashes continued throughout the weekend and the championship table is wide open as several manufacturers look capable of winning on any given day.
With the tire delamination of Scott Redding on Saturday, Michelin, the new tire manufacture for MotoGP advised the teams to change bikes halfway through the race in the name of safety. With the race starting under dry conditions, the FOM made it mandatory to change the bike between Lap 9 and Lap 11. A similar event occurred at Philip Island in 2013 when the newly resurfaced track meant the Bridgestone tires couldn’t last more than 12 laps. Michelin deserves a lot of credit for their decision to admit that their tires might fail over a full race distance. It would have been easy for Michelin to press their luck that the tire would last and preserve their reputation. With no other tire manufacturer in the series to compete with, it was a wise and honorable move to ensure the tire would last and call for a pit stop. The Michelin tire has come far from the beginning of pre-season when several riders blasted the manufacturer and said it was too difficult to ride.
One of, if not the key rule to motorcycle racing is to stay on the bike. The Grand Prix of Argentina will be remembered mostly for those who did not commit themselves to that cardinal rule. Jorge Lorenzo’s crash on Lap 5, as well as Maverick Vinales crash on Lap 17, and eventually the double crash of the two Ducati factory riders gave Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez a boost to the top two spots of the championship table. The #1 unwritten rule of motorsport is to never take out your teammate. Andrea Iannone’s move on Dovizoso with only two corners left was a lunge of faith on a hot track day. Iannone lost the bike and slid low side leaving his teammate with nowhere to go. In a season where the Ducati has so much potential these are the kinds of points and chances the team cannot squander. The Bologna based squad was only about 10 seconds away from leaving Argentina with 38 points, but gained 0. A deciding factor in Rossi’s 2015 campaign was that he was one of two riders to finish every race. His consistency allowed him to compete for a title even when riders like Marquez on the Honda had more pace, but crashed often. For the rest of the grid that had feared a Lorenzo – Yamaha domination this year can breathe a sigh of relief, as the defending MotoGP champion looked off form all weekend.
Turn 1 at the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo swallowed many riders this weekend. Jorge Lorenzo as well as Marc Marquez crashed there during FP4, Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow found the end of their races in the gravel at Turn 1. Lastly Maverick Vinales lost the chance to clinch his fist MotoGP podium with three laps to go at Turn 1, and Scott Redding was up to 6th on the Pramac when Turn 1 took his race right from under him. A lingering dampness and the fact that Turn 1 is a slow long corner left many riders struggling to find the grip.
The surprise of the race was the difference in pace between Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi’s pace after their bike change on Lap 11. Rossi and Marquez were battling back and forth for 1st and 2nd when both riders came into the pits together, Marquez only inches ahead of Rossi. Once the riders came back out on track though, the Honda of Marquez opened up a 3.5 second lead over the following four laps, the Italian had no response. The bikes are supposed to be identical, so what caused this clear difference in pace remains an unknown, but Marquez clearly adjusted quicker and controlled the race to the end.
Eugene Laverty of Aspar Racing finished an immaculate 4th, his best finishing position of his career by far. Hector Barbara and Esteve Rabat finished 5th and 9th respectively to close out the top 10 which featured several riders who found themselves fortunate enough to avoid a crash.
The MotoGP season heads to Austin, Texas in one weeks time where Marc Marquez has yet to lose a race in his MotoGP career.