Changeable weather is usually a recipe for some odd scenes in MotoGP, but nothing could have prepared teams, fans or riders for today’s bizarre race at Termas De Rio Hondo in Argentina. We had thrills, spills and penalties, along with a four row head start.
No. You did not read that wrong. Today we saw a four row head start for Jack Miller. Why? It all started after the Moto2 podium as light rain yet again began to fall, but as the pit lane opened for the MotoGP sighting laps the rain had stopped. Valentino Rossi did one sighting lap on slicks and then another one on wets. Around 10 minutes before the formation lap was due to get underway it was declared a wet race, and then it started to get bizarre as we saw 23 of the 24 riders being pushed off the grid by their teams just five minutes before lights out, leaving only Jack Miller on the grid who had opted to go for slicks.
As the majority of riders made their way to the end of pit lane, race direction delayed the start due to “safety conditions”. Miller did not leave the grid and stayed firmly in his pole position, as confusion then really broke out over how the race would be started with the Alma Pramac Ducati team making the point of ‘why should there be a complete restart’? Miller and his team felt they had made the correct call going on slicks. So with this in mind Mike Webb, IRTA (Independent Riders Team Association) officials and all the team managers met on the grid to come to a decision how the race was going to start. After a few minutes a decision was made that everyone was satisfied with, and Jack Miller would have a four row head start with the rest of the field effectively starting from the back of the grid.
The riders returned to the grid more drama occurred before the race got underway as reigning world champion Marc Marquez stalled his Repsol Honda, and although he did manage to bump start the Honda, he seemingly ignored an IRTA official instructing him to start from pit lane and rode back towards his starting position, doing a u-turn to get back in position. Marquez later received a ride through penalty for riding the wrong way on the track.
As the race was finally underway, Jack Miller looked to capitalise on his head start ahead of the hard chargers behind. Immediately Marquez looked aggressive as he looked to hunt down the Australian as quickly as he could, then as we came into turn 13 for the first time Johann Zarco put a bold move on Dani Pedrosa, forcing the Repsol Honda wide and onto the wet part of the track, causing a massive high side. Luckily for Dani he walked away unscathed with no injuries.
Up front Marquez took the lead from Miller, only to then get a team communication for his ride through penalty, and as he exited the pits he came out in 20th place, just ahead of Alvaro Bautista. From then it was obvious Marquez was fired up, as he began to hunt down the pack. He looked to have to the pace for fifth position despite the penalty, as he was a second a lap quicker than anyone else on track and was taking a full two seconds a lap out of the riders directly in front of him. As he approached Aleix Espargaro going into turn 13 , he rode straight into the side of the Aprillia rider sending Aleix into the gravel. A few laps later as a result of this move Marquez received a position drop penalty, however Marquez was so fast he had overtaken another rider just after the penalty so in fact had to drop two places and slotted back in behind Thomas Luthi and Franco Morbidelli.
Up front the battle was on between Jack Miller, Alex Rins, Johann Zarco and Cal Crutchlow with all riders on the absolute limit, the championship leader Andrea Dovizioso and the two Movistar Yamaha riders Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi could not make any progress into the leading quartet as all three riders looked like they were struggling, and not being able to capitalise on the charging Marc Marquez’s penalties.
As we headed into the closing stages it was Cal Crutchlow, Johann Zarco and Alex Rins up front who had managed to gap Jack Miller as he made a mistake tipping into turn 13, meanwhile four laps from the end Marc Marquez had managed to catch Rossi in 6th place, and again he attempted to made a move into the challenging turn 13. Unfortunately there was no gap and yet again, much like with his earlier incident with Aleix Espargaro, the Spaniard had ploughed straight into the side of Rossi and took him down. Rossi was understandably furious, gesticulating at Marquez as he picked himself up off the floor.
Going into the final lap Crutchlow was trying to break Zarco, squeezing every last little bit of grip out of his Castrol LCR Honda machine. Zarco closed right up going into Turn 7 leaving him only one more passing place, the dramatic turn 13. Luckily Crutchlow had managed to get a big enough gap and Zarco settled for second with Rins third, this being his first podium in the MotoGP class.
There was more drama after the race as Marquez crossed the line fifth ahead of Vinales, however he received his third penalty of the day for irresponsible riding after the incident with Rossi, receiving a 30 second penalty meaning his final result was 18th with no points. When Marquez returned to the pits after the race he immediately went to the Movistar Yamaha garage with his manager Emilo Alzamora and Alberto Puig to go and apologise to Rossi, but when he got to the garage there was no sign of Rossi, just a very angry Alessio Salucci (Uccio) letting him know in no uncertain terms he was not wanted, realising that it was a bad time Marquez left the Yamaha pit box.
Full race results can be found here.
Championship standings can be found here.
Next time out the MotoGP paddock travels to COTA in Austin, Texas for the Grand Prix of the Americas on the 20th,21st and 22nd of April. Who knows what will happen next in this already thrilling season?