South America. Argentina. Termas De Rio Hondo. MotoGP. It’s time for the Argentine Grand Prix and after one round, Maverick Vinales sits pretty on top of the world championship standings ahead of Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi. The Argentine Grand Prix made a welcome return to the series in 2014, although at a different venue to previous years gone by. Ever since returning to the country, the premier class has enjoyed some fantastic racing, with Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez doing battle. Will it be the same in 2017?
Maverick Vinales topped every pre-season test and to prove that he was fast in the race too, he went and won, in Qatar two weeks ago. He comes to Argentina full of confidence but has admitted that he is under a bit of pressure coming into the meeting. The former Moto3 champion has reason to be worried coming into Argentina, as he has never had more than a top 10 at the circuit. A retirement in 2014, a 10th in 2015 and a crash whilst in the running for the podium last year means Maverick has work to do but his seamless adaptation to the Yamaha could throw all previous form out the window. Vinales will be out for nothing less than a win.
Andrea Dovizioso was 2nd in Qatar for the 3rd consecutive season and comes into Argentina with confidence that he, for now at least, is still top Ducati. Dovi’s form around the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit is slightly mixed, with a best result of 2nd in 2015 – although that could’ve been matched had teammate Andrea Iannone not wiped him out at the final corner. Andrea has shown that the Ducati has pace in 2017 and will be settling for nothing less than a podium come race day. The massive back straight at the track will certainly favour the Ducati and Dovi, so keep an eye on the #4 as it works its way through the traffic.
Valentino Rossi has accumulated more points in Argentina over the last three seasons than anyone else in the paddock. The Doctor’s recent form around the Termas track suggests he could have an ace or two up his sleeve. The track suits styles which are natural in direction changes as well as riders who like to get the bike sideways – possibly why Rossi and Marquez do battle. Rossi’s victory in 2015 eradicated any thoughts that the 9-time champion couldn’t adapt to new circuits like the younger blood in the field. Valentino Rossi has actually been around so long that he will be able to remember winning the 1998 250cc GP race in Argentina, although at a different venue. The Doctor has said the problems of pre-season testing and Qatar are fixed and that he has found a breakthrough, so is a win in Argentina possible? After all, it is the land of the goat.
Marc Marquez has more wins in the premier class than anyone in Argentina, with two. In 2014, he came from behind to beat Jorge Lorenzo and in last season, a pit stop in the middle of the race aided him, after a battle with Valentino Rossi on track. Some may say that 2015 also showed Marc’s speed around the track but a tangle with Rossi resulted in him being on the floor with just one and a half laps to go. His 4th place in Qatar won’t be too much of a concern for the reigning champion, having started his season with 3rd last year. The Spaniard may be more concerned with how close he was to being sixth, having nearly been caught by Dani Pedrosa and Aleix Espargaro. Will he make it three in Argentina and remind the likes of Maverick Vinales that he is not going to allow an ill-handling Honda to slow him down?
Talking of ill-handling Hondas, Dani Pedrosa finished 5th at Losail, his best result since winning the San Marinese Grand Prix last season. The 31-year-old has two podiums at the Termas circuit from two attempts, having missed the 2015 race through injury. His 2014 2nd place was a reminder that Dani Pedrosa could be a lethal weapon on race day, hunting down Jorge Lorenzo before snatching it away from his compatriot. In 2016, luck was on his and Valentino Rossi’s side, after the two factory Ducatis tangled on the penultimate corner. Pedrosa is still a top-six rider but whether a podium can be made may be left to be desired. Don’t rule him out just yet though.
Aleix Espargaro put in a splendid effort in Qatar to finish 6th on the Now TV Gresini Aprilia. The Spaniard took the Noale manufacturer to the best result they’ve ever had in MotoGP and will be looking to capitalise on a circuit he has a best result of 7th at, back in 2015. The start of the season marks his best since 2014 but this time, he may feel like he has a package to cause a few more upsets. The Termas circuit is one that over the last few seasons, has seen numerous accidents. Last season, Eugene Laverty finished 4th after qualifying 17th, so anything is possible. Aleix might be a good bet for a podium should conditions be mixed too.
Other mentions obviously include Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Iannone. Both riders have reasonably good form at Termas, although Jorge crashed last year along with Andrea. Jorge’s podium in 2014 is his only to date at the track, whereas Iannone is still out for his first points on the Suzuki.
Johann Zarco and Alvaro Bautista will be looking to make amends after both crashed out of great positions in Qatar. Zarco has won twice around the track so, like in Qatar, could be a front runner, just this time until the chequered flag. Bautista on the other hand has only had one point scoring ride at the track, which came last season with 10th. Will the Aspar Ducati man improve on that in 2017?
What we can be sure of is the Argentine Grand Prix is going to be incredible, like it has been since it’s addition to the calendar. Wet weather looms large on Friday and Saturday but Sunday looks to be OK so far. Will we see another rain-affected weekend in MotoGP and could that mean another upside-down grid? Could it see surprises in Moto2 and Moto3 with wet weather specialists such as Pawi and McPhee? So many questions with an array of answers, it all depends which one is chosen come Sunday.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko