Valentino Rossi gambled on the right tyre choice to take his 84th MotoGP™ victory as Marc Marquez crashed out of the race in Argentina.
As the MotoGP™ riders assembled on the grid for the Gran Premio Red Bull de la República Argentina conditions were similar to yesterday’s qualifying session, with bright sunshine and a track temperature of 37 degrees. There was some last minute drama before the riders set off on their sighting lap as Repsol Honda’s Marquez, along with CWM LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow, decided to switch to the hard compound rear tyre. This was in contrast to the Movistar Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo who went with the extra hard option, a decision that would prove to be crucial later on in the race as tyre-life would have a huge part to play at the Termas de Rio Hondo.
It was Aleix Espargaro who led the pack into turn one on the Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR, but it didn’t take long for Marc Marquez to make his move for the lead, passing his compatriot almost immediately and taking advantage of the clear track in front of him to lead by 0.8s at the end of the first lap.
Marquez used the extra grip afforded to him by his hard tyre early on in the race to extend his lead to over 4 seconds at the front, all the while though Movistar Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi was gradually making his way through the field from 8th on the grid. “The Doctor” moved into second at the expense of Dovizioso on the Ducati Team GP15 with 15 laps to go. He then set about hunting down Marquez as the Spaniard’s tyre performance started to fall away, and it suddenly became apparent he would be able to catch the Honda before the end of the race, which sent the fans into a frenzy.
It was like watching a hunter stalk his prey as Rossi made huge in-roads into Marquez’s lead, finally catching him with just 2 laps to go. Marquez was not going to let the Italian pass him without a fight though, and in the ensuing battle the riders touched a couple of times, before Marquez clipped the back of Rossi’s bike and crashed out of the race. Marquez showed his frustration at the side of the track but Race Direction ruled it as a “racing incident” and took no further action.
This left Rossi on his own to take the victory by over five seconds, and he admitted afterwards that the key to his success was not caring about Marquez’s tyre choice, and just focusing on his own: “I am sorry for the incident with Marc and I hope he is ok, but it was a great race and I am very happy to have won. I had good pace and although Marc was far ahead during the race, I saw he selected the hard rear tyre and so I had to concentrate and keep riding at one hundred percent to catch him.”
Rossi later discussed the incident with Marquez at the press conference: “When I arrive, it was a shame that he crashed, but for me he made a mistake because Marc is a rider who will always go all-in. When I braked he touched me once, then again, and then he crashed. It was a shame as it could have been a good battle to the end.”
Marquez confirmed afterwards that he was unhurt following the crash, and that he chose the hard tyre as it was the only way he felt he could beat Rossi: “It’s a shame what happened, because we were having a good race! It was interesting, because our tyre choice was different from Valentino’s as I felt we were not as competitive with the harder compound. The strategy was working out well for us, it’s just a pity about the last two laps. When I saw that he was closing in on me, I decided to conserve the tyres a little. On the final laps I went back to riding in the low 1’39s to check that the tyres were still in good shape, and knew that we would be fighting to the end.”
Talking about the clash with the Italian he said: “When he passed me, well…you can see what happened in the video. I love Valentino and it is always difficult to beat him, he is my hero and I always learn something when I ride against him.”
Andrea Dovizioso took advantage of Marquez’s crash to claim 2nd, five seconds behind Rossi, and now trails him by six points in the Championship standings. The Italian later saying that his team had worked on developing a setup that would allow him to be fast, but would also look after their tyres, and he seemed pleased at the outcome: “I am very happy because to get so close to Valentino at the front is a dream come true, as the bike is very new, and we are second in the championship after a great start by Valentino…to be so close is amazing.”
CWM LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow left it until the very last corner to pass Andrea Iannone to claim the final podium place, managing to hold off the Ducati Team GP15 on the run to the line to take 3rd and finish as the leading satellite rider. He later revealed that Honda had developed a plan that involved the British rider trying to hold up the the rest of the field during the early part of the race, before coming on strong in the latter stages: “Unfortunately Marc crashed, and we benefitted and took the podium. This is racing, we fought hard all weekend long, I enjoyed it thoroughly and I think it paid off.”
Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo had no answer to the pace of the guys at the front, finishing in a lonely 5th position: “Honestly, I am very disappointed. I didn’t expect to finish in fifth position. I expected to fight at least for the podium. I was was not able to ride as good as Valentino with the hard rear tyre, maybe we needed a softer one to feel better. I didn‘t feel good and I wasn‘t able to ride as I wanted.”
Nine seconds further back was the Satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 M1 of Bradley Smith: “Today I’m really happy about taking home this 6th position as this is actually better than we expected during some points of the weekend.”
Aleix Espargaro ended the race in 7th, ahead of his brother Pol on the second Monster Yamaha Tech 3 bike, with Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Racing’s Scott Redding and the second Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR of Maverick Viñales completing the top ten.
Pramac Racing’s Danilo Petrucci finished in 11th, but was later given a penalty point by race direction for causing Hiroshi Aoyama’s crash on the final corner.
CWM LCR Honda’s rookie Jack Miller took the Open class victory as he finished 12th in just his third race in the MotoGP™ class. Hector Barbera was 0.075s further back on the Avintia Ducati, with another rookie in the shape of Athina Forward Racing’s Loris Baz securing 14th place and his first two Championship points ahead of his more experienced teammate Stefan Bradl.
Yonny Hernandez earlier had a spectacular mechanical failure and had to retire from the race after his Pramac Racing Ducati caught fire on track.
Rossi is now six points ahead of Dovizioso in the MotoGP™ World Championship standings, and has a thirty-point advantage over the fifth-placed Marquez.