A dry circuit in the daytime, MotoGP was spoilt this weekend in Argentina. From qualifying shocks to warmup shenanigans, it was another exciting weekend of two-wheeled action.
A fast start from Miguel Oliveira as he got away from pole and led into the first corner, with the winner last time out, Danny Kent, holding on to second. Isaac Viñales joined the party, Gabriel Rodrigo took out Maria Herrara on the first lap. Vinales/Kent/Oliveira at the end of lap one.
Efren Vasquez pushed towards the front, attacking the leaders before succumbing to Fabio Quartararo, who himself got ahead of Kent and Viñales into second. Kent got a good slipstream though and took the lead, as Jorge Navarro joined him in second. Niccolò Antonelli got himself involved, but each rider was taking chunks out of each other, giving Kent the opportunity to create some space between himself and the pack. Navarro fell, taking Antonelli with him. Antonelli took a big bump and could not continue.
While Kent continued to set lap records in front, Enea Bastianini joined the challengers, getting up to third ahead of Fabio Quartararo. Oliveira's pace dropped off significantly, falling back to ninth. Vasquez pushed ahead to second, cutting under two other riders under breaking. Suddenly, Oliveira's pace picked back up and he got back to second. Alexis Masbou crashed out after losing the back end, without ever troubling the point scorers.
Half way through, Kent had opened up a gap of 7.7 seconds to the rest of the field, once again purely dominating. Brad Binder got himself involved, hanging onto fifth. John McPhee's tyres finally came to him and he started to move up the field, settling into 15th.
There were far too many overtakes in the chasing pack to keep tabs of. Each rider was cutting under the others, going all the way round the outside, underbreaking, absolutely petrifying this writer. Romano Fenati made his way up from the back of the grid (enforced after turning Niklas Ajo's bike off in warmup - no, really) and with four laps remaining was up to ninth.
Kent, though, was pure class, taking the win by 10.334 seconds. Efren Vasquez finished second, with Isaac Viñales holding on for third. Polesitter Oliveira was fourth, with Binder fifth.
Kent's second win in a row makes him the first Brit to do so in the minor class since Barry Sheene did the same in the 1970s. He now has a 17 point lead in the championship, and is definitely the man to beat this year.
A helter-skelter start to the Honda class, with Tito Rabat taking the lead before being forced off, running wide along with Jonas Folger. Sam Lowes was particularly fast from fourth. Sandro Cortese led briefly before Xavier Simeon took the lead. Lowes and Johann Zarco continued their scrap from last time out for second, with Mika Kallio also fast in fourth. Alex Rins continued his great rookie year in fifth. Zarco was in no mood to fight this week though, and cut under Simeon to take the lead on lap two.
In a similar vein to the Moto3 race, the chasers were taking lumps out of each others' speed, allowing Zarco to create a bit of a gap. Lowes finally put paid to Simeon and made second his own, as Kallio stayed relevant and Cortese made his usual assault to the back of the field.
The bike started to come to Lowes, and he started to close the gap on Zarco, as Rins made his way to third. Rabat recovered from his earlier mistake to get back into the points.
Xavier Simeon crashed out of fourth, as Zarco managed to get a grip on the bike and increase the advantage again, with Rins starting to reel Lowes in. Franco Morbidelli hauled himself up to fifth, with Moto2 veteran Thomas Luthi in sixth. Rabat and Folger had pace, and were working their way up the field, up to 12th and 13th with five laps remaining.
An odd moment from Lowes, who seemed to look over his shoulder for a lifetime and let Rins through for second. In the end, it was the difference of four points, as Zarco won easily. Kallio held on for fourth, with Morbidelli fifth. Folger recovered superbly to finish ninth, with Rabat 12th.
Zarco takes the lead of the championship, four points ahead of Rins, who continues to impress in his rookie year in Moto2. Lowes is third, as there's a very definite top three against the rest now. Defending champion Rabat is down in 11th.
Last year, Marc Marquez waltzed the entire weekend, and after his pace in practice and qualifying, was expected to do the same again this year. The unlikely figure of Aleix Espagaro was the hero though, his vastly inferior Suzuki managed to finish second in qualifying, albeit half a second down on the Honda.
Both riders started well, but it was Espagaro who got to the corner first, ahead of Marquez. Jorge Lorenzo got a good start in third, while Cal Crutchlow started on fire getting up to fourth, while keeping up close with the factory Yamaha. Andrea Dovizioso was up to fifth. By the end of the lap, Espagaro had fallen down to third, but was not going down without a fight. Valentino Rossi retained his eighth starting place, behind Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone.
Within three laps, Marquez was away and done. Crutchlow got past Lorenzo for second, who then fell behind the two Ducatis of Dovizioso and Iannone, with Rossi in sixth having passed Espagaro on pure pace.
Lap five saw Yonny Hernandez's bike catch fire mid-ride. This didn't stop him taking three more corners, but the back end falling out did. Marquez was three seconds up on the rest, with Crutchlow fending off the chasing Ducatis until he ran wide on turn three of the next lap, allowing Dovizioso through. Rossi took fifth from Lorenzo and was immediately on to the back of Iannone, as Lorenzo fell back. Rossi would then take fourth later in the lap, and a lap later would take third after another mistake from Crutchlow.
As soon as Rossi was through, he was straight onto Dovizioso, and past him, looking very quick as he set off in pursuit of Marquez, only the four seconds up the road - Rossi reduced it to 3.7 over the next two laps, as Marquez's tyre started to come away from him. The gap reduced each lap - 3.4, 3.2, 3.0. The champion was looking vulnerable. Very vulnerable. 2.5. 2.3. 2.0. 1.7. 1.2. Dovizioso had no answer to the Doctor's pace in third. Five laps remained - could Rossi catch Marquez?
Three laps left. Half a second. Vale was on Marquez. The two masters of the MotoGP era together (with apologies to Casey Stoner). It looked to be a case of when, not if. Marquez couldn't trust the tyre to put everything on it. Rossi didn't have that issue. Two laps left, turn two. Rossi goes past. Game over? Of course not, Marquez put the move back on him. Rossi wasn't to be beaten though, as he went past him again. Marquez thought he could get past again, bumped Rossi, and lost the back end. He ran to the bike, but it wasn't starting. His own bravado cost him a second place, and handed Rossi victory. Andrea Dovizioso was also a comfortable second, easing home after a great assured ride.
The race now was between Iannone and Crutchlow for third. The customer Honda was fast, and just faster than the Ducati to give Crutchlow third. Lorenzo was fifth, while the Tech 3 Yamahas of Bradley Smith and Pol Espagaro were sixth and seventh. Aleix Espagaro's Suzuki was eighth, Scott Redding beating Maverick Viñales for ninth. Jack Miller was the top open class bike in 12th.
Rossi extends his championship lead by 5 points to Dovizioso, while Marquez's moment of ignorance cost him in the title hunt. He probably won't make that mistake again though.
The bikes finally hit Europe, for their first visit to Spain, as they head to the Jerez circuit. We'll have you covered for that, and I'll be along next weekend with a season progress report.