This is the story of four men and how they made a few things very clear at the second MotoGP race of the season in Argentina. One staked claim to the 2017 championship while displaying his mastery over a machine he had only just begun to understand. Another proved, yet again, with his innate ability to make stunning comebacks that he should never be written off. Yet another, finally redeemed himself with a podium spot that was indeed long overdue. And the fourth man? He showed shades of a formidable opponent who should not be shrugged off or ignored.
Let’s start with the fourth man. The two-time Moto2 world champion, Johann Zarco, ensured that he displayed his comfort and dominance right off the bat, at the start of the season, by leading the inaugural race of the season for the first six laps. That he crashed and was unable to complete the race was unfortunate. He redeemed himself though, subsequently, in Argentina, making a fabulous comeback—beginning 14th on the grid and finishing at 5th—and clocking up 11 points for his team, Monster Yamaha Tech 3.
“It’s a happy day for me and we can leave Argentina knowing that we did a good job. I began the race from 14th on the grid, but this did not concern me too much because my feeling on the bike was positive and I knew that I could ride well. In the Grand Prix, everything came together and I was able to fight and overtake my opponents. It was also a bit challenging because a lot happened in the group that I was in, but I kept calm and attacked when I could whilst I held my rhythm and position. Half way through the GP, I was fighting for 4th, but in the end, I couldn’t keep up with [Alvaro] Bautista’s pace and he had a good race. I did my best and after the crash in Qatar, it was important to meet the chequered flag and get some points, but to end up in the top five is just awesome so I am very pleased with the result.”
— Johann Zarco, Monster Yamaha Tech 3
While Zarco fought for his place, there was a more intense battle going on up front.
Marc Marquez sparkled through much of the Qualifying that proved to be disastrous for Valentino Rossi and to a certain extent, his teammate Maverick Vinales, the folks over at Ducati, Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo, and even Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone. He took pole and as the lights turned red on race day, shot off the start to hold on to his lead. He did, for three laps, before crashing and retiring at turn 2 of the lap 4. “The crash was unexpected; I must have made a small mistake,” he later said, “and it cost me a lot. Luckily I’m ok, but these kinds of mistakes disappoint me, as everything was going well.”
Teammate Dani Pedrosa wasn’t having much of a great day either. After getting stuck in the middle of the pack, he spent most of his time, trying to make it to the front. He finally shook them off to take 4th place and unceremoniously crashed at turn 2 of lap 14.
Briton Cal Crutchlow, though, was finally shrugging off his disastrous run in Qatar, and having qualified 3rd on the grid, was determined to hold on to it. And he did. It was a smooth race, run with finesse, as Crutchlow climbed on to the third step of the podium.
Meanwhile, Yamaha’s Vinales was busy displaying his indomitable skills. Starting 6th on the grid, he elbowed his way past Crutchlow, just waiting for Marquez to make a mistake, and when he did, grabbing the first place. And then, in what was, to quote a cliche, simply a masterclass in racing, Vinales, crossed the finish line with a lead of 2.915s. He wrote a perfect race, never putting a foot out of place, and demonstrating a mastery over the Yamaha. This win also made him the first Yamaha rider since Wayne Rainey in 1990 to win the first two races of the season.
And what of the old horse? Well, the naysayers learnt it the hard way yet again: Never underestimate The Goat. No matter how many times he qualifies at the back of the grid or grumbles his way through practice sessions. On race day, he’s like a spark that demands notice. And so it was in Argentina.
Crafty and fast in the same breath, Valentino Rossi shrugged off his loathed 7th place in the blink of an eye and moved up the right off the bat — he took 4th place by the end of the first lap.
He trailed Crutchlow waiting for the perfect moment to strike and that came with seven laps to go. Vale made his pass and then managed to get away, just about, in time to take the second place on the podium.
“My mechanic, Brent, said to me on the grid, ‘It’s the 350th, try to make it a good race’. I’m happy because I was competitive today from the first to the last lap. I felt better physically and I trained hard so I felt good on the bike and I could push throughout the whole race. I feel that my concentration is good and also the battle with Cal was good also because I was able to beat him. Unfortunately, Maverick was a bit faster, but this result is really important for me and the whole team, a Yamaha 1-2 is great! I don’t think the results would have been different if I’d passed Cal earlier in the race. Looking at the lap times, Maverick was a bit stronger and that’s just the way it is today. This track is always tricky, also in the past we saw a lot of problems. Bumps and slipperiness and it also rained yesterday, so you have to pay attention and you also have to be lucky. For us this is good, because we took some important points for the championship and I also felt really good with the bike today.” — Valentino Rossi, Yamaha Racing Team
And what of the Ducati masters? Well, their day was just as bad as the Honda warriors. Lorenzo who had qualified 16th on the grid managed to escape the pack, but then crashed at the first turn itself after he made contact with Iannone. His teammate managed to get away and made his way up to 7th place, but then, an unfortunate encounter with Aleix Espargaro forced him to retire.
The ground has been prepared and the battlelines are drawn. But this isn’t in any way decisive. For, just as it’s silly to underestimate the Goat, it is folly to ignore the prowess of Marquez and Lorenzo. For Lorenzo, the two back-to-back failures have surely left him livid, chomping at the bit. The Black Mamba is just waiting to strike back. As is Marquez. But they are not going to find it that easy.
The 2017 season is peppered with zesty masala. Bring it on Texas!