Hardball! Riders say Valentino Rossi seems like a really nice guy. Until you get close to him on the track. Two numbers sum up how Rossi won Sunday—the laps on which the two men in contention made their fastest laps. Rossi went 1:39.019 on lap 20, and Marc Marquez, who crashed out by touching his front to Rossi’s rear tire on lap 24, made his best lap of 1:39.071 on lap 2.
Be fast at the end—when it counts.
Argentina’s Termas de Rio Hondo track and Indianapolis are the two most abrasive in MotoGP. If one tire—the yellow-striped extra-hard—is too hard to be fast, and the other—the red-striped hard rear—is too soft to last race distance, how do you choose?
Before the race, Marquez had said, “Honestly, with both [rear] tires I feel good. With the front tire I feel better with the hard, but with the rear, with both tires I feel good, so tomorrow, depending on the temperature, I will choose one or the other. It will be a difficult choice but also will be the key to the race…”
An important factor in his choice of the red-striped tire over the yellow surely was the 8- to 9-degree C drop in track temperature from qualifying to race.
Cal Crutchlow, now on LCR Honda (Stefan Bradl’s former ride), took 3rd from Ducati man Andrea Iannone in the last corner. Crutchlow had said, “The extra-hard tire is dropping after five laps. I know the softer tire is dropping as well, but what you gain in those five laps [from the early grip of the hard] you might be able to maintain for the rest of the race.”
“Dropping” is the small loss of properties that normally occurs when a new tire has done a number of laps. Some riders also refer to this as a “step.” This occurs as clumps of reinforcing carbon in the tread compound are dissipated by stress in what is called “The Payne effect.”
Rossi had this to say: “With the harder tire, the bike becomes very difficult to ride, and the lap time is a lot worse. But it looks like that tire is the tire that can provide the race distance. When you put on the softer tire, the bike is a lot better in general, but after some laps, for me it is difficult.”
How to decide? In the Sunday morning warm-up, Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo dominated on an extra-hard—until both Marquez and Crutchlow changed to hard rears in the later laps.
There was the choice—whether to gamble on building up an unassailable early lead by choosing the softer tire, or to accept going slower initially on the extra-hard in return for possibly being able to make ground in the final laps.
The Ducati men faced no such problem. In return for the privilege of a special softer rear, they give up the option of the extra-hard. “In the race, we will see how it will be after 25 laps,” said Andrea Dovizioso, who would go on to finish second. “We don’t have something special to do, but we have to ride smooth. This is the way to use less tire. It’s always difficult, this track.”
Continued Dovizioso: “We have the speed [as in 205 mph, tied for highest top speed with Bradley Smith’s Yamaha], and that’s really important. There is a big question mark with the consumption of the rear tire for 25 laps.”
Aleix Espargaro on the new Suzuki had starred in practice and set second-fastest time in qualifying. This motorcycle was praised for its maneuverability, and its substantial horsepower deficit was less important here. Interestingly, it suffered rear chatter after two or three laps on a new tire—but only in right-hand corners. Is this strange? Not really. This is a right-hand circuit, so the right side of the tire will be hotter and grip better—and high grip is an ingredient in chatter [the hard rear tire is asymmetric].
But Honda’s Marc Marquez was unimpressed and realistic: “For tomorrow, we know the main opponents are on the second and third row.” Added Marquez: “It looks like in the beginning many riders can be there [up front], but then in the second part of the race is when you need to manage [your tires] well.”
When the race started, Espargaro promptly took the lead but in a few corners Marquez settled into first.
They key, for Rossi, was to get his extra-hard rear working as soon and as well as possible to avoid being decisively left behind. Somehow he was able to do this much better than teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi was eighth at the completion of lap 1, having been pushed to the outside by Iannone in the first corner. Rossi moved up to second on lap 11. Lorenzo, meanwhile, went backward—second on lap 1, third on lap 2, fifth on lap 3 as Crutchlow and the fast Ducatis used the early grip of their softer rears to good effect.
Lorenzo said afterward: “I was not able to ride as good as Valentino with the hard rear tire. Maye we needed a softer one to feel better.
“Valentino’s race was unbelievable. He was able to go faster than anyone with the harder tire. He is in an unbelievable shape.”
Said Rossi: “When Marc decided on the hard tire, I thought we would have a small chance to win, because in the second half of the race I have a good pace.
“It is a shame that he crashed, but I think he did a mistake. Marc is a rider that always bets all or nothing. I knew from practice that I had the pace, and the extra motivation is when you see the guy in front is having difficulties and you have the extra-hard tire. So, lap by lap, he is more in difficulty. I caught up to Marc and had six or seven tenths of advantage in the pace, but just two laps to go. So I tried to overtake him, but I think for sure now Marc will try something to stay in front. But as soon as I thought about that, he had already touched me in the center of the corner.”
Rossi had won the braking contest, going under Marquez into turn 5 (didn’t Vale know the Hondas have superior braking stability?), precipitating the exchange as their different lines crossed.
A second touch came during acceleration: “Then, when I opened the throttle to accelerate, I hear another touch. But sincerely I don’t know if it was on the right or left.
“The next lap I saw his bike [off the track].”
The pass was reviewed and it was deemed a normal racing incident.
Rossi summed up the season so far: “I don’t think a rider like Marc is scared about this, or [that] a bad result can modify his attitude. The important thing is that we demonstrated to him that in the race we can be very strong, That we will be there in the races.”
Marc Marquez: “It’s a shame what happened, because we were having a good race! It was interesting, because our tire choice was different from Valentino’s as I felt we were not as competitive 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 tires a little. On the final laps, I went back to riding in the low 1:39s to check that the tires were still in good shape, and knew that we would be fighting to the end. When he caught me, we fought for a few corners and unfortunately we touched and I crashed. I’ve always said that he’s my idol and my reference, so you always learn things from him. Now we have to think about Jerez and begin to recover points.”
Results: GP Red Bull de la Republica Argentina
|1||ROSSI Valentino||46||ITA||25||Movistar Yamaha MotoGP||Yamaha||41’35.644|
|2||DOVIZIOSO Andrea||4||ITA||20||Ducati Team||Ducati||+5.685|
|3||CRUTCHLOW Cal||35||GBR||16||CWM LCR Honda||Honda||+8.298|
|4||IANNONE Andrea||29||ITA||13||Ducati Team||Ducati||+8.352|
|5||LORENZO Jorge||99||SPA||11||Movistar Yamaha MotoGP||Yamaha||+10.192|
|6||SMITH Bradley||38||GBR||10||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||Yamaha||+19.876|
|7||ESPARGARO Aleix||41||SPA||9||Team Suzuki Ecstar||Suzuki||+24.333|
|8||ESPARGARO Pol||44||SPA||8||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||Yamaha||+27.670|
|9||REDDING Scott||45||GBR||7||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS||Honda||+34.397|
|10||VINALES Maverick||25||SPA||6||Team Suzuki Ecstar||Suzuki||+34.808|
|11||PETRUCCI Danilo||9||ITA||5||Pramac Racing||Ducati||+40.206|
|12||MILLER Jack||43||AUS||4||CWM LCR Honda||Honda||+42.654|
|13||BARBERA Hector||8||SPA||3||Avintia Racing||Ducati||+42.729|
|14||BAZ Loris||76||FRA||2||Athina Forward Racing||Forward Yamaha||+42.853|
|15||BRADL Stefan||6||GER||1||Athina Forward Racing||Forward Yamaha||+43.037|
|16||HAYDEN Nicky||69||USA||0||Aspar MotoGP Team||Honda||+43.252|
|17||LAVERTY Eugene||50||IRE||0||Aspar MotoGP Team||Honda||+43.400|
|18||DI MEGLIO Mike||63||FRA||0||Avintia Racing||Ducati||+43.808|
|19||BAUTISTA Alvaro||19||SPA||0||Aprilia Racing Team Gresini||Aprilia||+44.878|
|20||MELANDRI Marco||33||ITA||0||Aprilia Racing Team Gresini||Aprilia||+56.236|
|21||ABRAHAM Karel||17||CZE||0||AB Motoracing||Honda||+1’03.371|
|22||DE ANGELIS Alex||15||RSM||0||Athina Forward Racing||Forward Yamaha||+1’08.444|
|23||AOYAMA Hiroshi||7||JPN||0||Repsol Honda Team||Honda||DNF (1 lap)|
|24||MARQUEZ Marc||93||SPA||0||Repsol Honda Team||Honda||DNF (2 laps)|
|25||HERNANDEZ Yonny||68||COL||0||Pramac Racing||Ducati||DNF (19 laps)|