After a stunner of a season opener in Qatar, the paddock has now touched down in Latin America for the Gran Premio Motul de la Republica Argentina – with Termas de Rio Hondo providing some challenges of its own on the continent of passion. Attending the pre-event Press Conference on Thursday were Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing), as talk centered on the grip in Argentina – and what was learnt in Qatar.
First up was Viñales – championship leader for the first time after a win in round one – who feels he’s beginning from zero again, never having ridden the bike in Argentina before: “We start from zero. We know the track but I’ve never ridden the Yamaha here. I know the bike here is good, and the track is good for my riding style – so I’m confident we can be strong. Hopefully it will be a normal weekend, working to arrive at the race at 100%. Qatar was quite a crazy race – and we hope it can also be fun here, and put on a good show.”
Closest challenger to Viñales first time out was ‘DesmoDovi’ – who is also optimistic about the weekend, coming to Argentina following a private test in Jerez with teammate Jorge Lorenzo – and a podium contender last year: “In the last two years our speed was quite good here. We’ve not fought for the victory but we were quite close. We started well in Qatar so I’m confident, and we’ll have to wait and see how the conditions are - it’s difficult to work for the race. So let’s just try and adapt. It’s hard to say whether the test in Jerez was good because it was just me and Jorge – but the laptime was quite good and we tried something interesting. Now we want to continue to fight for the podium.”
The other man on the podium in Qatar was nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, and the Italian legend also makes it a milestone weekend in Argentina, as the race in his 350th in the World Championship. So what does he think of the record? Quality, not quantity: “That’s a lot of races and a lot of time. I’m proud of it – but the number is not as important, it’s the quality and the number of victories and podiums!”
So after another rostrum in Qatar, is the ‘Doctor’ optimistic in Argentina? Yes – and the Italian has a specific goal for Saturday at least: “I think in the first race weekend we improved the feeling with the bike a lot and in the end it was quite a surprise for us. And I like this track, the layout is interesting and it’s fun to ride with a MotoGP bike. Now, you have maybe ten riders and ten bikes that can fight for the podium and to stay at the front in the practice. In Qatar we had no qualifying, so here in the first qualifying of the year I want to start in the top five.”
Qatar certainly provided a host of different challenges for the paddock – and reigning Champion Marc Marquez is one looking to put them behind him. A good P4 was a solid start, but the five-time World Champion knows Termas de Rio Hondo should be a better match for the bike. He also likes the track, and has two victories out of three at the venue: “We know Qatar wasn’t the best circuit for us, but the final result wasn’t so bad. We know this circuit is maybe better for us than Losail, but we need to work from the beginning and prepare well. Since I came here I’ve felt really good with the track, but it changes a lot from Friday and the conditions improve step by step.”
For Aprilia Racing Team Gresini rider Aleix Espargaro, Argentina is more a chance to confirm everything from Qatar. Slicing back from P15 on the grid to finish sixth, the Spaniard is happy with the start to the season – and has a lot of positives about his new bike: “Qatar was a great way to start the season and this new project. We knew from testing we had to improve on a single lap, on a new tire we can’t be really competitive. But when the tire drops we are very competitive. This year they’ve started really positive, and to start the season like this it gives everyone a boost of power. We still have to improve but for them and me to be that close is fantastic.”
Another rider close to the front was Scott Redding, who crossed the line in P7 and ticked off a key goal. That key goal remains both for Argentina and for 2017 – staying within ten seconds of the winner: “Testing wasn’t as easy as we expected but sometimes that’s better because it makes you work harder. The race was really good for us, and the one lap time was possible to do, too. My biggest improvement from last year was to be within ten seconds of the winner and I just want to continue on with that, here and for the rest of the year.”
When asked about the year ahead, Redding had a simple answer: “Every season is a big season.”
If Qatar was anything to go by, every season is now certainly a big season for MotoGP, with a stunning modern classic to begin the year. Now, with the first points on the board and the first laps raced in earnest, it’s back to zero in some ways - to reset from Qatar and refocus on Argentina, and the new challenge of Termas de Rio Hondo.
MotoGP begin their track time on Friday morning at 9:55am local time (GMT -3) for FP1, getting race ready for round two on Sunday at 16:00 local.