Fast tracks are good for racing. Phillip Island demonstrates this every year, and the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is confirming it in 2015.
The mixture of fast sweepers and tricky braking sections places an emphasis on bike handling and rider ability, over and above sheer engine power. This gives enterprising riders opportunities to excel, and overcome any horsepower disadvantages they may have.
Today was a case in point. The Suzukis had shown yesterday that they were extremely fast around the Argentinian track, and Aleix Espargaro came into qualifying as a favorite to take pole.
The medium tire (the softest compound available, which the Hondas and Yamahas do not have in their allocation) gave Espargaro plenty of speed, but would it be enough to stay with Márquez? Perhaps some sleight of hand would be needed.
With the hard tire his only race option, Espargaro had some mediums to play with. Taking a leaf out of Marc Márquez’ Big Book Of Strategy, he and crew chief Tom O’Kane decided that his best hope of getting pole would be a two-stop strategy: coming in twice to change bikes, using three new tires to chase a top time.
The trouble with stealing from Marc Márquez’s Big Book Of Strategy is that you find yourself going up against the man who wrote it. It was at Argentina last year that Márquez and crew chief Santi Hernandez saw that a two-stop strategy might be possible, putting it into practice at the next race at Jerez.
“Already last year, when I finished the qualifying practice here, we spoke with the team and saw that it was possible to use three tires, because the good lap was on the first lap,” Márquez explained at the front row press conference in Argentina.
Eight years. That’s how long it has been since a Suzuki last led two consecutive sessions in the dry. It was 2007, at Shanghai, when John Hopkins topped both FP2 and FP3 on the Suzuki GSV-R. Suzuki had a great year in 2007, spending the previous year developing the GSV-R ready for the start of the 800cc class.
John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen amassed one win (in the wet), seven podiums and a pole position that season, including a double podium at Misano. That Suzuki was a great bike, but sadly, it was the last time a Suzuki was truly competitive. It was pretty much all downhill from there. Until today.
After the news that Chilé would be dropped from the 2016 Dakar Rally because of extensive flooding near the course area, the iconic race and its organizers had to go back to the drawing board to find a challenging alternative for The Dakar’s 8th race in South America.
The ASO believes they have done just that, announcing that the 2016 Dakar Rally will go through Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, with stages in the Andes Mountains being the highlight of rally raid competition.
From Austin, MotoGP heads south, to the most expensive GP of the season. The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit lies in one of the poorest regions of Argentina, but the economic reality is not reflected in the prices around the Grand Prix weekend.
The cost of renting a compact car from one of the nearby airports would get you a luxury vehicle at any other place. Room rate cards for even the most modest hotel look like they have been borrowed from Claridges for the week. Local businesses appear bent on extracting as much revenue as possible from the poor souls who have no choice but to attend, such as journalists, team staff, and riders.
Those (such as your humble correspondent) without a wealthy employer to cover the costs for them stay away. Many teams stay up to a couple of hours away, where accommodation prices drop from the truly extortionate to the merely pricey.
For much of the paddock, the Termas de Rio Hondo GP is a black hole, capable of swallowing money at an exponential rate.
Yet fans from around the region flock to the circuit. They are much smarter indeed, many bringing tents, vans, RVs, or even just sleeping bags in the back of their trucks.
The money saved on accommodation is well spent: the party around the circuit is stupendous, massive amounts of meat and drink being shared around all weekend. That adds real local flavor to the event, the passion of the fans being evident at every turn.
Dani Pedrosa’s announcement after the Qatar Grand Prix that he would be withdrawing from racing to seek urgent treatment for arm pump immediately triggered an explosion of speculation over who might replace the Spaniard during his absence.
Fans and pundits offered a barrage of possible names to take Pedrosa’s place: Casey Stoner, Cal Crutchlow, Michael van der Mark, Jack Miller, Nicky Hayden.
Coming as it did just before April Fool’s day, it even triggered a spate of hoax stories: Casey Stoner, Mick Doohan, Alex Marquez, and Fabio Quartararo were all offered in jest.
Hiroshi Aoyama was always going to be the man to replace Pedrosa, however. For a range of reasons, Aoyama is the only reasonable candidate to take the place of Pedrosa in the short term, all the other names being bandied about subject to sponsor conflicts, race conflicts, contractual obligations or just plain unwillingness.
Here’s a rundown of why Aoayama got the call, and the others didn’t.
Dani Pedrosa is to undergo surgery on his right forearm, to treat the arm pump that has plagued him for the past year. The Spaniard is to be treated in Spain, by Dr. Angel Villamor, who has treated many other racers for the same problem.
Surgery is scheduled to take place on Friday morning, with a recovery period of four to six weeks afterwards, meaning that Pedrosa is certain to miss both the Austin and Argentina rounds of MotoGP.
As such, Hiroshi Aoyama will replace Pedrosa for the two upcoming rounds.
Bridgestone have added two new tires to their 2015 allocation, in response to developments in 2014. A new extra-hard rear will be made available at a few of the more abrasive circuits on the calendar, while the asymmetric front, debuted at Phillip Island last year, will also be available at more tracks.
Two new tires means two new color codings, to distinguish them from the existing allocation of tires. The extra hard rear will carry a yellow stripe around the side, while the asymmetric front will be indentifiable by a light blue band on the sidewall.
The existing color codings for the remainder of the tires remain unchanged, as shown in the tire chart and table below.
It was a close-fought rally-raid, but Marc Coma was the victor in the 2015 Dakar Rally, his fifth time winning the iconic race. With this, he ties rival Cyril Despres in wins, and is one victory away from tying Stéphane Peterhansel’s outright tally.
For KTM, its the company’s 14th straight Dakar win, showing the dominance of the Austrian brand. But, with factory entries from Honda and Yamaha appearing now, in strength, each year is getting more and more difficult for KTM.
As such, Coma saw tough competition from HRC’s Joan Barreda, who won the most stages in this edition of The Dakar. Paulo Goncalves was also a tough competitor. Had it not been for some crashes and penalties, things might have been different — but that is how The Dakar goes, and it’s no small accident that KTM and Coma have been so strong in this rally-raid.
While Marc and his teammates are surely celebrating in Buenos Aires right now, we’ve got a bevy of photos from the Spaniard’s 2015 Dakar Rally race. Enjoy!