Ahead of track action for the Gran Premio Motul de la Republica Argentina, it was time to talk – with Championship leader Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) joined in the pre-event Press Conference by reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) for a few words before the lights go out.
‘DesmoDovi’ began proceedings, starting by debriefing Qatar. “After a good Championship like last year, to confirm our speed in the first round was very important, but especially the way we did it,” smiles the Italian. “And before, we’ve fought for victory in Qatar but in a different way. I had a bad start and I had to recover and then battle Marc; it was important to take victory like that. Then the last week was very good and I was able to train and relax, and focus for the rest of the Championship. Now we have a few races where we struggled last year, so it will be important to see our level and that of our competitors.”
There has indeed been some bad luck and trouble for Dovizioso at Termas de Rio Hondo, but he’s also been on the podium. Looking to this season, the Italian is optimistic.
“My relationship with this track is strange,” affirms the Championship leader. “The first year was really bad, then really good…it was difficult, but I think our bike is better than last year and I think we can be competitive. But the weather is a question, and the tyres and the asphalt…there are a lot of new things.”
There are, with some additional tyre compounds to choose from and part of the track resurfaced. Oh, and the weather forecast – which looks to change from sun on Thursday to more changeable over the weekend. That was a running theme amongst the riders, including Marc Marquez.
But first, what of Qatar and that stunning duel? “You can always improve but I’m proud of the Qatar GP weekend because we did a good job,” says the number 93. “Second there, I was very happy. Then we changed mentality and went to test in Jerez, which was important and positive. We arrive in Argentina in a different way this year because last year we arrived with some doubts. We’ll see the level of our competitors and the weather is unstable, but we’ll try to do our best. It’s a circuit where normally I’m competitive and it fits my riding style. Last year I made a mistake and attacked too early. It was my mistake, but we’ll try and swap that result this year! The main target is to be on the podium but we’ll see where we can arrive.”
Last year, one man whose fortunes were a stark contrast to those of Marquez was Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), who took second behind a win for teammate Maverick Viñales. And Rossi is also a previous winner at the track, in 2015.
But so far, 2018 had been looking more difficult after some tougher tests during preseason. Then, however, in Qatar, it started looking up and the first race weekend of the season saw Rossi take a stunning podium in P3 – not far from the win.
“In Qatar we did a good job, and in the test we improved day by day,” begins the rider from Tavullia. “I expected I could have a good race. But to start with the podium and a good race, it’s a good start. But you never know what will happen from one track to another. On paper here we’re competitive because I’ve always been strong and the bike works well but now we have to check the conditions, and the new asphalt. But in general I like this track. Last year this weekend was the best for our team because we took a 1-2 but this year is different. Ducati and Honda are stronger and it will be harder, and a key thing is how the tyres work on this asphalt. The marriage between the tyres, the asphalt and the bike makes the difference.”
Another man with a good record at Termas de Rio Hondo is Cal Crutchlow, who took his only podium of a tougher 2017 at the venue last year. After a solid start to take fourth in Qatar – traditionally a more difficult venue for man and machine – the Brit is in high spirits, and thinks it could be a big fight for the podium…
“We did a good job as a team and a manufacturer in Qatar, we were a lot more competitive this year,” begins the Brit. “It was a shame we weren’t able to battle for the podium at the end, but Argentina has been good to me. I’ve had a good run of results, not for any specific reason, it just seems to go well here. There’s a great atmosphere, but also a lot of guys who can be competitive – I’d say there are maybe 10 riders who can get on the podium this weekend.”
That’s a lot of competition for a rostrum that holds three, and a fight that the other two men present in the Press Conference will be gunning to get involved in.
For Danilo Petrucci, his goals in Argentina aren’t yet clear – but in Qatar it was definitely the podium, despite not wanting to say that at the time. “Post-qualifying in Qatar, I said my target was the top five because I couldn’t say I wanted to finish on the podium, although that was my goal! But I made a mistake, with seven laps to go I was seventh and I pushed as hard as possible but I couldn’t reach Cal. But it was a good start to the season and I’ve always been in top positions. We’ll have to see if we can continue in this way. I have nothing to lose.”
That’s more in terms of less pressure rather than loose canon, with tyre wear a focus – and that old theme of the weather coming back up for the Italian, too.
“I was too aggressive before, and this year for sure the key is to manage the tyre. It’s a track that I like but we’ll have to see. With the new asphalt, the weather isn’t clear…I can’t say what we’ll be able to do here.”
Zarco is another who, upon arrival, isn’t yet sure how Argentina will shuffle the pack. But he did explain his modus operandi now – which is to lead from the front, something he did for the majority of the race in Qatar.
“I was happy to lead in Qatar for so long. I wasn’t sure because in the test and during the weekend I was slow with a slow tank, but then we changed a few things in Warm Up and found a better compromise to be good at the beginning until the end. So for me it was the strategy I’ve been using for the last races – if I can lead, I prefer to lead. It’s safer, because if I lose a position it’s just one and I’m still fighting for the podium. But we’ll see this weekend where I am and how I can fight.”
That said, after some awesome wins in Moto2™ and fifth as a rookie last year, his eye is still on the podium.
“Since the first time we came here in 2014, I’ve liked this track. I won in 2015 and 2016, and then took fifth last year. I like it, it’s quite an easy track to learn and there are faster corners. Now with more experience I hope to manage tyre choice well…and finish on the podium.”
Crutchlow says it’ll be ten riders fighting for the rostrum. That remains to be seen, but it will certainly be another incredible scrap for top honours at the #ArgentinaGP.