Marquez lines up MotoGP hat trickComment on this story
Santiago del Estero, Argentina - The big question ahead of the Argentine MotoGP at the recently updated Termas de Rio Hondo circuit will be whether can anybody can come up with an answer for works Honda rider Marc Marquez - the youngest ever and defending World champion - who has absolutely dominated the first two rounds of the 2014 season.
The circuit will be a new challenge for almost every rider in the field (only Alvaro Bautista, Stefan Bradl and Cal Crutchlow have been here before, for a Bridgestone test last year), but that won't really help either, as Marquez showed in 2013 at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas that he is one of the fastest at learning a new circuit.
With the pace he has been showing so far, most will see him as the clear favourite as Motorcycle Grand Prix racing comes to South America for the first time since 1999. His ability to make the hard Bridgestone rear tyre work has arguably set the bar even higher, with most of the regular front-runners plagued by tyre issues this year.
Marquez' team-mate Dani Pedrosa rode a brilliant race in Austin last month - although it's worth noting he was on the medium rear compound used by most of the field. The freshly-laid Termas de Rio Hondo surface is very abrasive and it's unlikely that a medium compound rear cover will last the distance here.
One of the strange things that came out of last year's tyre test at the new circuit was that although the circuit has nine right-hand corners and only five left-handers, the left-handers are all faster and rougher on tyres, with the result that the special compounds Bridgestone has brought to Argentina are in fact symmetrical, when you'd expect them to be harder on the right shoulder.
Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo will be doing his best to get back on terms after a disastrous start to the season behind him - he crashed out on the first lap in Qatar and jumped the start in Austin, finishing way down in 10th.
The ever-serious Lorenzo, who is reputed to have absolutely no sense of humour whatever, will need to regain his famous mental toughness before the M1A can begin delivering results; whether the challenge of a new circuit will help is a question that possibly not even he can answer yet.
His veteran team-mate Valentino Rossi has shown that he can still keep up with the front-runners, despite battling with a fast-degrading front tyre at the Circuit of the Americas. If he and new crew chief Silvano Galbusera can make the new tyres work for him, Rossi could be a podium contender.
His previous employer, Ducati, had a great race in Austin, taking their first dry podium in more than a year with Andrea Dovizioso holding his nerve to bring the Desmosedici GP14 home.
His team-mate Cal Crutchlow, on the other hand, will find it tough after crashing out in Texas and dislocating the little finger of his right hand - literally throwing away the advantage of having ridden here in the Bridgestone test.
The semi-works teams have been doing unexpectedly well this season; Pramac Ducati rider Andrea Iannone in particular will be one to watch, as he had his Ducati in a podium position for a significant stretch last time out before suffering the same front tyre issues as Rossi.
Yamaha Tech3 team-mates Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro have each demonstrated a willingness to go elbow-to-elbow with LCR Honda' Bradl, which is great news for MotoGP even if it gives their team managers grey hair.
The 'Open Class' riders, however, will have their work cut out trying to hunt down Forward Racing's Aleix Espargaro, who is looking ever more comfortable on his Yamaha-powered machine, although his team-mate, former World Superbike champion Colin Edwards, as well as Scott Redding, Aspar duo Nicky Hayden and Hiroshi Aoyama, and Pramac rider Yonny Hernandez have been improving with every outing and a showdown could be on the cards.
The Argentinian Motorcycle Grand Prix will be shown live from Termas de Rio Hondo on Supersport, starting with the Moto3 race at 3.45pm SA time, Moto2 at 5pm and MotoGP at 6.45pm on Sunday 27 April.