Motorsport / 8 April 2018, 11:05pm / Motoring Staff
Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina - Privateer Cal Crutchlow gave Honda its 750th motorcycle Grand Prix win in a chaotic wet-and-dry Argentinian MotoGP that saw drama after drama unfold, mostly involving world champion Marc Marquez
Top South African rider Brad Binder (KTM) hit the back of Jorge Navarro’s Kalex under braking for Turn 13 on the second lap of the Moto2 race and went down hard, but was fortunately unhurt, while Steven Odendaal brought the new NTS machine home 18th, and Binder’s younger brother Darryn came home 22nd in his second outing on the works KTM in the Moto3 race.
There was drama even before the start with the race delayed as all but one of the riders went back into pit lane after the sighting lap to change tyres, leaving satellite Ducati rider Jack Miller alone on pole because he was already on slicks.
The rule-book says that riders who opt to change tyres after the sighting lap have to start from pit lane after the last rider on the field has gone by, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen with one bike on the grid and 23 in pit lane, so race direction ordered a ‘second grid’ a few rows back, with Miller out front by himself.
But as they came round to form up for a second attempt at a start, reigning champion Marc Marquez stalled before he could take up his position. His works Honda crew got the bike going again and Marquez was told to start from pit lane - but instead took up his position on the grid.
Rather than argue in public with the world champion, the starter finally got the race underway.
Miller took off from his lonely pole position with Dani Pedrosa on the second works Honda leading the charge behind him and Tech 3 Yamaha’s Johann Zarco initially in third – until Zarco had a moment and Marquez pounced.
Marquez then moved up to behind Miller, just as Zarco collided with Pedrosa, pushing the Honda rider onto a wet patch, down and out of the race.
Then the pit board came out, showing a ride-through penalty for Marquez for starting from the grid; as he headed for the pits, Miller was being reeled in by Zarco, Alex Rins (Suzuki) and Crutchlow.
When Marquez got back on the circuit he lit up th timesheets, colosing in on the leading group until he banged shoulders with Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaro and was ordered by races direction to drop back one position. That done, he took off again in pursuit of the leaders, setting fastest lap after fastest lap.
Up at the sharp end, Rins led briefly before he made a mistake, and then Miller had a moment, whereupon both Crutchlow and Zarco dived through, relegating Miller to fourth.
Meanwhile Marquez had passed Ducati Team rider Andrea Dovizioso for seventh and was chasing the works Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales. He dived up the inside of Rossi going into Turn 13, misjudged it and sat up, forcing Rossi onto the wet grass where he promptly slid off.
Rossi kept the Yamaha alive and got back on the track, but by then he was down in 19th and out of the points.
The fight at the front, meanwhile, had become a three-way debate as Miller lost touch with Crutchlow, Zarco and Rins. Crutchlow and Zarco battled in out through the final few corners, but the Honda rider held off Zarcop to win by 0.251s, with Rins another 2.5s adrift and Miller 4.39s behind the leader in fourth.
Marquez passed Vinales in the closing stage to finish fifth - but as the flag fell he was given another ride-through penalty for bumping Rossi. With the race over, however, that was converted into a 30 second penalty, which moved him down to 18th, just one place ahead of Rossi.
That handed fifth to Vinales, ahead of Dovizioso, an impressive Tito Rabat on a privateer Ducati, Andrea Iannone on the second Suzuki. Hafizh Syahrin put in a stunning performance to take ninth and top rookie for Yamaha Tech 3, just ahead of Miller’s team-mate Danilo Petrucci and Pol Espargaro in KTM’s best premier-class result yet.
Mattia Pasini celebrated his 100th intermediate class race with a fantastic win – his second in Moto2 – which put him into the lead in the standings on 38 points.
Xavi Vierge converted pole position into his first dry race podium, bridging the gap to the front group in the middle part of the race to battle his way to second. After starting sixth, KTM works rider Miguel Oliveira fought his way through to the leading group on the opening lap, to come home third.
Lorenzo Baldassarri couldn’t quite repeat his Qatar podium, eventually finishing 3.764s back in fourth. Alex Marquez’s chances of a podium were diminished as he ran wide at turn five on lap 20 while battling with Baldassarri, and he had to settle for fifth.
Remy Gardner (Tech) posted best Moto2 finish yet, crossing the line a jubilant sixth to round off a very good weekend, while reigning Moto3 champion Joan Mir impressed again in seventh, keeping KTM privateer Dominique Aegerter behind him by 0.081 seconds - a solid ride from the Swiss star on his second ride with the KTM.
Qatar race winner Francesco Bagnaia recovered from 15th on the grid, but could only manage ninth - leaving him six points adrift in the Championship - and Marcel Schrotter rounded out the top 10.
Marco Bezzecchi (KTM) took his maiden Moto3 win with a superb ride on a drying track, holding a 6.8 second lead after 10 laps. Pole position man Tony Arbolino (Honda) opted to start the race on slick, while championship leader Jorge Martin (Honda) pulled in at the end of the warm up lap to take the same gamble.
Aron Canet (Honda) battled hard to take a valuable 20 points for second and the lead in the championship, holding off Fabio Di Giannantonio, also Honda-mounted, by just 0.274s at the line. Enea Bastianini (Honda) threatened late in the race to take his first podium of the season, but a mistake on the last lap ended his chances, and he finished a solid fourth.
Adam Norrodin (Honda) posted his career best finish in fifth, 3.294s behind Bastianini, with Alonso Lopez (Honda) also grabbing his career best result, ahead of Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Honda) in seventh and Nicolo Antonelli (Honda) in eighth.
Local hero Gabriel Rodrigo, on the only other non-Honda in the top 10, dropped back from the leading group late in the race, but held on for a top 10 finish in his home Grand Prix, ahead of top qualifier Arbolino, who carved his way through to 10th after opting for slicks at the start of the race.