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Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Aleix Espargaro showed how competitive the new GSX-RR will be in Argentina by topping the first day of Practice.
The MotoGP™ paddock arrived at the 4.8 km Termas de Rio Hondo for the first day of practice at the Gran Premio de la República Argentina to be greeted by some rather ominous grey clouds overhead.
It is the second time that the MotoGP™ World Championship has visited the Termas de Rio Hondo, with Marc Marquez winning the inaugural race last season. There were two MotoGP™ Free Practice sessions on Friday with FP3 scheduled ahead of Qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday.
FP1 saw Suzuki head a MotoGP™ session for the first time since Alvaro Bautista set the fastest time in FP2 at Valencia in 2011, as Aleix Espargaro finished on top of the timesheets in a morning that threw up some surprising results. The reasons for this seemed simple, as during the session most Factory and Satellite riders used just one set of tyres in an attempt to clean the dust off the racing line and increase grip-levels and didn't even attempt to set a flying lap.
Grip levels had improved considerably during FP2 at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, leading to all of the riders setting improved lap times in the afternoon, although ten minutes into FP2 the rain that had threatened all day finally arrived. Luckily it was a short shower that only caused a brief delay to proceedings. After the rain, it was the usual frantic end to the session as riders went out on a fresh set of tyres to attempt a flying lap.
Surprisingly, it was Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Aleix Espargaro who repeated his feat from the morning, proving that his pace from FP1 was no fluke as he finished on top of the timesheets with a 1’38.776, making use of the softer tyre option available to the team.
This time was made even more impressive by the fact that he managed to beat Dani Pedrosa’s Circuit Record from the 2014 race in the process, although he was still over a second off Marquez’s overall lap record, and completed a day to remember for the returning Factory team: “I’m happy, even though its just the first day. The feeling I have with this track is special and layout of the track is really good for our bike. I think we can still improve with the hard front tyre, which we will try tomorrow.”
Ducati Team’s Andrea Iannone (+0.535s) finished in 2nd on the GP15 as they once again demonstrated that the competitiveness of the new Desmosedici at a different circuit: “I am very happy with the performance, but I want to improve the feeling with the bike.”
The Italian was forced to pull to the side of the track during FP1 with smoke pouring from his bike: “I had a problem, I understand their was oil coming down, so I turned off the engine.” His team later confirmed that they had replaced the engine in the bike with a new one. Suzuki, Ducati and Aprilia have twelve engines at their disposal for each rider during the season instead of five, as part of the technical concessions granted to them as returning Factory teams. On the downside, unlike Honda and Yamaha, they don't have access to the extra hard tyre compound which may prove to be crucial during the race in Argentina .
Marc Marquez (+0.560s) on the Repsol Honda had no real answer to the pace of the Suzuki of Espargaro, explaining afterwards that he felt like he was sliding around a lot and revealing: “I think the key to this weekend will be understanding the evolution of the grip level of the track, and adapting the setup to the changes. But the important thing is that we were able to go out and ride, and we are already at a good level."
CWM LCR’s Cal Crutchlow (+0.627s) once again impressed during practice, ending the day in 4th place, and will be hoping to turn his pace into points come the race on Sunday. The British rider has only ridden at the Termas de Rio Hondo track before during a test, after missing the race last season through injury: "I’ve only ever done 20 laps at this track before, so overall we are happy enough because the track wasn’t in great condition all day and I don’t think we can take too much from today’s times. Saying that, the lap times weren’t bad at all, but we spent our time working with the hardest option tyre because we felt that would be the one for the race."
The second GP15 of Andrea Dovizioso (+0.658s) finished in 5th just ahead of the Movistar Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo (+0.687s) who completed the top six. Lorenzo said afterwards he had found a good setup on the harder tyre: “I have a good feeling for the hard tyre so we need to find a good set up for the soft too.” The double MotoGP™ World Champion feels it will be closer as the weekend progresses: “Apart from Alex Espargaro with the extra soft tyre we are very close to the rest so let‘s see for tomorrow.”
The provisional third row consists of Monster Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro in 7th, Scott Redding on the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Racing Honda in 8th, and Valentino Rossi who finished the day over a second behind the leader down in 9th. The nine-times World Champion Rossi was another rider to highlight the importance of choosing the right tyre for the race: "The big issue is the tyres, we have to decide on the rear and also the front. The first impression of the bike is not so bad although we have to work on the balance and the settings. The position is not fantastic but we are not very far from the top guys so tomorrow we will try to improve the feeling with the bike and also the lap time.”
Pramac Racing's Yonny Hernandez completed the top ten in what is his "home" Grand Prix, while Aspar Team MotoGP’s Nicky Hayden was the leading Open class rider in 14th place, 1.7s off the pace of Espargaro.
Click here for the combined results from MotoGP™ FP1 & FP2, FP3 is scheduled to start at 09:55 local time in Argentina on Saturday.
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