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26 days ago
By Matthew Birt, Nick Harris

MotoGP™ Debrief: Argentina and America

Commentators Nick Harris and Matthew Birt talk through the second and third races of the year as the paddock heads for Jerez

What did you make of Argentina and America?

Matt Birt: “In Argentina obviously it was a bit of a disaster for HRC and another great result for Maverick. Even at that early stage, we knew he was a preseason favourite but the way he started…to be the first Yamaha rider to win the first two races since Rainey is something not even Rossi and Lorenzo managed. So it had an ominous feel, but then in Texas we saw he was human. The first real shock of the season was that he crashed. I think in general – you never want to see a rider crash - but for the neutral and the Championship it had positives in many respects. Had Maverick taken 75 points from 75 it would have threatened domination but it’s closed up nicely coming to Europe.”

Nick Harris: “They were two great and very different races. The race in Texas just blew the Championship right open. I think it was an important race to come along, although no one wants any misfortune for Viñales. But Marquez winning, Rossi leading the Championship and the next round in Jerez – it was the perfect prelude."

Who are your standout performers?

Matt Birt: "For me in the two races there have been two absolute star performers. The first is Rossi. Winter testing was a disaster, he said he was desperate, and who would have thought going into Europe after three races that Valentino, at the age of 38, would be leading the Championship? It's amazing what that guy does. What he's proved so far is how important it is to stay on the bike. He hasn't won a race yet but he hasn't made a mistake. He always seems to find something - on Sunday, you just know Valentino will be there. It will be hard for him to stay where he is but it gives him great confidence. The other guy I have to mention is Johann Zarco. That guy is mindblowing. He's not to everyone's taste - just ask Valentino in Austin! - and he's aggressive, not caring much for reputation. He's doing a phenomenal job. From 14th to fifth in Argentina and not just that, but the way he did it - his riding style, with smoke pouring off the rear tyre - it's great for the fans to watch. And what he did in Texas - there aren't many people who are willing to shove it up the inside and risk contact with a nine-time World Champion. He's been an absolute revelation."

Nick Harris: “Viñales’ performance in Argentina was outstanding. Mature and it was only his second race on the Yamaha, he rode a terrific race – calculated and concentrated when he had to be. Completely different to Qatar when he had to fight it out throughout the race, and in some ways it’s more difficult to ride at the front. I thought he did it brilliantly. There are some other names who crop up – Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow. Both had great rides in both races. Rossi was top class in Argentina stalking Crutchlow, and exactly the same really in America where he stalked Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa had a really good ride in the Americas and was obviously having major tyre problems. There was that little coming together for Rossi with Johann Zarco to add a bit of spice to the situation. Zarco was incredible in Argentina and America. I never had any doubt that he would be a good MotoGP rider, but even I was surprised by how well he’s done. He’s going to be pushing in these early races, because as the season goes on the 2017 factory bikes develop more and more. If he’s going to strike, now is the time. But I suppose Rossi is the standout in the opening three races – you don’t lead the Championship for no reason.”

Where were you expecting a little more?

Matt Birt: "A combination of Suzuki and Ducati. Ducati obviously had a disaster in Argentina with Lorenzo out on the first lap and then Dovizioso getting taken out again - he seems to need wing mirrors! Suzuki had a nightmare in Argentina with Iannone's jump start and he was struggling. It was good to see him back in the points in Austin but we definitely expected more in those races from Ducati and Suzuki. I think they've both got work to do. Yamaha and Honda have improved this year, but Ducati seem the same as last year. We need to see more from them."

Nick Harris: “There have been a few suffering bad luck – certainly Andrea Dovizioso had some bad luck in Argentina when he was brought down by Aleix Espargaro. Then Aleix had a desperate time in Texas after some really quick form in the opening two races. Andrea Iannone I think was glad to finish, and it’s been a tough start to the season for Suzuki, especially now with Alex Rins injured. I think progress is slower than he thought for Jorge Lorenzo, but he got on the second row of the grid. I think he’ll get stronger and stronger. He’s got too much talent to not make it work.”

Next up: back in Europe and the awesome atmosphere of Jerez…

Matt Birt: "I think it's going to be incredible. We know there's a carnival atmosphere, the Spanish GP has always been one of the blue riband events on the calendar with that special feel to it, and I think this year even more so because there's three interesting elements to it. One, Rossi is leading the Championship and he was the race winner there last year. He will probably look upon this as an opportunity to get back to winning ways. We're coming into a stage of the season where he's so good. The next four or five races, if Valentino can string together a bunch of podiums and maybe a couple of wins, I think he will be fancying his chance at a tenth. Given his rivalry with some of the Spaniards, I'm sure he would love nothing more than to win in front of their home crowd in Jerez. Then Marquez is full of confidence after his first win since Japan last year, I don't know whether his shoulder dislocation at Jerez during testing will be at the back of his mind but knowing what he's like I very much doubt it. He seems to shrug off setbacks quickly. The other interesting element is how Maverick is going to bounce back. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes and that was his first race crash in over a year. How will he respond? I'm sure he won't change his tactics at all, he's not going to be racing for points - he'll be going for the win. For those three aspects, I think it really sets it up to be a mouthwatering weekend."

Nick Harris: “The big showdown between Marquez and Viñales is going to come, and we thought it was going to be in America but perhaps it will be in Jerez. It would be the ideal place for it, with a massive Spanish crowd and in the first race back in Europe. It’s going to come, it’s just when rather than if. Valentino Rossi will be podiuming all the time, and if he can continue to do that – although he wants to win a race – he is really going to be a serious Championship contender. I love going to Jerez. The crowd is huge and passionate, to me it’s what MotoGP is all about. With the Championship the way it is, it’s just brilliant.”

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