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After Cal Crutchlow’s (LCR Honda Castrol) victory in Argentina, an Independent Team rider sits top of the MotoGP™ World Championship - the first time since Sete Gibernau led the way after the Catalan Grand Prix in 2004. In addition, no factory rider has been able to take pole in 2018, with Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) taking the accolade in Qatar and Argentina respectively. The tides have changed in the premier class, so can the Independent Teams carry on their fine form when the riders take to the track at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas?
Before Miller’s masterclass at Assen in 2016, an Independent Team hadn’t won a race since Toni Elias spectacularly edged out Valentino Rossi by 0.002 seconds on his Fortuna Honda at Estoril in 2006. It would be 3,542 days until ‘Jackass’ would cross the line to win his first premier class race. A long time to wait, but since then, Crutchlow has stormed to three Grand Prix wins, and there looks like there’s more on the horizon – not just for the Brit.
The former World Supersport Champion has earned seven podiums since his debut on the LCR Honda in 2015, he’s been the rider who has consistently threatened the podium on an Independent Team bike. That is until a double Moto2™ World Champion arrived on the scene. In his rookie season, Zarco took second place at Le Mans and Valencia, while in Sepang, he claimed third behind the two factory Ducatis. Then, it was of course the Frenchman who pushed Crutchlow all the way in Argentina, claiming his fourth premier class podium.
If we take Alex Rins’ (Team Suzuki Ecstar) superb display out of the equation, the nearest factory bike to Crutchlow and Zarco was Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), who was nearly 15 seconds back from the win and over ten seconds behind Miller’s Pramac Ducati in fourth. Furthermore, six of the top ten in Argentina’s race were Independent Teams – demonstrating the gap between the factory bikes and non-factory bikes has closed significantly.
Let’s also consider the first two qualifying sessions of this season. In Qatar, Zarco stormed to pole, beating second place Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) by 0.202 seconds – a sizeable margin. Moreover, three of the top four in Qatar were Independent Team bikes, with Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) in third and Crutchlow in fourth. Then, in Argentina, Miller tangoed his way to pole, beating Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) by 0.177 seconds – with Zarco rounding out the front row. Again, three of the top four at the end of Q2 were Independent Team riders, as Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) qualified fourth.
Rewind and relive the Argentina GP
2018 – so far – has been a fantastic indicator that this year, an Independent Team rider could genuinely mount a title challenge. But speaking to motogp.com, Crutchlow commented on his thoughts about an Independent Team winning the premier class title.
“If I didn’t believe I could do it or the team could do it then there is no point in me turning up. It will be very, very difficult and honestly the likelihood is no. The factories have so many more resources compared to an Independent Team that it will take something very special to do it.”
As we head to the Circuit of the Americas, the gap between the top 15 in the Championship is the closest it has been after the first two races. Will we see another Independent Team rider take the honors in Texas? Marquez has been the lone star there recently, but can the likes of Crutchlow, Zarco and co knock him off his perch? Find out when the MotoGP™ riders take to the track for FP1 on Friday 20th at 09:55 local time (GMT -5).
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