Champion Marquez Chases First Victory of 2019
TERMAS DE RIO HONDO, Argentina, March 31, 2019
Qatar Grand Prix podium finishers Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V) travel to Termas de Rio Hondo keen to follow up their superb start to the 2019 MotoGP season aboard Honda’s latest RC213V. Both men have won races at the challenging South American track and will surely be in the mix once again this weekend.
The first race of Grand Prix racing’s 71st season suggested another thrilling year of MotoGP competition, with 15.093 seconds covering the first 15 finishers, the closest top in 15 in history. Indeed so close was the racing in Qatar that the winning margin in all three classes – MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 – added up to just 0.102 seconds!
This Sunday the spectacular Termas de Rio Hondo circuit plays host to MotoGP’s sole South American round for the sixth year running. The 4.8km/2.99-mile venue, constructed next to the eponymous spa town situated 1100km/620 miles north of Buenos Aires, has fast and undulating corners, tricky asphalt and a changeable autumn climate, with rain already predicted for the weekend.
All these challenges will be faced with the usual skill and determination by Honda’s MotoGP teams and riders who are all working for the same objective: to retain the coveted triple crown of Riders, Teams and Constructors World Championships. The 2019 RC213V has already shown its impressive performance – in Qatar Marquez had the fastest bike, at 352kmh/218.7mph.
Marquez is relishing this trip to Argentina as he lays the foundations to winning his sixth MotoGP crown in seven years. The 26-year-old spent last winter recovering from a shoulder operation, which left some doubts about his strength going into the first race of the year. Such concerns were unfounded, because Marquez pushed race winner Andrea Dovizioso to the very last corner.
The time off since Qatar has been precious to the seven-times World Champion (five times in MotoGP, once in Moto2 and once in the 125cc class). After the first race he resumed training on his Honda motocross bikes, so he arrives in Argentina both fitter and stronger.
Marquez goes well at Termas De Rio Hondo. He won the 2014 and 2016 MotoGP races at the track and was battling for race wins in 2015 and 2017 before crashing out. Last year’s outing was spoiled when he stalled his bike on the starting grid, which ultimately led to a ride-through penalty that cost him a shot at victory. Another podium finish this weekend would take his MotoGP podium score to 79, the fifth highest of any rider in history and one ahead of Eddie Lawson, who won the 1989 500cc World Championship for Honda.
Marquez’s new team-mate Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) hopes for a kinder second race with MotoGP’s most successful team. The three-times MotoGP World Champion has had some horrible luck in recent months with several minor but problematic injuries that have prevented him from riding fully fit since September. These include a broken left scaphoid, sustained in a January training accident, and a cracked rib, from a highside during practice in Qatar, where he bravely finished 13th in the race.
Despite these troubles, the 31-year-old has already proved that he can be very fast on his RC213V, so he left Qatar in positive spirits, convinced that the results will come once his injuries have healed and his team has completed adapting his set-up to his glass-smooth riding style. Lorenzo’s excellent second place in FP1 in Qatar – when track conditions were at their best – suggests that it won’t be long before he is back on the podium. Lorenzo has scored 68 victories in MotoGP but has yet to win at Termas de Rio Hondo.
Crutchlow has high hopes going into the second round of 2019, because the 33-year-old’s third-place finish in Qatar was his best-ever at Losail, because the result proved he is strong enough after a long injury layoff and because Termas de Rio Hondo has always been a happy hunting ground for him.
Last year the Briton scored a brilliant victory at the track – his third in the premier class – which took him to the top of the MotoGP World Championship for the first time. And he has climbed the podium in Argentina on two other occasions – when he was third in 2015 and 2017 – making this by far his most successful venue.
Team-mate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V) was also boosted by his excellent performance in Qatar: ninth place, just 7.4 seconds off the win. That result – his best in a dry MotoGP race – suggests great things to come from the twice Moto2 winner who is contesting his second premier-class season. This year Nakagami rides a 2018-spec RC213V, which delivers more torque and straight-line speed than the 2017 model he rode last season.
In Argentina last year the 27-year-old from Chiba scored his first MotoGP points, thanks to a strong 13th-place finish. This weekend Nakagami will aim for another strong race, hoping that he can go two or three places better than he managed last time out.
After the opening Moto2 race of 2019 the intermediate World Championship is led by 22-year-old Italian Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40 Kalex) who resisted a late challenge from Thomas Luthi (Dynavolt Intact GP Kalex) to win in Qatar. Baldassarri, who beat his 32-year-old Swiss rival by less than a tenth of a second, is a great fan of Termas de Rio Hondo, with two hard-fought fourth-place finishes on his last two visits. But then so too is Luthi, who finished third in his last Moto2 outing at the track, in 2017.
Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP Kalex) enjoyed his best start to a Grand Prix season with a fine third place in Qatar. The German will be hoping to build on his best result in Argentina as he seeks to continue his recent good form.
Team-mates and Moto2 rookies Dimas Ekky Pratama (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia Kalex) and Somkiat Chantra (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia, Kalex) haven’t raced in Argentina before, so they will have just three 40-minute practice sessions to learn the track before Saturday’s Moto2 qualifying sessions.
Twenty-six-year-old Indonesian Pratama scored a solid 24th-place finish in his first outing as a full-time World Championship rider in Qatar. Meanwhile 20-year-old Thai rider Chantra was out of luck in his first Moto2 World Championship race, retiring with a technical issue after one lap. Chantra will be hoping for better luck this weekend, so he can start the process of fully adapting to riding a Moto2 bike at the highest level.
Pratama’s and Chantra’s Moto3 team-mate Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia Honda NSF250RW) had a very contrasting race day in Qatar. The 18-year-old from Fukuoka became the first Japanese rider to triumph in the class since the Grand Prix’s lightweight category switched from 125cc two-strokes to 250cc four-strokes in 2012.
Toba won a hectic 13-rider fight, which had the top 15 riders just 3.5 seconds apart at the finish; the sixth closest top 15 in the history of the class. Thus Toba arrives in Argentina as World Championship leader, the first Japanese to lead the smaller category since Honda rider Masao Azuma led the 125cc points chase in 2001.
Toba’s Qatar victory proves the invaluable worth of the Honda-supported IDEMITSU Asia Talent Cup. This championship gives youngsters from Asia, Australia and New Zealand the chance to race each other on identical NSF250R Moto3 bikes and climb the ladder to the top of the sport. Toba was the first winner of the cup in 2014 and is now racing at the highest level, with a chance of World Championship success.
Termas de Rio Hondo was the scene of Toba’s first point-scoring ride at world level in 2017. No doubt he would’ve managed another good showing last year, but for the poor weather conditions.
Whatever the weather on Sunday, Toba will face tough competition from Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing Honda NSF250RW), who pushed him hardest in Qatar. The 18-year-old Italian has started 2019 the way he finished 2018 – in the final seven races of last year he was out-scored only by Jorge Martin and Fabio Di Giannantonio, who finished first and second in the championship. Dalla Porta has form in Argentina – last year he recovered from 15th in qualifying to finish the rain-affected race in seventh.
Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing Honda NSF250RW) enjoyed an excellent ride in his first World Championship outing aboard Honda machinery in Qatar. The 21-year-old Spaniard finished fourth and this weekend will aim for his first top-ten finish in Argentina.
Italians Niccolo Antonelli (Sic58 Squadra Corse Honda NSF250RW) and Romano Fenati (Snipers Team Honda NSF250RW) finished within one second of the race winner at round one, with Fenati paying the price for mistakenly using the ‘Long Lap Penalty’ lane in the closing laps. Fenati has a strong record at Termas de Rio Hondo, including a dramatic victory in the track’s inaugural Moto3 race in 2014.
Toba’s team – run by Honda’s 2009 250cc World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama – had another reason to celebrate at the first race: rookie Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia Honda NSF250RW) scored points in his first outing as a full-time Grand Prix rider. The 18-year-old from Tokyo fought brilliantly in the lead pack, eventually finishing just 0.9 seconds behind his team-mate in 11th position.
Apart from Austria’s Red Bull Ring and Thailand’s Chang International Circuit, Termas de Rio Hondo is the most recent addition to the MotoGP calendar. The track is a favorite of many riders. However, the track is seldom used, so its surface tends to be dirty and abrasive, which gives tire conservation an added significance.
The circuit has been a happy hunting ground for Honda-mounted riders since its inclusion in the MotoGP calendar in 2014. From five previous visits, Honda’s RC213V has emerged victorious on three occasions, with Marquez winning twice and Crutchlow once. In the Moto3 class three Honda riders have won from five visits. The track was resurfaced before the 2018 event.
The MotoGP circus will continue its adventure in the Americas next time out, when the paddock reconvenes in Austin, USA, for the Grand Prix of the Americas on April 14. The 19-race season will conclude at Valencia, Spain, on November 17.
Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team:
“We started well in Qatar and fought until the end for victory. The goal is of course to do the same in Argentina and take as many points as possible. The time between the two races has been good, I was able to return to training with a motocross bike and I feel confident for this race.”
Jorge Lorenzo, Repsol Honda Team:
“Despite not finishing where we wanted, Qatar showed that we have a lot of potential with the Honda. Argentina will give us a chance to continue to improve on the bike. I have been focusing fully on my recovery between races, the wrist is feeling better and the pain in my ribs has also improved a lot since the race. In the past Argentina has not been one of my strongest circuits, but the Honda presents a new opportunity.”
Cal Crutchlow, LCR Honda CASTROL:
“People think that just because you won at a certain circuit that it must be your favorite circuit, but it’s not quite as simple as that. I enjoy the track in Argentina, but the circumstances were unusual last year and I’m sure Marc would’ve won without what happened. That race proved that you never know what can happen in MotoGP! This weekend in Argentina I’ll go into the event with a fresh, open mind to do battle again and rack up some more points. Obviously we go to every race trying to win and I will do the best job I can.”
Takaaki Nakagami, LCR Honda IDEMITSU:
“After the race in Qatar I immediately moved to Spain. I’ve been doing a lot of hard training in Barcelona for the Argentine Grand Prix. I got my first ever points in the MotoGP class in Argentina last year, so I have good memories of the place. Also my team-mate Cal Crutchlow won the race last year. For me the track is good. It has a good layout for my riding style. It was a great opening race at the Qatar Grand Prix and I’m so excited to race again in Argentina. Let’s try to make a good weekend and be inside the top ten. If we have a chance, maybe we can fight for the top six or the top seven. That is our target for this weekend.”
Lorenzo Baldassarri, Flexbox HP 40:
“After the last race it looks like Moto2 will be as close as ever this year, so I expect another big fight in Argentina. Everyone has a lot of development still to do with the new engine and the new frames, so I think we can expect new riders challenging us at every race. Last year at Termas I finished five seconds off the win, so for sure I believe that we can hope for a podium. It is a long season, so that’s our focus: to be consistent and to get some good points every time.”
Thomas Luthi, Dynavolt Intact GP:
“Qatar was a fantastic start. We were all very happy about it and above all it was a relief to me that we were able to start the season in such a way. We now had a longer break in which I trained a lot and prepared as well as possible so that I’m fit for the next two races. I really like the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit. It’s always a bit special because there isn’t much activity there over the year. That means the grip isn’t very good at the beginning and it’s usually a bit slippery on the first day. So the tarmac changes a lot over the weekend. We also have a lot of work to do because we’re going to a new track with the new Moto2 bikes where we haven’t been able to gather any experience or data so far.”
Marcel Schrötter, Dynavolt Intact GP:
“In Argentina we want to build on our achievements of Qatar. And I am sure that we can do that. I feel prepared at a very good level after training very intensively for the last two weeks. I’m extremely motivated. Nevertheless, it is important for me to stay focused for the weekend. I know that our successes won’t repeat themselves on their own, so we must continue to work just as hard. That’s our basic attitude anyway. If we keep it that way, I’m sure that we’ll be able to be right at the front again in Argentina and then in Austin. That’s definitely the goal.”
Kaito Toba, Honda Team Asia:
“The team and I still have a good feeling inside from Qatar, but we are now looking forward and working hard to continue with another good result in Argentina. The team is doing a great job, so the main thing for us to do this weekend is get the bike in good shape for the race, just like we did in Qatar. I already have good memories of this track – I scored my first Grand Prix points at Termas de Rio Hondo in April 2017!”
Lorenzo Dalla Porta, Leopard Racing:
“I can’t wait to go racing again! Me and the team feel quite strong and confident after the first race, but we also know that Moto3 is so incredibly close that you can never relax, not for one second! We need to stay very focused and keep the results coming, like they did towards the end of last year. I know my team will do another great job this weekend, then it will be up to me to finish the job on Sunday.”
Marcos Ramirez, Leopard Racing:
“Qatar proved that the Honda is once again very strong this year, so it’s really great to be riding an NSF250RW this season. The first race was great fun and I expect the same kind of battle this weekend, although the Qatar and Termas layouts are quite different. This will be a new track for me and the Honda, like many tracks this year, so we must work very well on Friday and Saturday in order to be best prepared for the race.”