MotoGP: Crutchlow rises to the top as the title fight explodes in Argentina

MotoGP: Crutchlow rises to the top as the title fight explodes in Argentina

Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) has taken an impressive third Grand Prix victory in the Gran Premio Motul de la Republica Argentina, besting Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) on the final lap to earn the honour of winning the 750th GP race for Honda. But the headlines must be shared, with drama for Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) as the reigning Champion accrued a number of penalties and clashed with Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), with the fuse on the title fight now lit up and on full power.

There was drama even before lights out at Termas de Rio Hondo, with the conditions hard to judge and the race delayed as the majority of the grid went back into pitlane to switch tyres. That left Alma Pramac Racing’s Jack Miller alone on pole after the Australian didn’t need to switch, and the grid lining up a few rows back in order to not all start from pitlane.

As the field came back round to line up for attempt number two at lights out, however, that wasn’t even the bigger headline – with reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) stalling on the grid and not in his position. The number 93 was then able to get the bike going and took his position, but had been told to instead start from pitlane…

With that unanswered question hanging in the air, the lights went out and Miller took off from his lonely pole position to get the lead. Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) took second, with Zarco initially in third before Marquez struck as the Frenchman had a moment. From there, the rider from Cervera picked his way forward to behind Miller – as Zarco clipped Pedrosa and the number 26 found himself on a wet part of the track, race ending early as he crashed out.

Sure enough, however, Marquez’ pitboard showed the words ‘Ride Through Penalty’ and the next bolt of drama hit the race.

With the remaining Repsol Honda bike heading in, Miller was in the lead and being hunted down by a group of three: Zarco, Rins and Crutchlow, and they were soon on the scene.

Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol)– “It was nice to win, but it was to be expected to be honest. I came into the weekend thinking I could leave here with a chance of being first or second with Marc (Marquez) and we ended up winning. I was comfortable in the battle, I felt I took no risks and stayed with riders that I probably could have dropped should I have needed to.

“We have to be pleased, the team has done a fantastic job in the last two races and I think we could have fought for victory no matter which circuit it would have been this weekend. Now we go to Austin and we’ll aim for the top five and look to come out of there with strong points. This year I said I wanted to win some races! It’s really nice to be part of that group of riders that have been able to win these 750 races for Honda. I’ve been supported very well by them in the last few years and this year the support is even better.”

But Marquez, when back out on track, was lighting up the timesheets immediately – before an incident saw him get too close to Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and the reigning Champion was told to lose one position. That done and the bit then back between his teeth, it was game on for the number 93 to salvage as much as he could – which, by laptimes, seemed it may be an awesome recovery.

Alex Rins
“I’m very satisfied with this race, because it wasn’t easy and before the start I was nervous due to the delay and everything. But finally, when we started, I was feeling really good from the beginning. When I was behind Miller I was thinking ‘OK, maybe I need to overtake him and go’, because my feeling was perfect. But when I was leading I made a small mistake – the track was very difficult with the damp patches, especially off the racing line. Myself, my team, and everyone in Japan has worked really hard to have a competitive bike, and we’ve done it! Texas is one of my favourite tracks, despite the fact that last year I had a fast crash and broke my arm. This year we arrive with strong mentality, more experience, and a great bike.”

Back at the front, Rins led briefly before an error, and Miller then suffered his own – with Crutchlow able to move through to lead from Zarco and the three able to pull away from Miller.

The drama was far from done, however. On the fight back, Marquez had picked off Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and honed in on the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP duo of first Valentino Rossi and next up Maverick Viñales, until the number 93 made a lunge up the inside of the ‘Doctor’ – and misjudged it.

Valentino Rossi – I‘m OK, but this is a very bad situation. If you take what happened this weekend as an example, one incident can happen to anybody, you can make a mistake in braking, you can touch the other guy. It can happen, it’s racing. But from Friday morning on, Marquez did this to Viñales, to Dovizioso, to me, and on Saturday morning, and today he went straight through four riders. If you start to race like this, you raise the level to a very dangerous point. If all the riders race like this, this will become a very dangerous sport and it will finish in a bad way. It’s a very dangerous situation and I hope that what I said to Race Director Mike Webb makes them take more responsibility, they have to do something. I’m scared on the track when I’m with Marquez. I was scared today when I saw his name on the board. I’m not Race Direction – they will decide – but like this he is destroying our sport, because when you do 300 km an hour on the track, you have to have respect for your rivals.

Both running wide and forced to sit up, Marquez was able to stay ahead – but the number 46 went down as he clipped the grass. Able to get back in the race and restarted, Rossi was left far down the order as the incident lit the fuse on the race and the rivalry once again.

Johann Zarco – “It was a pretty difficult race, overall when we had to choose and then the delayed start was quite good for all the riders. Just Jack (Miller) chose the slick from the beginning. From the start there were not so many options for the best line, but behind Dani (Pedrosa) I felt I was stuck, so finally I did the maneuver, tried to overtake him. Because of the conditions I went a little bit wide, but that was the way to pass him. I’m sorry that he crashed there. Overall it was a very difficult race today, I was almost crashing. I did my maximum from the start to the end. In fighting with Cal (Crutchlow), I didn’t want to do a mistake, so in the end, he deserved this win today. I’m really happy, that I was able to catch this second place! The fight at the front, meanwhile, became three by the last lap, with Crutchlow and Zarco able to just pull away from Rins to duel it out over the final sector – and the Brit keeping ahead to take a stunning third Grand Prix victory. Zarco took second for another impressive visit to the rostrum, with Alex Rins visiting that podium for the first time in the premier class in third, pulling a big wheelie over the line.

Miller took fourth after not quite being able to make up the ground to the front, ahead of Marquez on track – but not in the results. As the flag fell, another penalty for the number 93 came up – a ride through, or 30 seconds added to his race time.

That means Marquez finishes 18th, and takes no points home from Argentina.

Marc Marquez – It was a tricky race, in very tough conditions, with several drawbacks. Just before the start I had an issue with the engine, which stopped. We’ll look into it later. Anyway, I put my hands up but nobody was there. I was able to restart the bike and then I looked for some input from the marshals, as I wasn’t sure if, with the bike running again, I should go to my place on the grid or back to the pits. One marshal raised his hands, and a second one gave the thumbs up, which I interpreted to mean I could stay. When I saw the penalty message on the dashboard, I didn’t understand why, but I of course complied. Then I obviously tried push to recover and unfortunately I made some mistakes, the biggest one I believe being with Aleix. I approached faster than him and I didn’t realize it. I tried my best to avoid contact but unfortunately I wasn’t able.  I saw the penalty and, to be safe, gave up two positions, not just one, before starting to push again. With Valentino it was different, as it was a consequence of the track conditions. I touched a wet patch, locked the front, and released the brakes. I tried to turn, again making my best effort to avoid contact. When he crashed I immediately apologised. It was a racing incident as happened earlier with Zarco and Dani, and then with Petrucci and Aleix. It was a tricky Sunday. Of course today I made some mistakes, which I recognize. Other mistakes were made by Race Direction on the grid, and others were due to the difficult conditions, but one thing I know for sure: never in my career have I intentionally hit another rider.

Viñales therefore takes fifth, ahead of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and an impressive ride for Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing). Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) came home eighth, with Hafizh Syahrin pulling a stunning to take ninth and top rookie for Monster Yamaha Tech 3. Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) completed the top ten, just ahead of KTM’s best result yet in 2018 in P11 as Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory) took solid points.

The Championship fuse is lit, rivalries are heating up and Crutchlow heads to Texas as the points leader for the first time ever – the first British leader since the 1970s and an Independent Team rider to boot.

Marquez, meanwhile, faces a mountain to fight back – with his first zero of the year marked in the dramatic and extraordinary Argentina GP. Texan turf awaits the king of COTA on Sunday 22nd April.

GP of Argentina – Race Classification:
1. Cal CRUTCHLOW LCR Honda CASTROL 40’36.342
2. Johann ZARCO Monster Yamaha Tech 3 +0.251
3. Alex RINS Team SUZUKI ECSTAR +2.501
4. Jack MILLER Alma Pramac Racing +4.390
5. Maverick VIÑALES Movistar Yamaha MotoGP +14.941
6. Andrea DOVIZIOSO Ducati Team +22.533
7. Tito RABAT Reale Avintia Racing +23.026
8. Andrea IANNONE Team SUZUKI ECSTAR +23.921
9. Hafizh SYAHRIN Monster Yamaha Tech 3 +24.311
10. Danilo PETRUCCI Alma Pramac Racing +26.003
11. Pol ESPARGARO Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +31.022
12. Scott REDDING Aprilia Racing Team Gresini +31.891
13. Takaaki NAKAGAMI LCR Honda IDEMITSU +32.452
14. Franco MORBIDELLI EG 0,0 Marc VDS +42.061
15. Jorge LORENZO Ducati Team +42.274
16. Alvaro BAUTISTA Angel Nieto Team +42.625
17. Thomas LUTHI EG 0,0 Marc VDS +43.350
18. Marc MARQUEZ Repsol Honda Team +43.860
19. Valentino ROSSI Movistar Yamaha MotoGP +52.082
20. Karel ABRAHAM Angel Nieto Team +1’03.944
21. Xavier SIMEON Reale Avintia Racing +1’10.144
Not Classified
38. Bradley SMITH Red Bull KTM Factory Racing
41. Aleix ESPARGARO Aprilia Racing Team Gresini
Not Finished 1st Lap
26. Dani PEDROSA Repsol Honda Team

MotoGP World Standings 2018: 
1. Cal CRUTCHLOW Honda 38
2. Andrea DOVIZIOSO Ducati 35
3. Johann ZARCO Yamaha 28
4. Maverick VIÑALES Yamaha 21
5. Marc MARQUEZ Honda 20
6. Jack MILLER Ducati 19
7. Danilo PETRUCCI Ducati 17
8. Valentino ROSSI Yamaha 16
9. Alex RINS Suzuki 16
10. Andrea IANNONE Suzuki 15
11. Tito RABAT Ducati 14
12. Dani PEDROSA Honda 9
13. Hafizh SYAHRIN Yamaha 9
14. Franco MORBIDELLI Honda 6
15. Pol ESPARGARO KTM 5
16. Scott REDDING Aprilia 4
17. Alvaro BAUTISTA Ducati 3
18. Takaaki NAKAGAMI Honda 3
19. Karel ABRAHAM Ducati 1
20. Jorge LORENZO Ducati 1
21. Thomas LUTHI Honda
22. Bradley SMITH KTM
23. Aleix ESPARGARO Aprilia
24. Xavier SIMEON Ducati