Movistar Yamaha MotoGP‘s Maverick Viñales set the tone at the first two free practice sessions of the Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina on Friday. Teammate Valentino Rossi also had a productive day, but struggled to find the right feeling and secured 16th place. Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez, the reigning world champion, was second fastest followed by the two Ducatis.
The early MotoGP World Championship leader remains the man to beat in Argentina. After topping every preseason test and dominating the opening round of the season in Qatar, Maverick Viñales continued his good form in round two, clocking a 1’39.477 in free practice that very few riders were able to follow. The closest was Marc Márquez, a two-time former winner at this circuit, although even he was three tenths adrift.
Behind him, Pull&Bear Aspar pair Karel Abraham and Álvaro Bautista, along with fellow Independent Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci, were the only other riders able to break the 1’40 barrier. With rain forecast for tomorrow it promises to be an interesting day ahead to see who can qualify for Q2 and who will have to play their cards in Q1. The current top ten contains just three factory riders and seven Independent riders, all separated by a mere seven tenths of a second.
The Pull&Bear Aspar riders were on the pace throughout both sessions and in the final stages of the second outing a good lap from Bautista was followed immediately by a slightly better one from Abraham to move them into the top two positions. In the end, only Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez were able to post faster laps, dropping the pair to a stunning third and fourth place overnight.
Viñales made his prediction, stated in yesterday‘s press conference, come true when he completed his first kilometres on the YZR-M1 in Argentina. His riding style matched the Termas de Río Hondo Circuit perfectly and the Spaniard swiftly moved up the timesheets, setting a 1‘40.796s benchmark. He spent the second half of the morning session completing the mandatory 5-lap harder rear tyre run and surprised friends and foes when he improved on his best lap multiple times, to end the first session with a 1‘40.356s, leading the pack by 0.206s.
The youngster continued his work on his YZR-M1 in the afternoon. He left pit lane for FP2 with a hard front and rear tyre and only needed seven laps to breach into the top2, but the pace soon picked up when all riders had completed the hard tyre test and switched back to the softer options. Viñales dropped back down the order, but upped his game in the final minutes, dropping two laps under the 1‘40-mark in quick succession, the latter a 1‘39.477s. He ended the day on top with a 0.301s margin to his closest rival in both FP2 and the combined practice times.
Marc Marquez was second-fastest at 1’39.778” after a very close FP2 session that ended with the top 15 riders separated by less than one second.
Following a busy FP1 on a dirty track and a crash without consequences in turn 2 early in the session, Marc made significant progress in the afternoon, knocking more than a second off his morning’s best and setting a promising pace with the Michelin hard front and rear tyres.
Dani Pedrosa also avoided injury in a small crash (in turn 13 during FP2) and then improved his lap times, but despite closing just 0.567” down on his teammate, his best time of 1’40.345” meant he had to settle for 13th place.
“I feel very positive. I feel great on the bike and physically I‘m really fit. The bike is working good, we are using the basic set-up, and from the first lap I felt really comfortable on the track. Step by step we are improving and we still have some work to do for the race, but I think we have the speed, so that‘s really important. I don‘t know if the hard rear will be an option for the race. It‘s difficult to tell, because we had some wheel spin, so I don‘t know. We are trying many things, but what is sure is that we have good speed. We still have to decide on a race tyre. Tomorrow we have a lot of work to do, so let‘s start and see what the lap times are like,” said Maverick Vinales.
eom/Press releases from Movistar Yamaha, Repsol Honda and Pull&Bear Aspar teams