The MotoGP paddock has decamped to South America with varying degrees of ease. Some flights left Austin with minimal difficulties whereas plenty of people travelling to the Argentine Grand Prix had lengthy delays with one team member commenting that it had then them over two days to make the trek south.
The travel to Argentina is always a challenge for teams and more of a chore than any other Grand Prix but once you arrive into Termas de rio Hondo the atmosphere of the town takes over and the passion of the locals changes perceptions. This may be the most difficult race to get to but it is also rewarding for those willing to make the journey.
Marquez: This year is different
If there was any doubts that Marc Marquez felt entitled to winning a third consecutive premier class title the Spaniard dispelled them at today's press conference by stating that he knows this year will be the biggest challenge of his career.
Having won the title the last two years and dominating proceedings last year the Spaniard is facing a much more challenging season. The Honda package is still strong but with the improvements made by Yamaha over the second half of last year and the huge stride made by Ducati over the winter it's clear that the 2015 title will be incredibly competitive.
When asked about how he is approaching this year Marquez said:
"I know that the first part of last year was special and I already understand that this championship is different," said a smiling Marquez. "You must be patient. You cannot win every race. You cannot be at the top every race. The most important thing is the final result and if you want to be there at the end, as we saw in the past, the most important thing is consistency. So we will try to be at a good level every weekend, but if it's not possible to win it is better to finish on the podium, and always be there for the championship."
Being able to find the setup to allow you to challenge for the podium every weekend is not easy and it's something that Marc is keenly aware of with the 21 year old continuing to say:
"At the moment the championship looks nice for the spectators. After Qatar my worry was to come back strong and be there in the championship and now we are only five points behind Valentino. Last year I felt really good on this track. I was enjoying it. Then in the race the first laps were tricky, I was in eighth position I think, and then I came back. Last year I felt good here but as we saw in Austin the other guys have also improved, so we will work hard to try to be in the same level."
With Rossi, Dovizioso and Marquez separated by just five points and Lorenzo now back to full fitness this weekend's Argentine GP should be a fascinating race.
Can Rossi stay on top of the world?
Leading the championship after two rounds is one thing but being able to hold of Marquez and Dovizioso in Argentina will be a challenge for Valentino Rossi. The Yamaha rider came away from Texas pleased to have stood on the rostrum despite a badly worn tyre. He never looked to have the pace to bridge the gap to Marquez once the Spaniard got to the front but consolidating his Qatar victory with another podium was another key indicator of how strong Rossi will be this year.
Over the last two years he was still liable to have a poor race and finish in the top five but if he's not able to walk away with a podium finish on his off days it bodes well for his chances this year. While Marquez is acknowledging that this year's title fight will be exceptionally competitive Rossi is keen to dig the knife in my saying that we haven't yet seen the best from Yamaha in 2015.
"On paper, this track is better for the M1," said Rossi when asked of his prospects in Argentina. "Last year was a good weekend, I wasn’t able to arrive on the podium because I did some mistakes in the early laps but my pace in the second half was good, so we have to start from that. The end of last year was good, we improve a lot the bike, the braking and the exit from the corner. We tried to find different ways in the winter test but unfortunately it didn’t work, I was never strong enough but for Qatar we put together the package. After two races it look like the M1 make an improvement. We are still a little bit too slow in the straight, but apart from that the bike is good to ride. The target is try to be more competitive than last year and fight for the podium every weekend."
This is Rossi's 20th season in the Grand Prix paddock and he's doing his best to prove that not only can an old dog learn new tricks he can also compete with riders nearly half his age and still win in MotoGP.
When asked about how much MotoGP has changed over the year Rossi joked that, "I started when it was still black and white!"
The advances in electronics and how you need to ride with the Bridgestone tyre were two of the key points that Rossi focused on.
"I think in the last years MotoGP has changed a lot. Also the electronic systems and Bridgestone tyres made a huge difference. With Michelin in the past it was a different way to ride and you cannot stay in the same position on the bike compared to now. I try to learn also from the other guys like Marquez, or Lorenzo that ride also my bike. It is interesting. But every rider improves and modifies his way to ride. Also Andrea [Dovizioso, Ducati] changed a lot from the last years. It is like this. It is always in evolution and I think this way is very interesting. It is never the same."
Lorenzo back to full heath but is he back to full speed?
Jorge Lorenzo has had a difficult start to the season. Bad luck has played it's part for the Spaniard with the helmet lining falling in Qatar and bronchitis leaving him under the weather in Texas. He has done well to take two top five finishes but this weekend is now crucial with the Yamaha rider needing to claim a podium otherwise he'll have given Marquez, Rossi and Dovizioso too great of a head start for his title challenge.
"It can be much worse like last year," said Lorenzo when asked about his start to the season. "We are not so far from the lead. Obviously in Qatar I expected to fight for the win and I got it until the last seven laps when I had the problem with the helmet. In Austin I had this illness and was weak. Let’s hope in this race I don’t have any problems."
Last year in Argentina a podium offered a rare early season glimpse of Lorenzo's speed but this year he's in a much stronger position and at a circuit that should play to the strengths of the Yamaha he should be a contender of the race win however the Spaniard cautioned this by saying that a podium was his goal for the third round of the championship.
Can Dovi and Ducati claim first win together?
Andrea Dovizioso became the first Ducati rider since Casey Stoner to claim consecutive podium finishes and the Italian looks primed to claim a win soon. Having won at Donington Park in 2009 Dovizioso has won a MotoGP but the progress that he has made over the last year with Ducati is such that his reputation has never been higher and he's now a genuine title contender for the first time and the payoff after a difficult early tenure with Ducati is clear for the Italian.
"After you've had the hard moments, especially the first year in Ducati, now we have a lot of energy to fight," said a smiling Dovizioso. "When the base of the bike is good everything changes. Everything is different and the consequence is the results we made in the first two races."
When asked to compare things to 12 months ago it was clear that almost everything has improved for Dovizioso:
"Last year was a very strange weekend for many reasons. Nobody could ride because the tyre was destroyed. In the race I had many problems so not so nice. But I didn’t learn from this track so I think we are starting from zero. When you have a good feeling with the bike it doesn’t matter the track.
"My lines are different [from last year] because the bike starts to turn. The positive from Ducati is the turning has become very good so I'm able to make the entry of the corner very quick and in the straights the bike has a lot of horsepower. That has made the difference for the lap time.
"We miss a little bit of traction, I believe. Especially compared with Yamaha, not compared to Honda. That is not so easy to find and it is not easy for riding because we lose a little bit of speed in the first part of acceleration. But now we speak of really small things. Small things which become big at this level when you are fighting for victory or the podium - but which are very small compared to last year."
Redding and Espargaro move on from crash
Both Scott Redding and Pol Espargaro were keen to draw a line in the sand after their American crash but it's also clear that they haven't buried the hatchet after a twitter spat erupted between them. In Texas Redding lost the front at Turn 11 and when the bike fell into the path of Espargaro the Spaniard was a helpless victim of the crash.
Speaking to MCN in Argentina Redding gave his view on the incident having had a few days to reflect on the opening lap:
"In my opinion it was a racing incident," said Redding. "I was surprised that Pol crashed with me because in that type of corner to be on the outside is quite risky. I don't know what happened to him, if he released the brakes, but we both crashed. I went in a little bit hot but the biggest problem was that Lorenzo was in front and he had very slow mid corner speed. He had that in turn one as well, that's why I hit him there, and I couldn't release the brake at turn 11 then.
"Initially I thought that I had hit Lorenzo because we were so close and because the front went so hard I thought that I had touched him but it was just the front locking. He caught me out because he stopped early to get a good exit and I was coming in hot and then I couldn't release it so I had to hold onto the brakes.
"It was a bit frustrating because we had been having a good weekend. It's crap when you take someone out with you and I know how it feels to crash when it's not your fault but when he started to give me grief on twitter about not apologising I didn't understand it. I didn't t-bone him or anything, I tried to make a move and he was on the outside of me.
For Espargaro the incident was still fresh on his mind and he understood that being at the front placed more pressure on Redding than he had last year. Espargaro is keen to move on from the crash and get back to work this weekend.
"The first lap of Scott was a little bit too much, I think," said Espargaro. "He was nervous, which is normal, he started from the second row, he did not have a good year last year and this was his first race where he was really competitive, he was really fast during all the weekend, and started in the second row. I think the nervousness made him not a good result. In the end, he crashed and he took me out with him. But anyway, I think it was just a race incident, we have to forget it, we are in Argentina, so next race, next result."
New track for Crutchlow
Last year Cal Crutchlow had to sit out the Argentine Grand Prix after his Texas crash left him with a damaged shoulder and a couple of weeks on the sidelines. Having been at the pre-even test in 2013 he has some experience of the track but this weekend will be the first time that Crutchlow will ride the circuit in anger and it's one that he's looking forward to testing himself on after what he admits has been a poor start to the season.
"Even though I watched it last year at home, I think we can make some good first free practices as I need to familiarise with the track because we didn’t race here last year," said Crutchlow in the pre-race press conference."We are at a disadvantage because when we tested there really was no grip, four or five laps with the tyre and they were finished.
"It is good that I know where the track goes but it will be a difficult weekend but I am definitely looking forward to it. It’s been a poor start to the season, seventh place doesn’t reflect where we should be. The last race was a disappointment, we had some great practices and we were set to be in that podium battle. We salvaged some points but we need to challenge here as best as possible."
Crutchlow has had a solid turn of pace in practice and qualifying this year but has been unable to convert that speed into race results. Being able to do so this weekend would be a key step for the LCR rider and given that he had front row pace in both Qatar and Austin it's clear that he has adapted well to the Honda although he now needs to show that he can get the results needed over the course of a race distance.
"The last race was definitely a disappointment. We had great practices, or as best as we could against the other guys, and I think we were looking set to be in that podium battle. But I had some problems in the race, some strange feelings, and we finished seventh. We salvaged some points and made sure we finished the race. That was all we could do in Texas. Now we need to come here and hopefully not have any of those problems and challenge as best as possible."
Laverty ready to make step forward
Eugene Laverty has had a difficult start to the 2015 season with the former World Superbike star having to adapt to MotoGP. Last weekend in Texas was another moment where he needed to learn from a unique experience to move forward after suffering severe tyre wear problems during the race. Having lost lots of time as he adapted his riding style the Irishman finished outside the points but came away satisfied with the lessons learned.
"Everything went pretty well in America," said Laverty. "It was just in the middle of the race I had a few problems but that was a learning thing. Conditions changed a lot for the race. I rode a good race except those five laps in the middle that cost me 13th, but that’s all part of the learning experience. This track [Argentina] looks like my kind of track and it’s probably a bit easier to get the hang of than Austin. In terms of new tracks it should take less time for me."
Qualifying as the top Open Honda rider was a key step for Laverty in Texas and with more and more running on the bike his comfort level has increased and he now feels ready to make a big step.
"It was a boost because I knew there was a lot more to come from me with more time on the bike at Austin. We didn’t really get enough of a go there so it was positive after missing out on Friday due to the conditions that we weren’t too far away. So it gives me hope that there’s more to come from this bike. We’ve got to keep working at it. The engine is strong enough, we’ve just got to get the rest of it dialled in."