ARGENTINA delivered a bizarre race befitting an equally bemusing lead-up, Marc Marquez taking his first MotoGP win of 2016 simply by staying out of trouble.
The Honda rider seized the lead early and held off a feisty Valentino Rossi ahead of compulsory pit stops at the halfway point of the shortened 20-lap race, both measures due to tyre issues suffered by Michelin during practice.
Marquez was peerless after the stops, Rossi unable to match his early pace and allowing his chief rival to race to a comfortable 7.6 second victory.
There should have been a pair of Ducatis between them but, in a total disaster for the Italian team, Andrea Iannone took out teammate Andrea Dovizioso at the final corner as he tried to nab second place.
The pair went tumbling into the gravel, allowing Rossi through to second and a surprised Dani Pedrosa into third, the latter struggling with handling all weekend but benefitting from the troubles of others.
While Iannone elected to walk home, where no doubt a severe talking to awaited, Dovizioso pushed his broken Desmosedici home to be classified 13th and last in a race of attrition.
After the Ducatis, the dramas were headlined by reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo.
The Yamaha man got the holeshot off the start but immediately began to slip down the order as he struggled with Michelin’s emergency-spec rear tyre. His day ended early with a crash on the sixth lap.
A promising race for Jack Miller also ended with his machine tumbling through the gravel. The Australian made a lightning start to pass the fading Lorenzo for sixth on the third lap, only to endure his fourth crash of the weekend on the next tour.
Aleix Espargaro and Cal Crutchlow had already departed the scene, the pair having separate, synchronised front-end crashes as the opening lap came to a close.
The list didn’t end there. Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales looked poised to beat the Ducatis and score his first podium finish until a crash at Turn 1 with just 3 laps to go, while Scott Redding was heading Pedrosa in what would become the final podium position until a mechanical failure stopped his Pramac Ducati.
All of the carnage allowed Eugene Laverty to take a remarkable fourth position, his best in MotoGP, ahead of Hector Barbera with an angry Pol Espargaro crossing the line in sixth after clashing with Barbera on the final lap.
MotoGP race officials elected to split the race in two with a compulsory pit stop in the wake of Michelin’s decision to withdraw its rear slicks after Redding had a failure on Saturday.
Michelin had an emergency-spec rear tyre on hand in case of just such a situation, but rain on race morning prevented the teams from properly testing it.
Taking a cautious approach, similar to that taken at Phillip Island in 2013 when Bridgestone encountered similar problems, riders were forced to change machines within a three-lap window at the halfway mark to minimise the chances of tyre problems.
The upshot of it all is that Marquez now leads the championship on a machine that looked in all sorts of trouble in pre-season testing, with Rossi eight points in arrears, Pedrosa 14 points back and Jorge Lorenzo 16 behind.
The next race is the Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin in one week’s time.