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Who will master the Termas tango?

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Who will master the Termas tango?

Who will master the Termas tango?
Who will master the Termas tango?As we return to Argentina for the first time since 2019, plenty has changed – so could it be another unpredictable weekend in South America?.

It’s already been a tough task to predict MotoGP™ so far in 2022, and now the paddock heads back to the Autodromo Termas de Rio Hondo and some unchartered premier class territory for many. There are only nine permanent riders – pending confirmation, expected soon, on Marc Marquez’ (Repsol Honda Team) timeframe to recovery and when the eight-time World Champion will be back – who have raced MotoGP™ machinery at Termas de Rio Hondo more than once and of those, even less return to take on the track on the same bikes as they were riding on our last visit. So it really will be an interesting weekend, with even the rookie class of 2020 such as Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) back in at the deep end with zero track experience on premier class machinery. So where do we start?

KTM seems the best place, as the Austrian factory currently have the best seat in the house in two of three Championships, heading the standings in the Constructors’ and Teams’ title fights for the first time ever. The aforementioned Binder is only two points off the top in the fight for the riders’ crown too, and teammate Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is in the top five after catapulting himself up the table by 16 places thanks to that awesome win in Indonesia. Oliveira is also one of the only nine riders on the grid who’ve previously raced the track with the same factory with which they return to tackle the challenge in 2022 too, as Brad Binder faces the opposite challenge of first premier class touch. Can they tame Termas and lead the three leaderboards of the coveted Triple Crown?

At Tech3 KTM Factory Racing, meanwhile, the rookie duel continues and it’s still split between the two by the single point taken by reigning Moto2™ Champion Remy Gardner in Qatar. Gardner also took his first ever Grand Prix podium at Termas de Rio Hondo, so will be hoping to add to his tally as Raul Fernandez arrives with only one Moto3™ appearance at the track in 2019.

Just down pitlane, Ducati have an interesting array of experience. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) is one of the most veteran on the grid having first raced the venue in 2015, with only three riders beating his tally. However, it’s only two events at the track with Ducati that the Australian has to his name… but however again, Termas was the stage for his only premier class pole so far after his awe-inspiring masterclass on slicks on a drying and definitely-not-yet-dry track back in 2018. Can he turn his experience into his first podium of the season?

One rider who arguably did that last time out was another Ducati rider with experience at Termas: Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing), who stormed to third in Lombok. He also has two Moto2™ wins in Argentina, but the Frenchman has only tackled the track on a Yamaha and KTM in the premier class, so both he and teammate Jorge Martin – who remains on the hunt for his first points of the year – take on the venue on Borgo Panigale machinery for the first time. So too does Luca Marini, and it will be interesting to see the Mooney VR46 Racing Team battle as Marco Bezzecchi arrives as a full blown rookie.

And then there’s Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team). If Qatar was a tough start, Lombok was only slightly less bitter as the Italian struggled to score. We have, however, seen Bagnaia paint MotoGP™ poetry on now many an occasion, and he’ll be hoping his 2019 experience at Termas, then on an Independent Ducati, will count for something and help him get back in the hunt for the podium as a minimum. Finally, Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) arrives in the truly best seat in the house as he continues to lead the Championship. After a disastrous start to the race in Lombok down in P20 at one point, the Italian brought it back to get another handful of points by the flag despite very little experience in the wet. Having passed that challenge, the next is Termas de Rio Hondo as the number 23 aims to keep and extend that lead – riding at the track for the first time in the premier class.

Over at Yamaha, there’s plenty to discuss too. Qatar was a disappointment for reigning Champion Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) before incredible wet weather grip in Lombok saw the Frenchman slice up into second for his first MotoGP™ podium in the rain. But the Iwata marque – and Quartararo especially – looked hard to bet against in the dry in Indonesia, so it’s a mixed bag so far in 2021, with both disappointment and searing pace on show. El Diablo has raced at Termas before, in 2019, and although only once it was with Yamaha. Teammate Franco Morbidelli has one more MotoGP™ race in Argentina under his belt, but he’s tackled the track on two different machines. Morbidelli had a pretty solid weekend in Indonesia too, so what will the two factory guys have for Termas? The Iwata marque have already won at the track twice with two different riders.

Andrea Dovizioso (WithU Yamaha RNF MotoGP Team) is, meanwhile, one of the three most experienced riders on the grid at Termas – but all his races, including podiums, were with Ducati. Now he faces a new challenge of taking on the track on the YZR-M1, and after a technical issue stopped him early in Indonesia, he’ll want to get back in the points as a minimum. On the other side of the garage the vibe was the opposite in Lombok, however, as Darryn Binder steamed up inside the top 10 and was as high as eighth before a fair but aggressive move from his brother, no less, saw the younger South African classified 10th. That’s put him top in the battle for top rookie so far in 2022 though, and it was truly a stunner that will have lifted his confidence even if Argentina proves dry – at a track where he already has a Moto3™ podium.

So what about Suzuki? In some ways dark horses of consistency – despite some high profile difficulties including that Free Practice fire for Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and a seriously tough qualifying for his teammate, 2020 MotoGP™ Champion Joan Mir, in Indonesia. Rins has a fifth and a seventh so far and Mir two sixth places, but they’ve been there on race day in the wet and the dry – just lacking an extra step to get into the podium fight. Can they make that in Argentina? Rins arrives for his fourth race at the venue on the Suzuki, a rare slew of experience, and it’s where he took his first premier class podium. Mir has raced there before too, in 2019. So far, after what we saw in testing, it feels like there’s a pool of potential bubbling just under the surface of some more muted results… will Argentina see it boil over into podiums or even a push for victory?

For Honda, Lombok promised much and delivered little. After Marc Marquez’ huge Warm Up highside it was Pol Espargaro battling alone in Repsol Honda Team colours, and he did take some points on the new RC213V’s debut in the wet but it was a far cry from the podium and race-leading escapades of Qatar. Qatar will bring the number 44 some good hope on the way into Termas though – as will Honda’s record of four wins at the track, with both Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow – and Pol Espargaro is one of the three riders expected on the grid who’s raced at the venue since 2014, in his case with Yamaha and KTM. Will that experience help him blast out the blocks on the Honda? And what will the update on Marc Marquez’ condition be?

At LCR Honda Castrol, Alex Marquez faces the track for the first time in MotoGP™ and takes on a new challenge, although he has been on the podium there in the lower classes, whereas Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) has a couple of previous MotoGP™ experiences at Termas under his belt, and both with Honda. That will be interesting as the all-new RC213V takes on the circuit and the Japanese rider will want to leverage that to move further forward after a more muted start to 2022.

At Aprilia, the experience-ometer is high too. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) is the final one of the likely three riders who have raced in every MotoGP™ race at Termas de Rio Hondo, although not all with Aprilia. The RS-GP is also a different beast this season, and in Qatar we saw serious form before a tougher Lombok so the Noale factory shouldn’t be counted out of fighting at the front. Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) is also a former winner at Termas, and has raced the venue on two other machines prior to 2022. What can Aprilia do this season with a mixture of experience and fresher, fighting fit form?

It’s all to play for in Argentina, with another 25 points on the table and so far still anyone’s game to take the Championship lead, stand on the podium or even take that coveted win. Will experience count for much as we return to the land of Tango? Or is it all-change once again? Find out on Sunday the 3rd of April as MotoGP™ goes racing for the Gran Premio Michelin® de la Republica Argentina at 15:00 (GMT -3)!

MotoGP™ CHAMPIONSHIP: TOP 5
1 Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) – Ducati – 30
2 Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – KTM – 28
3 Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) – Yamaha – 27
4 Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – KTM – 25
5 Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) – Ducati – 24

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