For the first time since 1999, MotoGP has arrived in Argentina. The best riders in the world have descended upon Santiago del Estero for the third race of the 2014 Grand Prix season.
MotoGP doesn't often hit the southern hemisphere, but that hasn't stopped the competition from gaining a massive fanbase in the South American country.
"There is interest in MotoGP in this country, and a circuit and track at the best level possible, with FIM homologation, and with the government of Santiago del Estero completely committed and involved in the project," said Carmelo Ezpeleta, who's CEO of MotoGP commercial rights-holder Dorna, per CNN's Jonathan Hawkins. "Argentina is a country that deserves to have MotoGP."
All eyes will be on defending champion Marc Marquez. He won the class in his debut season, so who knows what he has in store for an encore?
An interesting storyline to follow over the weekend will be track conditions. Marquez was one of the riders who ran into trouble with tires wearing down quickly, per David Emmett of MotoMatters.com:
Marquez told @BorjaGonzalezG that he sacrificed FP1 to save tires for FP2. Pedrosa probably did the same. Track is eating tires.— David Emmett (@motomatters) April 25, 2014
Here's a look at the full schedule for Saturday and Sunday's events.
|Saturday, April 26||1 p.m.||Moto3 FP3|
|1:55 p.m.||MotoGP FP3|
|2:55 p.m.||Moto2 FP3|
|4:35 p.m.||Moto3 QP|
|5:30 p.m.||MotoGP FP4|
|6:10 p.m.||MotoGP Q1|
|6:35 p.m.||MotoGP Q2|
|7:05 p.m.||Moto2 QP|
|Sunday, April 27||12:40 a.m.||Moto3 WUP|
|1:10 p.m.||Moto2 WUP|
|1:40 p.m.||MotoGP WUP|
|3 p.m.||Moto3 RAC|
|4:20 p.m.||Moto2 RAC|
|6 p.m.||MotoGP RAC|
A live stream of the races and practices is available on MotoGP.com. The races are shown live in the U.K. on BT Sport 2, which you can also stream on the BT Sport app. In the U.S., fans can tune in on Fox Sports 1 and stream the event on Fox Sports Go.
Riders to Watch
Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda
Over a decade has passed since Valentino Rossi won the first three races of the season. The Italian star went a perfect 3-for-3 back in 2001.
Even if Marquez doesn't pull off the victory, he's already put himself in an entirely different category of young stars. Kevin Schwantz made the argument that Marquez defies any sort of comparison to past legends.
"I cannot think of anyone to compare him to right now. He will probably only end up being compared to Marc Marquez," he said, per FoxSports.com's Colin Young. "He is just getting faster and nothing fazes him and, until he does something that hurts him, nothing will faze him."
There's no reason to think the 21-year-old will slow down this weekend.
If his practice round on Friday is any indication, Marquez will continue his blistering start to 2014 with yet another victory:
Or maybe he can let someone else have the fun this time.
Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati
After moving to Ducati last year, Andrea Dovizioso struggled to find a groove. He never fared better than fourth in any race throughout the entire 2013 campaign en route to an eighth-place finish in the standings.
Only two races into 2014, Dovizioso has already earned his first podium of the season, finishing third in the Grand Prix of Americas.
The 28-year-old Italian didn't have much luck on Friday, however. He blew an engine early on in the second free practice. Dovizioso recovered well, though, getting on his backup bike and posting the fifth-best time of the round.
Dovizioso remains confident that the track will slow the riders down, if not possibly create some tire problems, per MotoGP.com:
For sure the times will drop tomorrow, but we all have a big problem with tyre wear and at the moment it’s difficult to do 25 laps at the right pace. I hope the track conditions improve tomorrow. I set my time on a soft tyre, because when I was using the hard tyre I had a problem with the engine and had to change bikes.
This weekend would be a great time for Dovizioso to get that elusive first win under the Ducati banner.
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda
You have to feel somewhat for Dani Pedrosa. He's run well so far this year, finishing third in Qatar and second in the U.S. Like Cal Naughton Jr., Pedrosa appears stuck behind his wildly successful teammate, staring at a glass ceiling, at least for the time being.
Over the last few years, the 28-year-old has been one of the most consistent drivers on the circuit. Since entering the MotoGP class in 2006, he's never finished lower than fifth, and that was in his debut season. Since then, Pedrosa has three second-place finishes and three third-place finishes to his name.
He's already hit the ground running in 2014, and with his strong run during Friday's practices, you can bet that Pedrosa will vying for the lead with his teammate. Don't be surprised if it's another Repsol Honda one-two finish.