Marc Marquez stormed to his first win of the 2016 MotoGP season in Argentina on Sunday as defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo crashed out early on.
Marquez arrived in Argentina looking to build on his second place finish in Qatar two weeks ago, having endured a torrid pre-season with Honda.
The Spaniard took pole position with relative ease on Saturday despite crashing in Q2, but the biggest talking point came courtesy of a tire failure for British rider Scott Redding.
Concerns about the rear Michelin tire compounds in Argentina prompted the stewards to enforce mandatory bike swaps and reduce the race distance from 25 to 20 laps.
The opening laps featured a spirited fight for the lead between Marquez, Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and the Ducati duo of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso, with Marquez eventually hitting the front on lap three.
Lorenzo quickly began to struggle, dropping down the order before suffering a fall at Turn 1 that left his Yamaha bike with damage, forcing him to retire from the race.
Up front, Marquez and Rossi diced for the lead before heading into the pits to swap their bikes at half distance, with mere tenths of a second separating them.
However, Rossi began to struggle with his second bike, allowing Marquez to slip up the road and establish a lead that he would see through to the checkered flag.
“I’m really happy with this win because we’ve worked very, very hard during the pre-season, in Qatar and here,” Marquez said.
“Honda is working very well and I feel the support; we’re going in the same direction, and that’s the most important thing.
“It’s a special win, not only because it’s the first one of the year but also because with the team, we managed the situation very well, and after what happened in Australia on a similar occasion [in 2013 when he was disqualified for mistiming his mandatory bike swap], it was important for us to do well.
“I knew that the first part of the race would be tough because it was still damp in some places, and with the first bike I hadn’t felt as good as with the other one even during practice. I knew that the second part of the race was the key.
“I pushed 100% in the first five laps after the bike change, I opened a gap and after that I just kept the distance.”
Rossi became embroiled in a close fight for second and third with Dovizioso and Iannone in the closing stages, with the Ducati riders leading him heading onto the final lap.
However, Iannone lost control at Turn 12, crashing into his teammate and sending both into the gravel to allow Rossi a free pass up into second place. Dovizioso got his bike going again to cross the line 13th, but Iannone was recorded as a retirement.
Dani Pedrosa also benefitted to finish third for Honda ahead of surprise package Eugene Laverty in fourth and Hector Barbera in fifth. Pol Espargaro finished sixth ahead of Stefan Bradl and Bradley Smith, while Tito Rabat and Alvaro Bautista rounded out the top 10.
The next MotoGP race takes place at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas on April 10.