Valencia. The Circuit Ricardo Tormo. The finale of the 2016 MotoGP season.
Not only that, but it was also the last time we would see many of the riders on their current machines or even in MotoGP for the time being.
One of those riders was Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo would leave Yamaha after the weekend and join Ducati. He clearly had a point to prove right from the outset, putting in some fast times. In qualifying, he would break the track record multiple times and become the first rider ever in to the 1:29’s around the Valencia circuit. The race was not much different as Lorenzo pulled away from the chasing pack. No one could touch him on the day, he was the perfect example of smooth, text book riding, and he was fast!
It was the perfect way to say goodbye to his team at Yamaha after somewhat of a disappointing season, finishing behind teammate Valentino Rossi and Championship winner, Marc Marquez. Although still technically contracted to Yamaha until the end of the year, Lorenzo began testing with Ducati this week for the 2017 season. (A small Ducati logo causing some controversy). Lorenzo took to the Ducati pretty quickly, finding some good pace throughout the two days of testing. I don’t think he is going to struggle as much as some people may think. His riding style, for me, may just get the best out of the Ducati.
The second biggest departure of the weekend came in the form of the future ‘Alien’, Maverick Vinales. Vinales made headlines as he was announced as the replacement for Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha earlier this year. Maverick has had a stand out season on a bike that is still being developed to reach the standards of the Yamaha’s, Honda’s and Ducati’s. He managed a brilliant fourth overall in the championship, even having the chance to take third spot from Lorenzo at the finale. In the weekends race, Vinales took fifth place in his final race onboard the Suzuki. He mentioned after the race that he was a bit disappointed as he expected more. Frankly, I think, it’s a brilliant result when you can clearly see the difference in performance between the bikes. Nothing against the Suzuki, it really is becoming a very competitive machine, but it took a top rider like Vinales to get the best out of it and to stay in the fight with the other top bikes.
Vinales said an emotional goodbye to the Suzuki and then swung his leg over the Yamaha M1 for testing. Straight out the blocks he was fast. He topped the time sheets for both days of testing and even went on to clock a 1:29, while Lorenzo looked on. Weather or not this was expected is a debate that many are having. I definitely expected it from him, I will go as far as to say, he is my favourite for the title next year!
Another move involving Suzuki was that of new arrival Andrea Iannone.
Suzuki may have lost a top talent in Maverick Vinales however, they also gained a top talent in Iannone. The 2016 season may have not gone the way Iannone had planned but he certainly impressed along the way with some top class rides. The Ducati is known to be a tough beast to tame, crashes were bound to happen, but even still, Iannone pulled some real quality performances out of the Ducati. Although his win in Austria was the stand out performance, Iannone’s best ride of the season came at the finale in Valencia, according to me. A podium to end his career at Ducati, turning heads and certainly getting some thinking that Ducati may have lost out.
This thought was only made more prominent by Iannone’s performances in testing onboard the Suzuki.
Iannone adapted quickly to the Suzuki, getting down in to the 1:31’s by the end of the first day of testing. On the second day, he was even quicker. He ended the final day of testing in fourth, just behind now former teammate, Andrea Dovizioso with a lap of 1:30.599. Watch out for Iannone next season, I think more victories are on the cards for Suzuki.
Aleix Espargaro moved over to his new machine. Aleix climed on board the Aprilia after leaving Suzuki this weekend, and by the end of of testing was in to the 1:30’s as well. Signs of things to come for Aprilia I hope.
Another great surprise from testing was newcomer, up from Moto2, Jonas Folger. Folger was able to join seasoned MotoGP riders in the 1:30’s, just ahead of new teammate at Tech 3 Yamaha, Moto2 champion, Johann Zarco.
New Suzuki rider and teammate to Andrea Iannone as of 2017, Alex Rins unfortunately could not finish the two days of testing after a crash that saw him sent to hospital and unable to return with a back injury.
Sam Lowes, another new recruit from Moto2, was unable to impress s his new teammate Aleix Espargaro did onboard the Aprilia.
The new kids on the block, Red Bull KTM, made slow progress with Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith coming over from Tech 3 Yamaha. There is still plenty of testing time left until the season gets underway. Let’s hope it’s enough time for the KTM’s to progress further and be really competitive next season. It would be a shame for two experienced and quality riders not to be up fighting for points on a regular basis.
Pull and Bear Aspar Ducati were another team with two new riders on board. Karel Abraham returning from World SuperBike and Alvaro Bautista, making the move over from Aprilia. Abraham lapping 1:32’s while Bautista impressed with 1:31’s on both days of testing.
With all the changes in MotoGP, next season will be an interesting one. It has a lot to live up to after the season of 9 winners we have just witnessed. A lot of riders are looking strong in the early stages of testing, could we see another record breaking season?
After the finale in Valencia, Moto2 and Moto3 moved on to Jerez for testing. The big news in Moto2 came in the form of KTM and the Sky VR46 racing teams. Francesco Bagnaia and Stefano Manzi on board the Sky VR46 bikes. Brad Binder and Miquel Oliveira will ride onboard the new KTM Moto2 bikes next season. The two, who were teammates at KTM in Moto3, join forces once again to launch the KTM attack. Much is expected of the two. Okay, so we don’t expect them to be challenging for the title right away, but both are extremely talented riders and KTM clearly hold both in high regard and they would seem to be the two that have been earmarked to take the KTM MotoGP seats in the coming years.
Binder ended off his title winning season in the perfect style, taking victory in his final Moto3 race. This after being dropped from second to twenty-second early on in the race.
Fabio Quartararo was among the new riders joining Moto2. He joins the Pons team. Quartararo left Moto3 behind after a rather disappointing season. He most certainly did not live up to expectation. His talent however is undeniable and it seems that many in MotoGP share this opinion.
Jorge Navarro was another big name move from Moto3 to Moto2. Navarro joined the Federal Oil Gresini team for testing after his final Moto3 ride.
Undoubtedly the biggest news in Moto3 was the return of Romano Fenati. The ‘bad boy’ of Moto3 was fired from the Sky VR46 racing team earlier this season after repeated bad behaviour. Fenati will return with the Ongetta team in 2017.
Of the few notable changes away from MotoGP after the final weekends action, Hugene Laverty, moved on from MotoGP to World SuperBike, while also playing the part of Aprilia test rider for MotoGP. Laverty was on board the Aprilia RS-GP at testing in Valencia before a brief break at home. He then set off for Jerez where he began testing for 2017 in World SuperBike with Aprilia.
Stefan Bradl was also in Jerez as he began his time in World SuperBike riding for Ten Kate Honda with new teammate and MotoGP Legend, Nicky Hayden.
This is my word on the goodbyes and new beginnings in MotoGP.