It’s back! Can you even believe it? It feels like it’s been forever, well it kind of has been. The 2017 MotoGP season is truly underway with the first official test of 2017 that took place this past weekend in Sepang. Sneaking some of the footage where I could during work (don’t tell anyone), I began to think; “What did I ever do without MotoGP, how did I survive the past few months?”
So, what did we learn from the test? Well, first of all, I learned just how much I missed MotoGP, and I realized again just how much I love this sport! I’m sure I am not alone on that.
We saw the riders return to their team colors, both old and new liveries. We saw some of the riders in their new team colors since jumping ship from their previous employers. The new contracts now allowing them to officially be seen representing their new brands for a time, but now following on from their official team launches, they are in all color and on track!
On track we learned that Marquez is quick, Iannone is quicker, but Maverick Vinales is yet again, for the second test in a row on board his new Yamaha, consistently the quickest.
Casey Stoner proved that he obviously still has ‘it’. He went quickest on the first day of testing and was still right up there in the end, after not running on the second day. Maybe not all of us wish he was still racing, but I definitely do. He is a seriously exciting rider. Just imagine the battles between Rossi, Stoner, Marquez, Lorenzo, Vinales, Iannone, Dovizioso and Pedrosa. It would be Moto3 level ‘epicness’!
We then had the matter of the rookies, but just hold on a moment. A certain Alvaro Bautista decided to show the young guns a thing or two about riding a MotoGP machine. The now MotoGP veteran, having ridden for pretty much every manufacturer on the grid, proved a point or two on board his new machine, the Pull and Bear Aspar Ducati. Bautista ended the three-day test in 7th overall. His time of 1:59.628 left him 0.260 seconds off of Valentino Rossi in 6th. With only six riders ahead of him, all on factory machines and most members of the ‘Alien’ club, it was definitely impressive going from Alvaro.
Back to the rookies. Johann Zarco finished the test as the top rookie on-board the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 machine. The reigning double Moto2 champion finished 11th overall and was the only rookie to break the 2-minute mark.
Zarco was followed by Alex Rins in 12th. Rins was impressive, especially since he is still recovering from the injury he sustained in the Valencia test crash. Rins best time was 0.689 seconds off Vinales at the top, showing he has what it takes after a quick step up to MotoGP. With an ever improving factory Suzuki under him, mixed with his undoubted talent, it will be very interesting to follow his progress. Can you say the next Vinales?
Aleix Espargaro showed that Aprilia seem to finally be coming along, although Sam Lowes is disappointing me somewhat. Overall, I’m not sure what to make of it all. The KTM’s are getting there slowly. They have improved but still have a long way to go. It’s been an exciting build up to their entry to the MotoGP paddock, however, I see a tough road ahead for Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, for the first season at least. With a team like KTM though, with the experience they have in Moto3, they could surprise us in the near future. I wouldn’t put it past them.
I was also rather disappointed with Danilo Petrucci. He won the battle with Scott Redding for the GP17 but is yet to set a really good pace, not the kind of pace that is expected on board a Ducati GP17. Then again, he did miss the Valencia test and has not had much time on the bike besides for a short test in Jerez. He has made a big step up from the GP15 to the GP17, so given the time to adjust, I am sure he will be another rider to watch very closely. Let’s talk again when the Philip Island test comes round.
So where was Lorenzo in all of this? His first ride in official Ducati colors was among, if not the most anticipated of the test. He started off slowly to say the least. He was nowhere near the top on the first day, languishing in 17th. He improved slowly, but precisely as is expected of Lorenzo, on the second day and then further on the third day. He eventually finished the test in 10th overall, also breaking the 2-minute mark. Not the Rossi type struggles that many hoped, but steady improvement that Lorenzo fans will be happy with, knowing all too well what the man is capable of. Let us also remember that the Ducati riders are getting used to life without winglets for down-force. Casey Stoner commented on just how much effect that has had on the Ducati and said that it was one of the big focuses of the test for the team.
Vale was, as always, up near the top. He looked solid all the while being blown out the water by his new Spanish teammate, The Maverick. Okay maybe, blown out the water is a bit of an overstatement.
Yamaha showed the world their new innovation with the new fat fairings, housing winglets underneath the fairing. It seemed to have some good effect and is bound to be something we see going around the paddock soon. Other teams are rumored to be working on their own wing solutions already, but may only release them in Qatar.
The two outstanding performances of the test for me were undoubtedly that of Andrea Iannone and Maverick Vinales. Iannone cracked a magnificent 1:59.452 on day two. As I have already been asking; could he be the signing of the season? Have Suzuki pulled off a brilliant move? Iannone is certainly adding fuel to that fiery question. Maverick Vinales on the other hand, may have other intentions. He finished his second consecutive official test on top of the pile. 3rd on the first day, 2nd on the day two and 1st on the final day. His best time and best time of the weekend of 1:59.368, leaving more people believing, this could be his season.
All that being said, it is after all, just testing. There is a lot more going on than just pushing for the top time. There is a lot of technical changes happening continuously, and all sorts more going on behind the scenes to improve and develop the bikes further. It is however, a good indication of the potential of the riders, and if it is to carry on in this fashion, we could be in for another record breaking season.
My word on the Sepang MotoGP test.
Feature image credit: MotoGP Facebook page.
Other images credit: Moto gp fan page, Michelin and crash.net