In three weeks' time, the 2013 season gets underway for all three Grand Prix classes, and motorcycle racing's winter will finally be over. Before that, there is a week of testing at Jerez, where first the Moto2 and Moto3 classes get their final run out on the track from Monday through Thursday, before MotoGP takes to the track on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Testing at Jerez may be affordable for GP's junior classes, but it does not come without risk. Moto2 and Moto3 tested at both Valencia and Jerez in February, and while conditions were sunny and dry, if a little cool at Valencia, the test at Jerez was very mixed indeed, with rain disrupting two of the three days of testing. This test looks just as likely to be disrupted by rain: while good weather is forecast for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, Tuesday looks like being a total washout.
That will leave the riders with two full days of dry testing - for some arcane reason, IRTA has decided to spread the three days of Moto2 and Moto3 testing over four days, with the test starting on Monday afternoon, and concluding on Thursday lunchtime. There is surely method to this madness, but unfortunately, IRTA does not have a press office, and so nobody to explain it. In the absence of an IRTA - the International Roadracing Teams Association, the official body representing the teams - press officer, the media are left to scratch their heads, speculate, and all too often, concoct explanations for themselves.
Despite the opaque organizational aspects, there is still much to be learned from both the Moto2 and Moto3 tests. The departure of Marc Marquez for MotoGP leaves Pol Espargaro looking like a virtual shoe-in for the 2013 Moto2 title, but it may be a fraction premature to be penciling the Spaniard's name on the trophy. The Tuenti HP 40 rider is clearly fast - and going by the timesheets from the first Jerez test, relatively consistently so - and 2012 showed that he can race well enough, but he will face stiff competition nonetheless. The new combined weight rule - instead of having a minimum weight for the bike in Moto2, now, bike and rider in full leathers must weigh a minimum of 215kg in total - will even up the playing field a little, and while Espargaro will be affected only slightly (the added weight of the TV cameras should be enough to put him over the legal minimum), it will give heavier riders such as Scott Redding a better chance of competing. Not so much because it closes the gap to Espargaro, but because Redding expects to find far fewer lighter riders between himself and the front after qualifying.
Redding has proven that he, too, can be competitive under the new Moto2 weight regime, but with this test once again at Jerez, there are still questions over some of the other riders. Both Nico Terol and Julian Simon have been fast during testing, but both men have been riding at tracks they know and love. Terol, in particular, is blisteringly fast in Spain, but less so outside of his mother country, leaving observers wondering just how much of his speed at (especially) Valencia and Jerez is real, how much is track preference.
The day of rain expected will not be lost on the Moto2 crowd, as it gives the Kalex riders another chance to test out the wet weather performance of the German Moto2 machine. In 2012, Kalex riders struggled in the wet, while the Suter appeared to perform well in wet, dry and mixed conditions. That situation appears to have improved so far in 2013, with Kalex riders being much faster in the rain-hit sessions at Jerez. But with Jerez being an unusual track - providing much more grip in the wet - what is really needed is some half-wet, half-dry greasy conditions to truly test the improvement.
Of keen interest in Moto3 will be which of the Spanish KTM riders has the upper hands. So far, Maverick Viñales has been quickest during testing, but there has been little to choose between the JHK Laglisse rider, Luis Salom and Axel Rins. Rins, in particular, has impressed, quickly upping the pace in his second season of Moto3, and showing he can be a front runner this year.
While there is a trio of Spaniards at the front - and a trio of KTMs - there could be more intrigue a little further down the field. The Honda engines are down on power compared to the KTMs, though the FTR bikes have traditionally been the better handling of the Moto3 machines. The FTR Hondas will have company from the Suter Hondas and the Suter-built Mahindras in 2013, though all of them will need more horsepower to compete. That will also make for a more diverse group at the front, with Italians Romano Fenati and Francesco Bagnaia, the Australian Jack Miller, Britons Danny Webb and John McPhee, and the Portuguese rider Miguel Oliveira.
We will know more about the state of play in the classes once the Moto2 and Moto3 men - and woman, with Ana Carrasco so far making a convincing debut in the Moto3 class, though Spanish insiders say that the cause of female riders will be more fully served once Maria Herrera enters the series, probably in 2014 - once the testing ends on Thursday. The day after, we will know one of the more eagerly anticipated secrets of MotoGP, with Yamaha due to unveil its 2013 livery at Jerez, and then three days of MotoGP testing follows, at which the pecking order set at Sepang will either be confirmed or destroyed. First, though, the support classes strut their stuff. The season is not far away now.