Analysis

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Round Up, Part 2: Suzuki, Rookies, Aprilia, KTM, And Tire Talk

While Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez emerged from the Sepang tests as clear favorites, with Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, and Andrea Dovizioso close behind, Andrea Iannone established himself as a genuine dark horse. The Italian was fastest on Tuesday, and left the test as second quickest behind Viñales.

Iannone has inherited a bike that is already well developed, and Suzuki brought engine upgrades to Sepang which got them even closer to the front. It was telling that Iannone did not spend much time testing parts, but rather focusing on race set up and working on extracting maximum performance from a used tire.

Tires were a bit of a problem for Iannone on the last day of the test. He crashed three times, including once as he was attempting a long run, the front washing out at Turn 1. The issue proved to be a vibration in low speed corners. "I have a small vibration in the slow corners," Iannone said. "In the fast corner the bike is perfect. There is no vibration, no chattering. But in the slow corner, especially in turns four, nine, 14 and the last corner, we have a small vibration at maximum lean angle." That vibration got worse as the tires became more worn.

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Round Up, Part 1: 93 vs 25, Yamaha, Ducati, Honda & More

What did we learn from the Sepang MotoGP test? More than we thought we would on Sunday night. The forecast was grim: plenty of sporadic rain and a track that wouldn't dry quickly promised three wasted days. But by the time the teams packed up on Wednesday night, after nearly a full day of testing, Sepang had turned out to be both productive and instructive.

After three days of testing it is clear just how close the field is this season. The top ten riders are separated by just four tenths of a second. Sixteen riders are within a second, from Maverick Viñales in first to Hector Barbera in sixteenth. The top four riders are on four different manufacturers, less than two tenths apart, and there is a good mix of manufacturers throughout the top of the timesheets.

The two exceptions are Aprilia and KTM, but there is hope for them too. Aprilia have made huge strides last year - Aleix Espargaro is thirteenth, 0.740 behind Viñales, and two whole seconds closer to the front than Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista were at the same test last year – and now basically just lack horsepower. KTM are in their first season in MotoGP, but are already closer at Sepang than Suzuki were at their first Sepang test in 2015. The level in MotoGP is now unbelievably high, and unbelievably close.

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Tuesday Round Up: Fast Riders And Warthog Winglets

What looked like a wasted day quickly turned around at Sepang. Tuesday started wet, the streets and circuit taking a while to dry after Monday evening's torrential rain. Sepang's weakness was once again exposed: the track took a long time to dry, wet patches remaining on the track for several hours. It was not until 1pm that a few riders started to venture out, and by 2pm, the track was full with riders trying to make up for valuable lost time.

Some riders made use of the conditions, as far from ideal as they were. Jorge Lorenzo put in ten laps in the wet, and Johann Zarco put in eight laps. The reason? To help build confidence, for Lorenzo in the wet, for Zarco, to try to figure out what a MotoGP bike is capable of.

Zarco rode a pair of wet tires to destruction, feeling how the soft, moving rubber exaggerated every movement of the bike. It served as a sort of magnifying glass for how a MotoGP bike behaves, amplifying the feedback and making it much clearer to fully understand, Zarco explained. By the end of the run, he had learned a lot, and made a massive step forward.

How much difference had it made? When the red lights came on for the end of the session, Zarco's name was still fifth on the timesheets, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider less than a tenth behind Valentino Rossi, and half a second behind Maverick Viñales in second. The Frenchman had found a way of understanding where the limits lay, without pushing himself over the edge.

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Monday Round Up: The Flying Fisherman, And Lorenzo Learning To Brake Again

On a normal day, the fastest rider at the end of a day of testing is paraded proudly in front of the press, and given his chance to explain what a good job the team and manufacturer was doing, how they were not really pushing for a lap time, and feign a certain modesty while privately gloating at how they crushed their rivals.

But this was not a normal day. The fastest man in Sepang on Monday slipped out of the circuit in virtual anonymity. After all, he is merely a test rider, and test riders don't usually talk to the media. We journalists, snobs that we are, don't waste our precious time on test riders.

In this case, however, it was not the media not wanting to talk to the test rider, it was the test rider not wanting to speak to the media. One of the reasons Casey Stoner retired from racing was because he was sick of the media circus, of spending his life living out of a suitcase and answering stupid and prying questions from idiots like me. But he still loves challenging himself on a MotoGP bike, and trying to see just how fast he can go. And Ducati are happy to pay him handsomely for the privilege. After Monday, who can blame them?

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Preview - Happy Days Are Here Again

In a few hours time, the grandstands at the Sepang International Circuit will echo with the booming assault of MotoGP machines being pushed to their limits. The entire MotoGP grid has assembled for the first test of the preseason, meaning that the 2017 MotoGP season is about to get underway, at last.

That, at least, is the plan. The reality is that the grandstands may echo only to the sporadic rasp of a MotoGP bike being warmed up, and the occasional intrepid test rider being sent out to test conditions. The resurfaced Sepang continues to be plagued by drainage problems, water remaining on the track for a long time. In high humidity, relatively low track temperatures and without the burning tropical sun, the water left by unusually heavy rains is not evaporating. Parts of the track remain wet all day, making it impossible to push the bikes to the limit, and very risky to try.

Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio expressed the concerns shared by most teams. "You never know how many hours you can test, because the track remains wet for a long time. And if it rains a lot in the evening, maybe you have to wait a long time in the morning. So it's a little bit of a question mark now, how much you can test."

Sepang Pre-Test Wraps Up: What's In The Box, Gigi?

More factories racing means more factories testing. The usual one or two day shakedown test ahead of the first official MotoGP test of the year organized by IRTA has expanded this year to become much more than that. All six MotoGP factories are present with test riders – Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, KTM, Suzuki, Yamaha – as well as a couple of factories testing Superbike machines ahead of the 2017 season. The reason? The more factory teams there are, the cheaper the cost per factory to rent the circuit, and the more time they get preparing for next week's test.

Jerez WorldSBK Test: Nicky Hayden And Stefan Bradl On The New Honda

Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl had their first experience of the all new for 2017 Honda Fireblade on the opening day of the Jerez test, and it was clear that there is still plenty of work to be done by the Ten Kate squad to get the bikes ready for the start of the season.

Jerez WorldSBK Test: Eugene Laverty On His First Day Back On The Aprilia

It's been a turbulent 12 months for Shaun Muir Racing. Their much touted move to WorldSBK in 2016, as reigning British Superbike champions, proved to be an exceptionally trying campaign that ended with infighting between the team and their lead rider, Josh Brookes. Armed with the BMW S1000RR, expectations were high for the British squad but ultimately they struggled to find a consistent balance, and the season and their relations with the German manufacturer petered out.

Ducati's MotoGP Launch: A New Rider, A New Engine, And A New V4 Superbike

From one presentation to another. Having the Movistar Yamaha and Ducati Factory team launches on consecutive days made it a little too easy to make comparisons between the two. There was much complaining on social media about the fact that large parts of the Yamaha presentation were in Spanish only, causing the international audience watching the live streaming to lose interest.

Ducati's approach was better: while everything in the presentation was in Italian, there was simultaneous translation available on the live stream, so those following could hear it in English. That was no good to us in the hall, of course, though we would find out later that there had been headsets available with the live translation available. But nobody had thought to tell us about that, of course. Still, we got to practice our racing Italian, a necessity (along with racing Spanish) for those who work in MotoGP.

There was not much to complain about the location. Just as last year, the launch took place at the Ducati factory in Borgo Panigale, just west of Bologna. The auditorium is not much to write home about – a dark room with a stage – but journalists and guests were welcomed in the Ducati museum, a glorious place filled with Ducati history and a lot of racing past. If you are heading to Mugello or Misano, a visit to the museum is highly recommended.

What We Learned From The 2017 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Launch

Yamaha have kicked off the 2017 MotoGP season. The Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team were the first to present their bike, their riders, their team, and most importantly, their sponsors and color scheme to the world.

Launches being what they are – a show primarily put on for the benefit of their sponsors – there was nothing radical to see. The bikes on display had been painted in the correct colors – the Yamaha blue a little darker, the Movistar M a lot bigger, Monster's sponsorship being visually demoted a little further, the green claw M looking a little too much like Movistar's M – but they were not the actual 2017 bikes, the eagle-eyed MotoGP technical blogger Manziana spotted.

That is unsurprising, if a little disappointing. It makes little sense for Yamaha to fly new bikes halfway around the world from Japan to Spain just to put them on display, then pack them up again to fly them back to Sepang for the tests. More disappointing is the news broken by GPOne.com, that Ducati are to present what is basically a GP16 in 2017 colors.

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