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2017 Qatar MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Rain, An Unbeatable Viñales, And Weird Aero

Racing is back. No more messing about trying to extrapolate data points from testing to hypothetical performance on race weekends. This is a race weekend. Now, we have actual data from free practice to extrapolate data points from to hypothetical performance during the actual race. Yes, it sounds identical, yet it is subtly different. There are only three more sessions of free practice, qualifying, and then the warm up before the race. No more engine updates, no time to test new parts. Only time to nail down a decent set up and give it everything you've got, or "my 100%", as non-native English speakers like to say.

The MotoGP field were lucky to get a session of free practice in. The weather in Qatar has been extremely unstable, and storms keep blowing in and out of the peninsula. The possibility of rain has caused a bevy of emergency measures to be taken. Previously, racing in the wet had been regarded as impossible, due to the reflection of the floodlights on the wet surface, but last month, FIM and Dorna safety representatives Franco Uncini and Loris Capirossi did some laps of the track at night.

Capirossi and Uncini decided that the track as safe enough to ride, even in the wet. But the race would only happen if the riders had all had time on a wet track under the floodlights, to judge the situation for themselves. "[Capirossi] has been behind a car," Cal Crutchlow said on Wednesday. "But it's different when there are 23 people on the grid. A lot more can happen."

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2017 Qatar Moto2 FP2 Result: Bagnaia Leads Second Session

Pecco Bagnaia has topped the timesheets in only his second ever free practice session in the Moto2 class. The Sky VR46 rider put in a late charge to dislodge Taka Nakagami from the top of the timesheets, who just inched ahead of Fabio Quartararo. With Bagnaia and Quartararo in first and third, that puts two of the Moto2 rookies in the top three.

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2017 Qatar Moto3 FP2 Result: Bendsneyder Leads Bulega

Bo Bendsneyder has topped the timesheets in the second session of practice for the Moto3 class. The lanky Dutchman put in a fast lap towards the end of the session that would not be challenged at the end, in conditions which were significantly more difficult than FP1, the wind having picked up significantlly.

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2017 Qatar MotoGP FP1 Result: Viñales Destroys The Field

Maverick Viñales has not just picked up where he left off during testing, but picked it up a notch as well. The Movistar Yamaha rider led for most of the session, only relinquishing top spot for a few minutes towards the end of the session as the other riders started chasing a fast lap. But as the final minutes ticked away, Viñales laid down a couple of punishing laps, to seize control of the session. His fastest lap wa sa 1'54.319, a hundredth of a second faster than his best lap at the test in Qatar two weeks ago.

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2017 Qatar Moto2 FP1 Result: Luthi Edges Nakagami

Tom Luthi has made good on his status as Moto2 championship favorite, ending the first session of free practice for the intermediate class at Qatar. Luthi led a very close field, Taka Nakagami ending second, just eight hundredths of a second behind Luthi, and less than six hundredths ahead of Miguel Oliveira on the KTM. 

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2017 Qatar Moto3 FP1 Result: Oettl Takes First Blood

Despite the threat of poor weather, the 2017 season has got underway at Qatar on a dry track and with no threat of rain, as yet. The Moto3 riders were the first to take to the track, with KTM rider Bo Bendsneyder leading for most of the session. The Dutchman was only bounced from the top of the standings at the very end, when first Joan Mir, and then Phillip Oettl took over at the top.

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2017 MotoGP Preview: Part 4 - The Five Rookies, Folger, Zarco, Rins, Lowes ... And KTM

2017 sees arguably the strongest group of rookies to enter the MotoGP class in a very long time. Perhaps only 2006 was stronger, when Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa moved up to MotoGP, along with Randy De Puniet and Chris Vermeulen. There have been plenty of promising riders (some of whom have lived up to that promise) moved up in the past, but it has been a while since so many of them, all equally strong, entered MotoGP at the same time.

Will Alex Rins, Johann Zarco, Jonas Folger, or Sam Lowes match the achievements of Stoner or Pedrosa, Márquez or Lorenzo? It is far too early to tell. But testing has only confirmed the pedigree of the four newcomers. They were all fast in Moto2, racking up a total of 25 wins between them, and they have been quick during the preseason. There is no doubt these four are an exciting addition to the MotoGP grid.

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2017 MotoGP Preview: Part 3 - The Unknown Unknowns

When former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made his comments about "known knowns and unknown unknowns" in 2002, he was widely ridiculed for producing what seemed like incomprehensible gibberish. Yet since his appearance at a press conference on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, the phrases he coined that day have demonstrated their usefulness, being employed in an ever greater array of contexts.

Rumsfeld's phrase fits remarkably well with the 2017 MotoGP grid as well. The three categories apply just as well to different groups of riders on the grid. We have the "known knowns" of the Aliens, riders who are guaranteed to win races. We have the "known unknowns", the wildcards such as Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso who could easily stage a surprise.

Then you have the "unknown unknowns", a group of riders for whom any result would be imaginable. Given the events of last year, any one of them could end up on the podium, or even winning a race. But they are just as likely to finish outside the points, or anywhere in between. There is no way of knowing on Thursday night where any of these riders might finish on Sunday.

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2017 MotoGP Preview: Part 2, Nearly Alien - Dovizioso, Iannone, Crutchlow, Bautista

There is some resistance to talk of there being "Aliens" in MotoGP. Why, fans ask, should we regard these riders as so very different from the other riders on the grid? In previous years, the answer to that objection was simple. Of the 143 MotoGP races held between 2008 and 2015, only two had been won by someone other other than the riders regarded as MotoGP Aliens. In 2009, Andrea Dovizioso won the British Grand Prix at Donington Park. And in 2011, Ben Spies won the Dutch TT at Assen. At both races, the weather conditions were a factor.

2016 put an end to that objection. Last season, there were a record-breaking nine winners in eighteen races. Andrea Dovizioso won his second race (and nearly won a third). Cal Crutchlow won two in the same season, one in the wet, one in the dry. Does that mean there are now more Aliens? Or does it invalidate the term altogether?

2017 is going to muddy the waters on the term Alien even further. Yes, there are five riders who can be expected to win a race every time they turn up at a track. But there are three or four others who are just as likely to spring a surprise and win a race this season. Nobody would expect them to win six or seven races, but neither would anyone be surprised if they were to win one race each. If they are not quite Aliens, what then shall we call them? MotoGP's astronauts?

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Suzuki Press Release: Suzuki Technical Boss Ken Kawauchi On The GSX-RR

The Suzuki ECSTAR MotoGP team issued the following interesting interview with Ken Kawauchi, technical boss of the Suzuki MotoGP project. He describes the direction of development Suzuki has taken with the GSX-RR MotoGP machine over the winter:


KEN KAWAUCHI SUZUKI ECSTAR BLOG
Team Suzuki Press Office – March 21.

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR MotoGP™ Technical Manager Ken Kawauchi talks about the work done on the GSX-RR during the winter development, the pre-season testing and his expectations for the 2017 MotoGP season.

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