The riders all upped their game as the second day of the MotoGP test at Qatar neared its final hour, and riders start clocking off. Maverick Viñales remains quickest, having improved his time by half a second, and lapping under Jorge Lorenzo's pole time from last March. Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi took a big step forward, the veteran taking second spot and closing to within three tenths of a second.
There have been few changes in the timesheets at Qatar with two hours of the second day left. Maverick Viñales leads as before, from Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo. Scott Redding has entered the top ten, jumping up into seventh spot.
The big news was Ducati rolling out their aerodynamics at last. Once again, their package is different from everyone else, a large loop on either side of the nose of the bike. No feedback on how it works yet, but the riders will surely be asked about it later tonight.
Testing is underway again at Qatar, for the second day of the final preseason test. The first two hours of the test were wasted as usual, as the teams judged that there was no point in going out on a scorching hot track during daylight, and so waited for the sun to set. The only exceptions were the usual suspects: KTM's Mika Kallio and Bradley Smith, both with a lot of work to do.
At Sepang, after losing so much time to the weather during the shakedown test ahead of the official test, Ducati boss Gigi Dall'Igna said that there was no point using Sepang as a test circuit, if the surface was not going to dry. "Maybe we have to test somewhere else," he said.
Now MotoGP is somewhere else. At Qatar, where the rain is never a concern (well, almost never), and the teams don't have to worry about the track not drying up. But arguably, the teams get even less track time at Qatar than they do at Sepang, even when it rains. The test starts at 4pm, with the fierce Arabian sun still beating down on the track. Sunset is two hours later, and it takes a while for the track to cool to the normal temperatures which will be found at the race.
Track temperatures are fine after dark, at least for a few hours. Around 10pm, an hour before the track closes, the dew starts to form. The time at which it starts tends to vary, depending on temperature and humidity, but it is very rarely before 11pm. Invisible damp patches on the track mean riders start to crash without warning. The sensible riders wait for the unlucky riders to crash, then take that as a signal to scurry back to their garages and call it a day.
Press releases from the teams after the first day of the MotoGP test at Qatar:
Andrea Dovizioso sets the pace on the opening day of MotoGP testing in Qatar, with Jorge Lorenzo not far off in fifth at the Losail circuit
With the evening dew setting in shortly after 10pm, there were no improvements to the times in the last hour of the MotoGP test at Qatar. There were several crashes, and most of the grid called it a night.
Times at the end of Day 1 at Qatar:
With an hour of the first day of the MotoGP test at Qatar to go, the Ducatis have taken over at the top of the timesheets. Andrea Dovizioso is already under Jorge Lorenzo's race lap record, set here last year, and is over a third of a second clear of the field. Maverick Viñales is currently second on the Movistar Yamaha, a quarter of a second ahead of Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda.
While the Moto2 bikes were still circulating in Jerez, the MotoGP riders took to the track in Qatar, for the final preseason test of the year. With the test starting at 4pm local time, while the sun is still up and the track is still scorching, only the KTMs took to the track, with a lot of testing parts to get through.
At 7:30pm, the track had seen plenty of action, with everyone having circulated (the only rider missing being Hector Barbera, still recovering from a broken collarbone). Marc Marquez was fast from the off, swapping places with Maverick Viñales before seizing control. Dani Pedrosa is currently second, nearly half a second off the pace of Marquez, while Jorge Lorenzo is back up to speed on the Ducati, helped by a track which he loves and which suits the bike. Big surprise is Aleix Espargaro in fourth, the Aprilia obviously working well.
The testing season is nearly done. The MotoGP grid assembles in Qatar for three final days of testing, in preparation for the season ahead. Much has already been done, but there is still a lot of work to get through. Every factory, every team, every rider has things they want to try, in the hope of improving their chances in 2017. In most cases, those are just minor details, the nuances and finesses which will give hundredths of a second, not tenths.
But not always. There are always a couple of last-minute gambles to take, big ticket items which need one last decision. At Qatar this year, it is Honda's turn to make a big decision, on which spec of engine to use for the season. They tested one spec at Valencia, then another one at Sepang and Phillip Island, and at a one-day private test at Jerez.
It looks like they have made their decision, to go with the revised big bang engine tested for the first time at Sepang. But the cool air and hard acceleration of Qatar will be the deciding factor. To double check, they will be bringing an extra engine to give to Jack Miller, the Marc VDS Honda rider, who has so far only used the Valencia engine. If the Repsol riders, LCR's Cal Crutchlow, and Jack Miller all agree, then HRC will pull the trigger on their latest engine, and race with it in 2017.
The 2017 MotoGP calendar is now officially confirmed. The FIM removed the provisional status of the calendar after Dorna finalized contracts with the two remaining circuits still left with an asterisk, Silverstone and Sepang.
The situation with Sepang had been settled earlier, with Sepang keen to retain a MotoGP race for the long term. Sepang has grown to become one of the best-attended races on the calendar. So large are the crowds that they now easily outnumber attendance for F1, which the circuit is trying to drop.