The FIM today issued a revised and updated version of the provisional 2017 MotoGP calendar. The calendar features just a single change: the date of the German round of MotoGP at the Sachsenring has been moved forward two weeks, and will now take place on 2nd July.
Valencia may be the last race of the season for most MotoGP racers, but it is not for Valentino Rossi. The Italian always has one final event to compete in before the winter break. As a keen rally fan, Rossi always takes part in the Monza Rally, an exhibition race in which many top stars from several different two- and four-wheeled disciplines compete.
As it is an event which takes place entirely on four wheels, I do not cover it on MotoMatters.com, a website devoted entirely to racing on two wheels. (Indeed, so little do I care for four wheels that I have not owned a car for nearly 15 years, relying solely on motorcycles for transport.) However, as the Monza Rally takes place in a more informal atmosphere, there is a chance for Rossi, and some of the others around him, to speak a little more freely.
Our friends over at GPOne.com did go along to the Monza Rally, and provided very full coverage of the event. They used that opportunity to speak to Valentino Rossi, as well as Yamaha team boss Maio Meregalli and Rossi's friend and Sky VR46 team boss Uccio Salucci about the way the private Yamaha test at Sepang had gone, and how Maverick Viñales had been received in the team. Those conversations revealed some fascinating insights.
With just ten days to go until the winter test ban comes in to force, on 1st December, teams in both world championships are busy doing their last tests and collecting as much data as possible to take into the winter break.
Testing is already happening on Monday, with some of the WorldSBK teams gathering in Jerez. Kawasaki, the SMR Aprilia squad, Althea BMW and Ten Kate (soon to be Red Bull) Honda are at the Jerez circuit, though the wet weather means there is little going on on track. Ten Kate are without Nicky Hayden, who has twisted his knee while practice dirt track. The WorldSBK teams are due to stay for a couple more days, and will hope that the better weather forecast for later in the week arrives sooner rather than later.
2016 has been a strange year. New tires have made teams have to gamble much more on set up. New electronics have drawn the teeth of Honda and Yamaha, making it easier for Ducati, Suzuki, and to a lesser extent, Aprilia to catch up. The wet and wild weather has made it even more difficult to get set up right, with session after session lost to the rain. A wider range of competitive bikes has upped the level of competition even further. So we enter the final race of the year having already seen nine winners, and with dreams of a tenth.
That seems vanishingly unlikely. The three riders on the front row at Valencia have won ten of the seventeen rounds, with two more winners on the second row, and other two on the third row. At a track like Valencia, with so few passing opportunities, it is hard to see how a rider who hasn't won yet can make their way past the previous winners to claim victory. They will not get any assistance from the weather – the forecast looks steady and constant, not particularly warm, but dry and sunny. The only way to win the Valencia round of MotoGP is the hard way.
And then there's Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard has been up and down all season, at the tender mercies of available grip levels and the nature of the tires Michelin have brought to the races. At Valencia, everything has fallen into place. The rear tire Michelin have brought uses the more pliable carcass which was also available at Brno and Misano. The new profile front tire the French tire maker has brought is stronger in the middle of the corner, which plays to Lorenzo's strengths. And boy, is Lorenzo strong at Valencia.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after a soaking Malaysian round:
Andrea Dovizioso scores a superb win in the Shell Malaysia Grand Prix at Sepang. DNF for Andrea Iannone who crashes out on lap 13
Press releases from the Moto2 & Moto3 teams after an incident-packed Malaysian Grand Prix:
Third consecutive top 10 result for Livio Loi
After another bizarre race Livio Loi recorded his third consecutive top 10 result. In the GP of Malaysia, the third of the flyaways, RW Racing GP’s Belgian crossed the line in ninth just before the Moto3 race was red flagged because of rain.
2016 has been a weird season. Eight different winners in MotoGP, in eight consecutive races. Tire issues in Argentina causing the race to be split into two parts. A mass false start in Moto2 at the first race of the year in Qatar. Torrential rain at Assen causing the race to be abandoned. Bike swap shenanigans at the Sachsenring, and wet tire degradation at Brno. With all that happening, why would anyone expect the Sepang round of MotoGP to be any less weird?
The expectation of weirdness has also meant that everyone has half expected there to be a ninth winner in MotoGP. Fans and journalists have come to accept this as the new normal, that every race throws up a new surprise. A ninth winner would fit in perfectly with the string of surprises we have seen this year. The question is, of course, who might it be?
With six of the ten factory riders on the grid already having won a race, and the Aprilia RS-GP still too far off the pace to compete for victory, it came down to two realistic candidates: Suzuki's Aleix Espargaro, and Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso. With the Ducati being the faster bike, and already having racked up a win and several podiums, Dovizioso was the betting favorite. But both were regarded as long shots.
MotoGP standings after Sepang: