Testing continues at Sepang, the weather still holding, but most of the MotoGP riders have now decided to take a break from the sweltering heat. At the lunch break it is Casey Stoner who is the quickest man on the day, the Ducati test rider one of only two men to crack into the 1'59s. Factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso is the other, the Italian a tenth of a second off the pace of Stoner.
MotoGP testing is underway at Sepang. The weather has held, and a dry track saw a mass exodus onto the track, the riders using the opportunity to do as much testing as possible. Shortly after noon, Andrea Iannone is fastest, the Italian making a strong start on the Suzuki. He deposed Alvaro Bautista on the Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati, who had led for much of the morning. Maverick Viñales is third, always quick here, and now doubly so on the Movistar Yamaha.
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."
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.
While testing for the WorldSBK teams is in full swing at Jerez, halfway around the world, the MotoGP test teams are preparing for the start of the official IRTA test in Sepang, Malaysia. Test riders for all six factories are in Malaysia, putting in laps in what are for the moment still tricky conditions - rain in the morning and afternoon, with a dry spell in the middle of the day.
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.
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.