If ever there was a time to be disabused of any notions of the glamorous life a professional motorcycle racer leads, the weeks immediately following the end of the racing season, after testing has been completed, is surely it. Riders around the world head into operating theaters and physical rehabilitation facilities to have more permanent fixes applied to the temporary patch up jobs done to allow them to keep racing during the season.
Press releases from the teams after the first test of the 2017 MotoGP season at Valencia:
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Conclude Valencia Test On Top
Maverick Viñales maintained his key protagonist status during the second day of testing at the Circuito de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo. The Spaniard was the only rider to drop under the 1'30s mark to top the standings for the second day in succession. Valentino Rossi also made strides today under the Valencian sun and spent the afternoon testing the new 2017 chassis and engine and set the seventh fastest time.
It has been the most exciting first day of testing for many years. It was reminiscent of the year Valentino Rossi switched to Ducati, and Casey Stoner went to Honda. But Tuesday was 2011 on steroids: Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati, Maverick Viñales to Yamaha, Andrea Iannone to Suzuki, KTM entering the class, and four fascinating rookies. Add in the GP14.2 being replaced by a bevy of GP15s and GP16s, significantly more competitive motorcycles, and you have a test so fascinating and intriguing that it is hard to know where to start.
So let's start with the timesheets. Maverick Viñales ends the day as fastest, on his first day on the Yamaha, pushing for a quick lap towards the end of the day. Valentino Rossi was second fastest, his quickest lap set on the 2016 bike he raced on Sunday early in the day. Jorge Lorenzo set the third quickest time on the Ducati, stepping up late in the day to come very close to topping the timesheets.
Valencia is supposed to be an emotionally charged race. The last round of the season, the grand finale. The last chance for riders to lay it all on the line, in pursuit of glory. The bowl in which the Ricardo Tormo circuit is set focuses and amplifies the cheers of the crowd, carrying the racing to new levels of intensity.
There was an extra layer of emotion at Valencia this year. The excitement is tinged with the bittersweet taste of parting. There is the largest group of riders moving from one garage to another that I can remember in a very long time. Riders and their crew become very close, a tight unit that works intensely together. They celebrate success together, and share their despair during the bad times. These men and women have been through a lot together, forging bonds that are not easily broken. Riders may only be moving a couple of garages away, the parting is no less painful for that.
Those departing felt compelled to put on a good show for the people they leave behind, and they did not disappoint. In Moto3 and Moto2, the departing champions put on brave fights to reprise their title-winning ways, with supporting stars offering fierce opposition to add some luster to their victories. In the MotoGP class, all the factory riders switching garages dug a little deeper inside themselves, and pulled some outstanding performances out of the bag. The extra emotion of the final weekend of the season produced three great races at Valencia, with three truly deserving winners.
On Tuesday, November 15th, the 2017 season starts in earnest. The biannual session of bike swapping commences two days after the final MotoGP round at Valencia, as riders, crew chiefs, mechanics, press officers and many others swap garages to join their 2017 teams. It is often something of a disappointment, with only a few riders moving from team to team, but the coming season sees some big names switching bikes, as well as an important new arrival in the shape of KTM. So to help you keep track, here is who will be testing what at Valencia on Tuesday.
All eyes will of course be on the factory Ducati garage, where Jorge Lorenzo is due to get his first outing on the Desmosedici. The Bologna factory has been working flat out on getting their 2017 bike ready, Michele Pirro giving the GP17 its first test after Aragon. The test was so important that Pirro was unable to fly to Motegi to replace the still recovering Andrea Iannone.
How will Lorenzo fare? We will have some idea on Tuesday. That is, if it doesn't rain, which the (notoriously inaccurate) long-range forecasts show it might. More important, perhaps, than his first test on the bike may be the relationship he establishes with new crew chief Cristian Gabarrini. The Italian worked previously with Casey Stoner, and so is used to working with complex characters. Tuesday and Wednesday is the day Lorenzo and Gabarrini get their first chance to get a feel for one another.
Maybe not, because this season’s thrillingly unpredictable racing has much to do with the moment of transformation in MotoGP’s technical environment
Nine different winners in one season – something that’s never happened before in a championship that started shortly after the end of the Second World War. Amazing stuff.
But do the historic successes of Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, Jack Miller, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales prove that we are now in a new era of enjoyably chaotic MotoGP racing that will continue for the foreseeable future?
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
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.
The riders may have been complaining that the new surface of the Sepang circuit takes too long to dry out, but about one thing, they are all agreed. It has fantastic grip. "We have this problem of the track drying up, it's very difficult," Jorge Lorenzo told the press conference, agreeing with his teammate. "But the grip is perfect, it's amazing the grip."
That was obvious in the afternoon, when the MotoGP riders took to a track still soaking after the tropical downpour which had caused the preceding Moto3 qualifying session to be red flagged. The lean angle the riders were still getting despite standing water was remarkable. That was even true after the Moto3 downpour had ended, and the track was awash. The top Moto3 riders were still improving their times on a track which was wetter than at the start of the session.
The same grip had helped in the morning, when there were still a few wet patches on the track. As the sun started to burn the water off, Maverick Viñales dipped under the two minute mark, posting two laps of 1'59.9. That was on a track which was still not completely dry, the riders able to power through almost as if it had never rained.