Yamaha Motor Racing issued the following press release after the launch of their 2017 racing program, including their WorldSBK effort, in Milan:
Michael van der Mark
After their return to WorldSBK in 2016 Yamaha did not shy away from admitting that there is plenty of work to be done to turn the YZF-R1 into a front runner. That work was certainly being undertaken at this week's Jerez test with Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes the busiest riders on track over the two days.
The pair completed a total of 283 laps of the Spanish circuit and with a host of new parts on the bikes it's clear that the bike should be more competitive in 2017. Lowes trialled a new underslung swing arm and while the Englishman commented that it didn't offer an immediate lap time improvement it did offer greater consistency over a race distance. For Van der Mark the improvements came with setup changes that improved his feeling on turn in.
With the first tests of 2017 fast approaching - track action gets underway next week, with the WorldSBK teams testing at Jerez, followed by MotoGP the week after - teams are presenting their new liveries, new sponsors and new teams for 2017.
This week sees two MotoGP factory teams unveil their new liveries and their new bikes for the 2017 season. The Movistar Yamaha team kick off proceedings on Thursday, 19th January, with the presentation of the 2017 Yamaha YZR-M1, with Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales as their riders. The following day, Friday, 20th January, Ducati follow suit, presenting Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso. Both events will be streamed live, for fans all over the world to see.
The New Year has officially started, the real world of contracts finally lining up with the world of motorcycle racing. Riders who swapped factories are now free of their old contracts, their new contracts having commenced as the world greeted 2017. That also leaves them free to post about the new season on social media again. Aleix Espargaro was so keen to do so that he posted right on the stroke of midnight.
If the riders are excited, that gives fans reason to be excited too. Here are 10 reasons to look forward to 2017.
1. Six factories
For the first time since 2004, MotoGP has six different manufacturers* competing again. Unlike 2004, however, the level at which those manufacturers are competing is much more equal. In 2004, only Yamaha and Honda won races, though Ducati were regular visitors to the podium, and would win more consistently in 2005 and 2006. In 2016, four different manufacturers won races in the dry – Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Ducati – and all four were consistent podium threats.
Top ten lists are by their very nature subjective; beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. From the moment the season started in Australia until the very end there was a great scrap for the title, with the fight going down to the wire in Qatar. But who was the best rider of 2016? This is the MotoMatters.com top ten riders of the 2016 WorldSBK season.
The decision on whether to be conservative or aggressive with your choices wasn't the key in Magny-Cours rather it was just about having belief in your convictions. With a drying track Chaz Davies was one of the few riders to start the race with intermediate tires and the gamble proved worth the risk for Davies as he romped to victory.
In the early stages with a wet track Davies was a sitting duck to riders with more grip from full wet weather tires. The Welshman even said afterwards that “I was so slow that I wouldn't have been surprised if someone had hit me!”
When the track started to dry the race came to Davies and rather than being a sitting duck he became a shark and picked off his rivals. It was an inspired race by Davies who rarely seemed to have push but instead kept calm and allowed the race to come to him.
Having made his decision on the grid - based on track conditions, the increasing temperature and the knowledge that the surface doesn't dry as fast as others - the Ducati rider raced accordingly. There were precious few heroics from Davies, but with a minimum pit stop time of 45 seconds, he knew that as long as he could stay upright he had a decided advantage. The tire compounds used in the slick and intermediate tires are quite similar and for Davies this gave him even more confidence in his decision.
It was a weekend of contrasts in Germany. Four weathers in a race weekend is usually something associated with Phillip Island, but with 30°C temperatures having welcomed the WorldSBK paddock from their summer break, the heat gradually transitioned to a downpour on a cold and windy Sunday.
With Chaz Davies and Jonathan Rea claiming the spoils in the races there was little reason to think that this was a standout weekend, but in many ways the German round of WorldSBK could prove pivotal when the season concludes.
In the latest round of poorly-kept secrets emerging at last, Yamaha have announced that they have signed Michael van der Mark for the 2017 season. He will join Alex Lowes in the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK squad for next year, replacing Sylvain Guintoli.
The move had been long expected. It became clear over the summer that Van der Mark would be leaving the Ten Kate Honda team, with whom he has had a long relationship. Once the signing of Stefan Bradl alongside Nicky Hayden at Honda was announced, there was only one destination Van der Mark could be heading.
Part of Van der Mark's motivation for moving has to do with MotoGP. The Dutchman is known to be keen to move to the Grand Prix paddock, but could not find a competitive package, or a deal with hopes of progressing towards a factory team. A switch to Yamaha may smooth his path in the future, though with the Tech 3 team having signed two rookies for 2017 and 2018, that route could also be more difficult.
In the first of a two-part announcement, the Honda WorldSBK team, run by Ten Kate, have announced that they have signed Stefan Bradl for the 2017 season. He will join Nicky Hayden for next year on the Honda CBR1000RR.
Bradl had the choice to stay in MotoGP, but the best offer he had was with the Avintia Ducati team. Bradl elected to race for podiums in World Superbikes, rather than top 10s in MotoGP. Though Honda is expected to debut a new Fireblade later this year, it is unlikely that bike will be ready to race for the 2017 season. Leaked details about the bike also suggest that it is a rather small evolution, rather than a radically new bike.
The announcement had been widely expected, as we wrote in our WorldSBK silly season round up last week. Bradl will be replacing Michael van der Mark, who will be signing for the Pata Yamaha squad in World Superbikes. With the Bradl signing now public, Van der Mark's announcement is now imminent.
While the MotoGP grid is as good as settled, Silly Season for World Superbikes is in full swing. With the Kawasaki riders' contracts settled before the summer break, attention has turned to the other seats, most of which are up in the air. In addition, there could be some changes in machinery, with some teams eyeing a switch of manufacturers.
The biggest news – still unofficial, but widely believed to be a done deal – is that Marco Melandri is set to make a return to the World Superbike paddock, this time in the factory Aruba.it Ducati team alongside Chaz Davies.
Melandri has been angling for a ride ever since his departure from the factory Aprilia MotoGP squad, a move he had never wanted to make in the first place. Over the past twelve months or so, he has been linked to rides with Yamaha, Aprilia, BMW and Kawasaki in World Superbikes, and – possibly the most bizarrely inaccurate rumor to be published in a while – to a ride with BMW in MotoGP. (The fact that BMW have no intention of racing in MotoGP, and the break up with Melandri in 2013 so acrimonious that they would not have him back anyway is what made that particular rumor so entertaining.)
Melandri's return to the fold