Phillip Island is arguably the greatest race track for motorcycles in the world. It is a circuit where every racer wants to race, where every trackday rider wants to cut some laps, where every race fan wants to visit. There are a million reasons to visit Phillip Island, all of them good.
The return of Casey Stoner to Ducati as a test rider has raised more questions than it answered. Fans and media alike are in a state of confusion about his intentions, especially given the times he was setting on the Ducati Desmosedici GP15. What was he doing? Will he race again? When will he test again? To try to put this test and Stoner's role into perspective, here is what we know, what we think we know, and what we don't.
What was Stoner riding?
Casey Stoner spent all three days on the Ducati Desmosedici GP15. He did not test the GP16.
What did we learn from the first proper MotoGP test of the new era of Michelin tires and spec electronics? More than we hoped, yet less than we think. A quick run down on the state of play after Sepang, with more to come over the following days.
If being the official supplier to a racing series is a double-edged sword, then being the sole supplier of equipment as essential as tires is doubly so. Leaving aside the complexities of exactly what a four-edged sword would actually look like, being official tire supplier to MotoGP is a role which offers massive opportunities for raising the role of a brand, and having it associated with the most famous names in motorcycle racing. It gets your brand name and logo in front of many tens of millions of race fans and motorcycle enthusiasts every weekend.
What did we learn from the first day of testing at Sepang? Exactly what we expected to learn. Some riders have adapted quickly, others less quickly. The Michelins have made a big step forward, and the teams have started to understand the Michelin tires better. The spec electronics still need plenty of work, but are pretty usable in their current form (and well liked by the riders). Yamaha and Ducati have adapted well, Honda not very well at all, with the possible exception of Dani Pedrosa.
The hour of truth is at hand. On Monday morning, MotoGP fans will get their very first look at how the 2016 season is really going to look like. We got a glimpse at Valencia, but it was not a uniform picture. Though the 2016 electronics and Michelin tires made their debut at the two-day test after the final race of 2015, there were still too many variables. Everyone was on the Michelins, but some riders were on the spec electronics, others were on the old proprietary software they had been using for the 2015 season, and the factory teams were using a mixture of both.
If the Movistar Yamaha launch at Barcelona made one thing clear, it is that the feud between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez will be just as bitter in 2016 as it was in 2015. In Barcelona, Rossi once again repeated the litany of charges he leveled against Marc Márquez at the end of last season. Márquez had decided early in the season he would try to stop Rossi from winning the title, had played with Rossi at Phillip Island, done far worse at Sepang, then stayed behind Lorenzo at Valencia to hand him the title. For Valentino Rossi, nothing has changed since Valencia 2015.
If anyone thought that the start of the 2016 season would mean an end to the bitter divisions of 2015, they will be bitterly disappointed. The launch of the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team, at title sponsor Movistar's regional headquarters in Barcelona, brought the whole affair back to the surface. It was the first time since Valencia that the racing press had the chance to put questions to Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and both the questions asked and answers given helped reignite the flames of controversy.
It is no secret that Honda are struggling with the engine for the RC213V MotoGP. HRC have been making the engine ever more aggressive for the past three years, but in 2015, they finally went too far. The power delivery of the RC213V was too difficult to contain, even with Honda's electronics, and HRC suffered their worst season in MotoGP since 2010.
With major changes to the technical regulations for MotoGP in 2016, it has taken some time for the FIM to produce a new and revised version of the rulebook. The first provisional version was made available today, the new rules bringing together all of the new rules agreed over the past few years into a single set of regulations. Most of the new rules have already been written about during the year, but putting them into a single rulebook helped clarify them greatly.