Features

Tom Sykes And Jonathan Rea: Kawasaki Getting Up To Speed For 2017

It took Kawasaki until last year to finally win a WorldSBK manufacturers title. Having retained the crown in 2016 the Japanese factory will have to dig deep in 2017

Winter testing is a time to take stock of what worked well on your bike in the past and what now needs to improve. Kawasaki has won over half of the races in the last three years, 39 victories from 76 races, but despite these successes the team are working hard to find improvements.

The final four rounds of the season saw Chaz Davies and Ducati dominate proceedings and the Italian manufacturer's renaissance over the last 12 months has made it the early favourite for title success in 2017. New regulations will see split throttle bodies now outlawed and there are also changes to the battery regulations.

While Jonathan Rea has been running his bike in this specification for most of 2016 his teammate, Tom Sykes, has not. The Englishman spent last off-season commenting about the lower inertia engine he is now having to deal with a significant change in the mass around the engine unit. Whereas in the past Sykes used a battery in his ZX10R to maintain lower inertia he will now have to revert to a crankshaft with a generator that will increase the engine inertia. The higher inertia was a problem for Sykes in 2015 and he had hoped that the changes for this year would offer him advantages compared to Rea. That didn't transpire and now the Yorkshire rider is clearly feeling the pressure.

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Jerez WorldSBK Test, Day 2: Dry Track Sees Kawasakis Leading

The second day of the Jerez test dawned in similar circumstances to yesterday. With dense fog and cool temperatures it looked as though there would be sparse action on track but almost immediately Ondrej Jezek rolled down pitlane. With Grillini team only running for half of the allotted time Jezek was keen to get out and gain some experience on a WorldSBK machine.

While the Czech was spinning laps the majority of the field was waiting their time for the conditions to improve. Though the KRT riders stayed in the pits all day yesterday, they did get some wet weather running today.

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Eugene Laverty & Lorenzo Savadori On The 2017 WorldSBK Aprilia Title Assault

It was hardly the first day at school for either Eugene Laverty or Lorenzo Savadori but while the bike was similar it was new surroundings for both riders. With the Shaun Muir Racing squad switching to an Aprilia steed in 2017 the opening day of the Jerez test was the team's first experience of the Italian bike.

Both Laverty and Savadori have plenty of experience of the RSV4, the Irishman was a title contender on the bike and Savadori raced it this year, and that certainly helped both throughout the day. For SMR, however, it was all change, having used BMW S1000RR's during their debut WorldSBK season. For team boss Shaun Muir it was clearly an important day for the British squad.

"For us the change to Aprilia signifies that we've got a very strong bond to the factory," commented Muir. "That bond has been shown by the level of people that they have brought trackside to this test, and from Saturday afternoon when we all arrived we've bonded and gelled well together. Inside the garage we've got to blend a British and Italian team but on day one there was a lot of smiles."

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Jerez WorldSBK Test: New Riders On Track Despite The Weather

Come to Spain they said, the weather will be great they said...

There are typically only a handful of valuable winter testing venues. Jerez in the south of Spain is one of the most popular. Usually the winter sun provides almost perfect conditions for WorldSBK teams to undertake their off-season programs. The weather was not co-operating today and there was limited mileage for all of the runners.

The test did however offer the first glimpses of the Milwaukee Aprilia. Their partnership has been one of the biggest off-season talking points and while Lorenzo Savadori and Eugene Laverty were unable to complete a lot of miles they were at least able to start their tenure with the team. For Laverty it also marked a return to the WorldSBK paddock after two years in MotoGP. As a result the team were keen to get out on track and a 11.20am Savadori ventured out.

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Running The Numbers: Analyzing The Test Pace Of Marquez, Viñales, Rossi, And Lorenzo

So much happened at the MotoGP test at Valencia that it is hard to take it all in and cover it in one go. Time offers a little bit of hindsight and perspective, and a chance to digest everything that came at you so fast over the two days at Valencia. So here are a few notes and thoughts looking back.

Real pace

It is attractive to judge performance in testing just by casting a cursory glance at the timesheets and drawing conclusions from that. But the headline times tell very little of the story. A more complete analysis means examining every lap, and seeing the kind of consistency and speed each rider can maintain. It is all very well posting a 1'30.0, but if every other lap is a 1'32, then the actual pace is not particularly good.

So I extracted the laps of four of the main title contenders for 2017 from the analysis PDF files on the MotoGP.com website, placed them into a spreadsheet and sorted them from fastest to slowest. Discarding the properly slow laps (slower than around 1'34.5) allowed some clear patterns to emerge from the two days, especially once charted visually. I selected Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez as the two most significant riders to stay with their teams, and Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Viñales as the two most important riders to be switching factories.

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Valencia MotoGP Test Wednesday Notes: Viñales' Speed, Marquez' Consistency, And The Last Tired Stragglers

So 2016 is officially at an end, and the first test of 2017 is in the books. By the end of what is essentially a week of hard work, the entire paddock – riders, mechanics, journalists – are completely exhausted, and tired of it all. The frisson of the first test of 2017, with so many riders swapping teams and new bikes being debuted made it all much more interesting. But we are still all glad it's over.

First, there was the last day of testing to get out of the way. The last day of the test is perhaps the most dangerous. A mixture of tiredness and competitiveness means riders are pushing hard in sometimes tricky conditions. Alex Rins, Andrea Iannone, Marc Márquez, and Jack Miller all crashed on Wednesday. Rins and Iannone had crashes which were both serious and strange, losing the front in straight up and down braking. Iannone escaped with bruises and a badly banged up elbow. Rins was a good deal less lucky, suffering suspected fractures of the T8 and T12 vertebrae, though there was no spinal damage and Rins had full motion in his extremities.

After Iannone went down within a few minutes of Rins, the session was red flagged while the track was inspected to try to find the cause. At first, some kind of fluid on the track was suspected. Then, the finger of blame was pointed at the white line and kerb, which had gathered up a lot of rubber over the weekend, and had become greasy as a result. Officially, that was pinpointed as the cause, and a section of soft barrier was put in front of the fence at Turn 12 before the session was allowed to continue.

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Valencia MotoGP Test - What Is Every Factory Doing At Valencia?

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.

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Valencia MotoGP Test - Initial Trackside Notes On Lorenzo, Iannone, Viñales

There is a genuine sense of excitement at Valencia. Eight factory riders have either swapped teams or, in the case of KTM, joined a brand new entry. There are four rookies in MotoGP. And even the satellite teams have seen a shake up.

Intrigued to see the riders on their new steeds, I spent the first couple of hours of Tuesday at trackside, trying to gauge the body language of the riders and watch how comfortable they look. The first hours is when the process of adaptation takes place, so there is still a lot to learn for everyone swapping bikes. But it can provide an interesting insight into how the riders are getting on.

Jorge Lorenzo was the second rider out on track, behind Suzuki test rider Takuya Tsuda. On a cold track – ambient temperature of 7°C and overcast – Lorenzo looked cautious on the Ducati, clearly not pushing. Those laps were obviously being used for him to get a feeling for the bike, and to adjust his position on the Desmosedici.

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Valencia Test Notes: Honda, Suzuki, And Ducati on 2017, Lorenzo, And Engine Firing Orders

The Monday after the final race at Valencia has not been the first day of the official test for a few years now. This is a good thing: the riders are exhausted after a full season of racing, and need a lie in and a day to recover. The team members are the same, mechanics moving from garage to garage, and crew chiefs shuffling around to meet their new teams.

The riders might get the day off, but the rest of the staff do not. Mechanics are being shown the ropes in the new garage, and learn how the bikes fit together by helping to strip and reassemble them for the start of Tuesday's test. Factory bosses are also busy, going through test schedules with existing and new riders to sort out who will be testing what, and what to expect.

They also make time on Monday to talk to the press. Or at least some of them do. The top brass of Suzuki, Ducati, and Honda all held press conferences to talk to the media, and to go over their plans. The three different press conferences also gave an insight into the different approaches of the teams. HRC were there to present the management team that will take over from Shuhei Nakamoto, who retires as HRC Vice President in April. Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio held a solo press conference in English, to discuss the plans for the team. And Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna spoke to the media in Italian and English about the 2017 bike and the arrival of Jorge Lorenzo.

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2016 Valencia Sunday Round Up: A Fitting End To A Remarkable Season

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.

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