On Tuesday, the final MotoGP test of the 2007 season will start at Jerez before the long winter test ban sets in. And the Spanish track will see some of the most significant pieces of the 2008 season puzzle make their debut, and giving MotoGP fans a first taste of what next year is likely to hold.
Probably the most eagerly awaited event is Valentino Rossi's first outing on Bridgestone tires. Rossi already believes he has some idea of what to expect after spending all season watching how the Japanese tires react at close quarters. And being in a position to watch the tires so closely is probably what convinced Rossi to make the switch: after all, if you're ahead of your opponents, you can't see what their tires are doing.
And Rossi's debut on Bridgestones will also see the first outing of the Split Yamaha Garage, with Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo's garages and pit crews carefully shielded from each other, despite the assurances made to Lorenzo before the Spanish prodigy signed for Yamaha. Any notion of learning from The Doctor and sharing data which Lorenzo may have cherished is likely to be comprehensively dismissed from Tuesday.
The other big news is the introduction of what are likely to be 2008's most competitive machines: The Ducati GP8 and Honda's 2008 RC212V. Ducati's brilliant engineer Filippo Preziosi has already discussed some details of the GP8 in an interview with MCN, revealing that Ducati's main targets now focus on achieving greater rideability, and a more user-friendly throttle response for the rider. Of particular note is Preziosi's contention that little more power can be squeezed out of the combination of 800cc engines and 21 liters of fuel, forcing engineers to explore other avenues for improving the new bikes. Just what Ducati have achieved in this area will be for world champion Casey Stoner to display over the next three days.
But let us not forget Honda. Dani Pedrosa and Nicky Hayden will continue their work on the 2008 RC212V, Pedrosa returning to testing after choosing to sit out the Sepang tests once it became clear that significant upgrades to the bike would not be available in Malaysia. With the Spaniard back in action, the bike should have some serious changes as well.
The Yamaha, on the other hand, will not be much changed from its final 2007 incarnation. The version being tested at Jerez will be an improved version of the bike which Valentino Rossi raced at the final round at Valencia earlier this month. Rossi has had his demand that the head of Yamaha's MotoGP project, Masao Furosawa become more closely involved with the project, with the Japanese boss also due to put in an appearance during the Jerez test. It seems a fair bet that Yamaha's racing division will be a very busy place over the winter break.
The Jerez test should give a fair idea of just how much progress is being made, with 14 of the 19 riders likely to contend the 2008 series present in Spain. The major absentees will be Rizla Suzuki, who are waiting for major upgrades to the GSV-R, Pramac d'Antin Ducati, and Team KR, who are still waiting for a sponsorship deal to be finalized before making an announcement on their plans for next year.
As for what to look out for, the times set at the IRTA test in February and at the race in March are all around the high 1'40 to low 1'41 mark on race rubber, with times in the mid-1'39s on qualifying rubber, in conditions only slightly warmer than are likely over the next few days. But all eyes will be on Valentino Rossi, and how he is faring on the Bridgestone tires he raised such a ruckus to get. By the time the test ends on Thursday, Rossi should be running competitive times. But the key comparison will be with Colin Edwards. The Texan will be on similar machinery on Michelin tires. Rossi's target must be to be setting times which are within spitting distance of Edwards lap times, and are preferably faster. Coming back from a broken hand, and on brand new rubber, that could be a big ask.