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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.

2016 Valencia Saturday Round Up: Making Lorenzo's Departure Bearable

2016 has been a strange year. New tires have made teams have to gamble much more on set up. New electronics have drawn the teeth of Honda and Yamaha, making it easier for Ducati, Suzuki, and to a lesser extent, Aprilia to catch up. The wet and wild weather has made it even more difficult to get set up right, with session after session lost to the rain. A wider range of competitive bikes has upped the level of competition even further. So we enter the final race of the year having already seen nine winners, and with dreams of a tenth.

That seems vanishingly unlikely. The three riders on the front row at Valencia have won ten of the seventeen rounds, with two more winners on the second row, and other two on the third row. At a track like Valencia, with so few passing opportunities, it is hard to see how a rider who hasn't won yet can make their way past the previous winners to claim victory. They will not get any assistance from the weather – the forecast looks steady and constant, not particularly warm, but dry and sunny. The only way to win the Valencia round of MotoGP is the hard way.

And then there's Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard has been up and down all season, at the tender mercies of available grip levels and the nature of the tires Michelin have brought to the races. At Valencia, everything has fallen into place. The rear tire Michelin have brought uses the more pliable carcass which was also available at Brno and Misano. The new profile front tire the French tire maker has brought is stronger in the middle of the corner, which plays to Lorenzo's strengths. And boy, is Lorenzo strong at Valencia.

2016 Valencia MotoGP Friday Round Up

The media is a fickle beast. Normally, journalists and TV only have eyes for the top half of the timesheets. Or more realistically, the top half of the top half of the timesheets. As Valentino Rossi once joked one weekend during his time at Ducati, when only four or five journalists turned up to speak to him, rather than the thirty or forty he used to see at Yamaha, "So this is what it's like to finish seventh."

If media interest beyond tenth place is sparse, it is absolutely nonexistent for last place. Normally, the rider who finishes last has no visits from journalists, nor will anyone come to speak to their crew chief. But Friday at Valencia was anything but normal.

A brand new manufacturer joining the grid is anything but normal, however. And even when the rider on the new bike finishes last, the media crowd waiting outside the garage is seriously impressive. The back of the KTM garage was thronged with journalists, first to speak to Mika Kallio about his day on the RC16, and then to grill Kallio's crew chief Paul Trevathan about the bike, and the problems they encountered.

2016 Valencia MotoGP Preview: Farewell To Teams And Sponsors, Hello To New Opportunities

And so the 2016 MotoGP season is nearly at an end. Though the major honors have been awarded, there are still the final few t's to cross and i's to dot. We have our three champions, Johann Zarco the last to wrap up the title in Moto2 at Sepang. Honda are hot favorites to win the constructors' championship, while Movistar Yamaha hold a narrow lead in the team championship. Cal Crutchlow has a commanding 17-point lead in the battle for top independent rider. Second place in both Moto2 and Moto3 is still up for grabs.

In reality, these don't matter all that much. Once the championship is settled, the riders on the grid race for pride. And given that we are talking about the best professional motorcycle racers in the world, there is an awful lot of pride at stake. So the battle at Valencia will be just as fierce as anything that has come before. If anything, it will be even more fierce, given that nobody has very much to lose.

They will need an extra dash of abandon at Valencia. The circuit is pushed up against a hillside, and encircled by grandstands, cramming a serpentine four kilometer track into a very tight space. Reaching the required Grand Prix length requires a lot of corners, and that drops the average speed. Valencia is the slowest circuit on the calendar, and with so many tight corners, passing spots are few and far between. Turn 1 is an obvious candidate, a hard-braking left turn at the end of a long straight. Turn 6, another sharp left hander after a short straight. And a final dive up the inside into Turn 14, after the long and glorious left at Turn 13.

After Valencia: Who Is Testing What At The First MotoGP Test Of 2017?

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.

Ducati

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.

Subscriber Feature: 2006 vs 2016 - Did Mugello Cost Rossi The 2016 Title?

In two races, Valentino Rossi has cut his deficit to Marc Márquez by 35 points. He now trails the Repsol Honda rider by 42 points. All of a sudden, Márquez' lead in the championship looks a good deal less dominant, despite the Spaniard already having wrapped up the 2016 title at Motegi. Márquez' crashes at Phillip Island and Sepang have kicked off a whirlwind of "what ifs" among Valentino Rossi fans. The elusive tenth title suddenly seems a good deal closer than it was four or five races ago.

The one "what if" on the tip of fans' lips is the engine blow up at Mugello. The two Movistar Yamahas had a small but comfortable gap over Marc Márquez, and Rossi was clearly stalking Jorge Lorenzo. It was a matter of when, not if Rossi would pass his teammate. But on lap 8, Rossi's engine let go, just as Lorenzo's had in the morning. He was out of the race, and went from trailing Márquez by 7 points to being 27 points behind the Spaniard. Had Rossi won at Mugello, he would have gained 29 over Márquez (25 for the win, plus the 4-point differential between second and third for Márquez). That would have given the 2016 title a very different aspect.

2016 Sepang MotoGP Sunday Round Up: Mr. Nice Guy and Mambo Number Nine

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.

2016 Sepang MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Grip Gives Lorenzo Confidence In The Wet

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.

Suzuki, Honda, Ducati Punished For Riders Missing Autograph Sessions

At the beginning of the year, much was made of the addition of rules governing rider behavior to the Sporting Regulations section of the FIM MotoGP rulebook. That gave the newly instituted panel of FIM Stewards, who oversee all disciplinary measures, the power to punish riders and teams for a range of activities related to the promotion of the series. The biggest worry was caused by section 1.11.4.1, which threatened punishment of riders who made public pronouncements considered harmful to the championship.

2016 Sepang MotoGP Friday Round Up: Wet Patches, and Why Pedrosa Isn't Retiring

The weather has not been kind to MotoGP in 2016. At the nine events since Barcelona, it has rained at some point or another at five of them. At two more, Austria and Motegi, it was the cold rather than the rain which was a factor. Even Sepang, where in most years, it only rains once the riders have finished practice, has seen the rain ruin riders' plans.

Heavy rains overnight left the track covered in damp patches, despite the resurfacing of the circuit which was done to address the issue of standing water in some corners. More rain at lunchtime meant the afternoon sessions were done on a wet track that dried slowly, despite the tropical sun beating down.

The track should have been dry in the morning, after the sun had had four hours to burn off the water. But patches remained at various points around the track, most away from the racing line, but there were some spots where the water remained on the racing line.

"The dampest part of the track is turn three –that’s the slippiest," Scott Redding said. "Turn three still had a lot of patches. Turn four had some too, especially on that acceleration point. There were a few into turn 14. The angle that you have most, where Zarco went down, it was just everywhere around there. You had to work out a line, the way through there, without hitting any puddles."

2016 Sepang MotoGP Preview - A Year Is A Long Time In Motorcycle Racing

Two down, one to go. The last of the flyaways is always the hardest, in many ways. Three races on three consecutive weekends means that riders never have time to heal from even the small injuries they receive each weekend, from minor falls, or the blisters on their hands. Spending many hours cloistered in aircraft flying long distance makes catching colds or flu or other respiratory diseases inevitable. Team members being cooped up together for nearly four weeks means relationships are at best strained, at worst verging on violent.

Then there's the contrast in climate. Even at its best, Phillip Island can be chilly, so traveling from there to the sweltering tropical heat of Malaysia is a physical shock. To step on a plane in the freezing cold, then step off it to be drenched in sweat is tough for people already drained from so much travel and racing. Then to race for 45 minutes in punishing heat and humidity, at a track which is physically very challenging, because of the heavy braking zones around the track. The stress, mental and physical, is enormous.

Perhaps it was that stress that caused the MotoGP series to explode at Sepang last year. Smarting from being beaten into fourth place at Phillip Island by Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Andrea Iannone, Valentino Rossi seized upon the theory apparently put forward by his friend and business partner Alessio 'Uccio' Salucci, that Márquez had decided to conspire against Rossi to hand Jorge Lorenzo the 2015 MotoGP title. Márquez had attempted to accomplish this by beating Lorenzo in Australia. And in the press conference at Sepang, he launched his accusations against the Repsol Honda rider.

Iannone Back, Aoyama In At Sepang

After missing the last four races due to injury, Andrea Iannone is to make a return to the Factory Ducati team. Iannone had fractured his T3 vertebra in a practice crash at Misano, and was ruled out of the race. Since then, Iannone has been forced to miss the MotoGP rounds at Aragon, Motegi and Phillip Island. 

At Aragon, Iannone was replaced by official test rider Michele Pirro, but Pirro was unable to race at the overseas circuits as he had important test work to do for Ducati, getting the Desmosedici GP17 ready for Jorge Lorenzo, who will get his first chance to test the bike at Valencia, after the last race of the season. After Casey Stoner turned down the opportunity, Hector Barbera was promoted from the Avintia squad to take over Iannone's bike, while Australian Mike Jones stepped in to replace Barbera at Avintia.

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