The provisional 2017 World Superbike calendar has been released, but unlike the MotoGP calendar, which is unchanged, there are a couple of minor differences to the schedule. The World Superbike class will contest 13 rounds, just as they did in 2016, spread across three continents. Sepang and Jerez have been dropped, and Portimao makes a comeback.
The fourth day of the Jerez combined MotoGP and WorldSBK test saw the World Superbike stars come to the fore. At the end of the day, it was Jonathan Rea who blew the field away, using a Pirelli qualifier to go faster than both WorldSBK and MotoGP riders alike. Rea had spent the early part of the day running a 20-lap race simulation, before chasing a fast lap to leave the test on later in the day.
With MotoGP and WorldSBK sharing the track Jonathan Rea led the way for most of the day. We sought out three opinions on the differences between the bikes....
As the sun set on the third day of the Jonathan Rea hogged the limelight with the second fastest time of the day. With MotoGP bikes sharing the track with WorldSBK runners the big story was that Rea spent most of Wednesday leading the way.
The question in the aftermath however was how does this reflect on both championships?
Rea was a tenth of a second off the fastest time of the day set by Hector Barbera. The speed and performance of the Kawasaki rider was hugely impressive but is this a sign that the production bikes can hold their own or is it a fortuitous confluence of circumstances?
Wednesday saw some MotoGP teams join an expanded World Superbike field at Jerez for the first day of combined testing, and the first day with official timing. With the weather much improved, it was a busy day with teams spending a lot of time on track.
At the end of the day, the Ducatis led the way in MotoGP, Hector Barbera and Loris Baz putting the Avintia team on top, ahead of the Aspar Team's Alvaro Bautista. Scott Redding ended up as fourth fastest, a thousandth of a second quicker than Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia.
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.
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.
Rain has been a factor at both the Moto2 test at Valencia and the World Superbike test in Jerez on Tuesday. In Jerez, the track dried up as the day went on, while at Valencia, the weather got worse as the day went on. It started cold and wet, and that was enough to persuade most teams to pack up and go home.
A few riders did ride on Tuesday, however. The Moto2 rookies dominated the timesheets, as riders who had the most to learn in the wet. Pecco Bagnaia was the fastest Moto2 rider in the wet, ending just ahead of Miguel Oliveira on the KTM. Fabio Quartararo took third spot on the Pons Kalex, while Remy Gardner was fourth fastest on the Tech 3 bike.
The Moto2 test at Valencia has taken a heavy toll on some of its participants. The rookies Brad Binder and Jorge Navarro both picked up serious injuries at the test, putting an end to their preseason testing for the winter.
Binder was the most seriously injured. The reigning Moto3 champion highsided his KTM Moto2 bike at Turn 11, the bike apparently landing on his right arm and fracturing the radius, as well as damaging bones in his wrist. The South African was taken to the Dexeus Institut in Barcelona where he was examined and had a pin inserted in the broken bone.
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."
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.
With just ten days to go until the winter test ban comes in to force, on 1st December, teams in both world championships are busy doing their last tests and collecting as much data as possible to take into the winter break.
Testing is already happening on Monday, with some of the WorldSBK teams gathering in Jerez. Kawasaki, the SMR Aprilia squad, Althea BMW and Ten Kate (soon to be Red Bull) Honda are at the Jerez circuit, though the wet weather means there is little going on on track. Ten Kate are without Nicky Hayden, who has twisted his knee while practice dirt track. The WorldSBK teams are due to stay for a couple more days, and will hope that the better weather forecast for later in the week arrives sooner rather than later.
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.
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.
Press releases from the teams after the first test of the 2017 MotoGP season at Valencia:
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Conclude Valencia Test On Top
Maverick Viñales maintained his key protagonist status during the second day of testing at the Circuito de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo. The Spaniard was the only rider to drop under the 1'30s mark to top the standings for the second day in succession. Valentino Rossi also made strides today under the Valencian sun and spent the afternoon testing the new 2017 chassis and engine and set the seventh fastest time.
While the MotoGP riders have packed up and gone home (for some, in preparation for their private tests at Jerez or Sepang), the Moto2 and Moto3 riders have been down in Jerez getting their first taste of 2017. In good conditions, Taka Nakagami topped both days of testing, ending just ahead of Alex Marquez on Thursday. Marquez was a tenth quicker than Lorenzo Baldassarri, while Danny Kent was fourth quickest after his switch to Suter. Axel Pons ended the day in 5th, with new Moto2 arrivals RW Racing.