2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Round Up, Part 2: Suzuki, Rookies, Aprilia, KTM, And Tire Talk

While Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez emerged from the Sepang tests as clear favorites, with Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, and Andrea Dovizioso close behind, Andrea Iannone established himself as a genuine dark horse. The Italian was fastest on Tuesday, and left the test as second quickest behind Viñales.

Iannone has inherited a bike that is already well developed, and Suzuki brought engine upgrades to Sepang which got them even closer to the front. It was telling that Iannone did not spend much time testing parts, but rather focusing on race set up and working on extracting maximum performance from a used tire.

Tires were a bit of a problem for Iannone on the last day of the test. He crashed three times, including once as he was attempting a long run, the front washing out at Turn 1. The issue proved to be a vibration in low speed corners. "I have a small vibration in the slow corners," Iannone said. "In the fast corner the bike is perfect. There is no vibration, no chattering. But in the slow corner, especially in turns four, nine, 14 and the last corner, we have a small vibration at maximum lean angle." That vibration got worse as the tires became more worn.

How Michelin's Tire Identification System Will Work

Identifying tires has always been something of a dark art. Ever since MotoGP went to a single tire supplier, identifying which tire a particular rider is on and when has become ever more important. Fast laps mean a lot less when a rider sets them on soft rubber.

So far, identification has been done visually, by colored stripes painted on the sidewall of the tire. That worked fine when Bridgestone was still tire supplier as the colors they used - red, white, plain, and green - based on their corporate colors were easy to spot, and applied in a big thick stripe. It got more difficult with Michelin, as their corporate colors - blue, white, and yellow -  are more difficult to spot from the side of the track. Journalists and fans were mostly reliant on the eagle eye of Dylan Gray, pitlane reporter for MotoGP.com, to spot who was going out on what and when.

Identification is to become a lot easier in 2017, with the introduction of an automatic identification system. At the Sepang test, Michelin boss Nicolas Goubert explained how the system will work. As part of their job as official tire supplier, Micheiin already maintain a list of which tires have been allocated to each rider. Since last season, each wheel rim is also fitted with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), which communicates electronically with the ECU to log tire pressures, and ensure that they are never too low. 

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Round Up, Part 1: 93 vs 25, Yamaha, Ducati, Honda & More

What did we learn from the Sepang MotoGP test? More than we thought we would on Sunday night. The forecast was grim: plenty of sporadic rain and a track that wouldn't dry quickly promised three wasted days. But by the time the teams packed up on Wednesday night, after nearly a full day of testing, Sepang had turned out to be both productive and instructive.

After three days of testing it is clear just how close the field is this season. The top ten riders are separated by just four tenths of a second. Sixteen riders are within a second, from Maverick Viñales in first to Hector Barbera in sixteenth. The top four riders are on four different manufacturers, less than two tenths apart, and there is a good mix of manufacturers throughout the top of the timesheets.

The two exceptions are Aprilia and KTM, but there is hope for them too. Aprilia have made huge strides last year - Aleix Espargaro is thirteenth, 0.740 behind Viñales, and two whole seconds closer to the front than Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista were at the same test last year – and now basically just lack horsepower. KTM are in their first season in MotoGP, but are already closer at Sepang than Suzuki were at their first Sepang test in 2015. The level in MotoGP is now unbelievably high, and unbelievably close.

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Press Releases

Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the Sepang test:


Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Concludes Sepang Test on Top

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP has wrapped up the first official IRTA test of the 2017 season today at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. Riders Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi have spent the three days working through various testing items to further develop their YZR-M1s and secured first and sixth place respectively in the overall standings.

Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - It's Vinales versus Marquez

But what is Ducati up to – we reveal the secret (possibly) of the GP17’s so-called salad box

“If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans.” They certainly saw us coming this time at Sepang.

The tropical skies opened on two of the three days, sending riders scurrying into the pits because they were there to work on their new bikes at the limit, not tiptoeing around on a wet track.

But the rain itself wasn’t a huge problem. In the steamy equatorial heat, Sepang used to dry very quickly. No longer, however. Ten months ago the circuit underwent a much-needed resurfacing, which also included adding cambers at some corners to improve draining and safety during torrential downpours.

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Wednesday 14:00 Times: Viñales Quickest At Lunch

The track has gone quiet at Sepang as the riders break for lunch, and still no sign of rain. There have been few changes in the times, though Maverick Viñales has now taken over the top of the timesheets, over a tenth faster than Marc Marquez. The other change of note is that Dani Pedrosa has drastically improved his time, jumping up to ninth, six tenths slower than Viñales.

Times at 2pm:

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Wednesday 12:30 Times: Marquez Leads Close Field

The weather gods have looked favorably upon MotoGP testing at Sepang. With no rain overnight and cool temperatures, conditions are just about perfect for testing on Wednesday, and the teams are making full use of the opportunity to test. Marc Marquez currently leads the field, though he has only the narrowest of margins over Maverick Viñales. Four Ducatis follow, Andrea Dovizioso leading Alvaro Bautista, Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo is only a quarter of a second off the time of Marquez, suggesting he is starting to get to grips with the Ducati.

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Tuesday Round Up: Fast Riders And Warthog Winglets

What looked like a wasted day quickly turned around at Sepang. Tuesday started wet, the streets and circuit taking a while to dry after Monday evening's torrential rain. Sepang's weakness was once again exposed: the track took a long time to dry, wet patches remaining on the track for several hours. It was not until 1pm that a few riders started to venture out, and by 2pm, the track was full with riders trying to make up for valuable lost time.

Some riders made use of the conditions, as far from ideal as they were. Jorge Lorenzo put in ten laps in the wet, and Johann Zarco put in eight laps. The reason? To help build confidence, for Lorenzo in the wet, for Zarco, to try to figure out what a MotoGP bike is capable of.

Zarco rode a pair of wet tires to destruction, feeling how the soft, moving rubber exaggerated every movement of the bike. It served as a sort of magnifying glass for how a MotoGP bike behaves, amplifying the feedback and making it much clearer to fully understand, Zarco explained. By the end of the run, he had learned a lot, and made a massive step forward.

How much difference had it made? When the red lights came on for the end of the session, Zarco's name was still fifth on the timesheets, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider less than a tenth behind Valentino Rossi, and half a second behind Maverick Viñales in second. The Frenchman had found a way of understanding where the limits lay, without pushing himself over the edge.

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Tuesday Final Times - Iannone Fastest On Dry Afternoon

Andrea Iannone has ended the second day of testing at Sepang on top of the timesheets. The Suzuki rider took advantage of the best conditions at the end of the day to drop into the 1'59s, finishing four tenths ahead of Maverick Viñales on the Movistar Yamaha. Alvaro Bautista ended in third on the Aspar Ducati, with Valentino Rossi in fourth, just ahead of a very strong showing for Johann Zarco on the Tech 3 Yamaha.

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Tuesday 15:00 Times - Slow Start As Winglets Reappear

After four hours of inaction, as the riders waited for the track to dry, riders started to head out shortly after 2pm, to get some time in on a usable track. Times are still slow, as the track is still damp in patches, but the teams are now all pounding out the laps.

Marc Marquez is currently quickest, leading Alvaro Bautista and Valentino Rossi, but the times are not really representative just yet. Times are likely to drop as riders disperse the moisture remaining on the track surface.

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Monday Round Up: The Flying Fisherman, And Lorenzo Learning To Brake Again

On a normal day, the fastest rider at the end of a day of testing is paraded proudly in front of the press, and given his chance to explain what a good job the team and manufacturer was doing, how they were not really pushing for a lap time, and feign a certain modesty while privately gloating at how they crushed their rivals.

But this was not a normal day. The fastest man in Sepang on Monday slipped out of the circuit in virtual anonymity. After all, he is merely a test rider, and test riders don't usually talk to the media. We journalists, snobs that we are, don't waste our precious time on test riders.

In this case, however, it was not the media not wanting to talk to the test rider, it was the test rider not wanting to speak to the media. One of the reasons Casey Stoner retired from racing was because he was sick of the media circus, of spending his life living out of a suitcase and answering stupid and prying questions from idiots like me. But he still loves challenging himself on a MotoGP bike, and trying to see just how fast he can go. And Ducati are happy to pay him handsomely for the privilege. After Monday, who can blame them?

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Monday Final Times - Stoner Quickest, Times Unchanged

Casey Stoner remained fastest at the end of the first day of testing at Sepang. Times were unchanged from 4pm, when the rain came. A few riders went out in the rain to try the bike in the wet, but they had no impact on the timesheets.

Results:

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Monday Times 16:00 - Stoner Still Fastest As Rain Stops Play

The rain came down shortly after 4pm at Sepang, bringing an early end to proceedings. But the rain had held off for longer than the MotoGP teams had expected, and so a lot of work got done. Times were little changed from earlier in the day.

Times at 4pm:

2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Monday Times 14:30 - Stoner Fastest As Testing Breaks For Lunch

Testing continues at Sepang, the weather still holding, but most of the MotoGP riders have now decided to take a break from the sweltering heat. At the lunch break it is Casey Stoner who is the quickest man on the day, the Ducati test rider one of only two men to crack into the 1'59s. Factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso is the other, the Italian a tenth of a second off the pace of Stoner.

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