MotoGP testing is underway at Sepang. The weather has held, and a dry track saw a mass exodus onto the track, the riders using the opportunity to do as much testing as possible. Shortly after noon, Andrea Iannone is fastest, the Italian making a strong start on the Suzuki. He deposed Alvaro Bautista on the Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati, who had led for much of the morning. Maverick Viñales is third, always quick here, and now doubly so on the Movistar Yamaha.
Chaz Davies has ended the Portimao WorldSBK test on top of the timesheets, the factory Ducati rider quickest on both days of the test. Behind Davies, the field got an interesting shake up, with the Milwaukee Aprilias making a big step forward. After a tough couple of tests, Eugene Laverty made a major step forward with the RSV4, managing a quick pace on both race and qualifying tires. Teammate Lorenzo Savadori was third, just a fraction behind his teammate.
In a few hours time, the grandstands at the Sepang International Circuit will echo with the booming assault of MotoGP machines being pushed to their limits. The entire MotoGP grid has assembled for the first test of the preseason, meaning that the 2017 MotoGP season is about to get underway, at last.
That, at least, is the plan. The reality is that the grandstands may echo only to the sporadic rasp of a MotoGP bike being warmed up, and the occasional intrepid test rider being sent out to test conditions. The resurfaced Sepang continues to be plagued by drainage problems, water remaining on the track for a long time. In high humidity, relatively low track temperatures and without the burning tropical sun, the water left by unusually heavy rains is not evaporating. Parts of the track remain wet all day, making it impossible to push the bikes to the limit, and very risky to try.
Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio expressed the concerns shared by most teams. "You never know how many hours you can test, because the track remains wet for a long time. And if it rains a lot in the evening, maybe you have to wait a long time in the morning. So it's a little bit of a question mark now, how much you can test."
Far from sitting on their laurels after winning seven of the last eight WorldSBK races of 2016 Ducati came out of the blocks swinging at Jerez with a busy testing program. Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri had a host of upgraded parts in the Spanish sun.
Davies spent the majority of his time working on chassis development with Melandri focusing on the engine. Afterwards the Welshman gave a revealing insight into the makeup of the mindset of one of the world's top racers.
After their return to WorldSBK in 2016 Yamaha did not shy away from admitting that there is plenty of work to be done to turn the YZF-R1 into a front runner. That work was certainly being undertaken at this week's Jerez test with Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes the busiest riders on track over the two days.
The pair completed a total of 283 laps of the Spanish circuit and with a host of new parts on the bikes it's clear that the bike should be more competitive in 2017. Lowes trialled a new underslung swing arm and while the Englishman commented that it didn't offer an immediate lap time improvement it did offer greater consistency over a race distance. For Van der Mark the improvements came with setup changes that improved his feeling on turn in.
World Superbike testing continues, this time at the spectacular Portimao circuit in Portugal. With the Kawasakis absent, Chaz Davies topped the timesheets, heading up Eugene Laverty on the Milwaukee Aprilia and Davies' Ducati teammate Marco Melandri. Pata Yamaha rider Michael van der Mark set the second fastest time, but the Yamahas rode without a transponder, and their times were unofficially released by the teams to Speedweek.com.
More factories racing means more factories testing. The usual one or two day shakedown test ahead of the first official MotoGP test of the year organized by IRTA has expanded this year to become much more than that. All six MotoGP factories are present with test riders – Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, KTM, Suzuki, Yamaha – as well as a couple of factories testing Superbike machines ahead of the 2017 season. The reason? The more factory teams there are, the cheaper the cost per factory to rent the circuit, and the more time they get preparing for next week's test.
Press releases from some of the WorldSBK teams after the first test of 2017 at Jerez:
Strong Restart For KRT After Two Days On Track At Jerez
Kawasaki Racing Team riders Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes made a positive start to their 2017 championship preparations on the new Ninja ZX-10RR during a two-day test at Jerez de la Frontera in Spain, with Rea going fastest of all and Sykes placing third
Yesterday Cal Crutchlow received Britain’s most prestigious motorcycling award and revealed that he is already close to signing a new deal for 2018
MotoGP preseason testing starts next week and no one will ride out of the Sepang pitlane more of a changed man than Cal Crutchlow.
Crutchlow wasn’t last year’s only first-time MotoGP winner but he was almost certainly more affected by his debut victory than Maverick Viñales, Andrea Iannone and Jack Miller were by theirs.
Most of us always knew Viñales would win a race, even if he didn’t, whereas Iannone always knew he was going to win a race, even if we didn’t. As for Miller, neither he nor we can be sure he will repeat his 2016 success.
While testing for the WorldSBK teams is in full swing at Jerez, halfway around the world, the MotoGP test teams are preparing for the start of the official IRTA test in Sepang, Malaysia. Test riders for all six factories are in Malaysia, putting in laps in what are for the moment still tricky conditions - rain in the morning and afternoon, with a dry spell in the middle of the day.
The second and final day of testing at Jerez is complete for the WorldSBK series, and though the names at the top are familiar, the order is a little less clear cut than it was yesterday.
Jonathan Rea is still fastest, the reigning world champion a tenth quicker than anyone else on track, and one of only two riders to drop into the 1'39s. But behind the Kawasaki rider is not his teammate Tom Sykes, but Milwaukee Aprilia's Lorenzo Savadori. The Italian posted an impressive time in the afternoon, jumping to finish between the two Kawasakis.
It's been a turbulent 12 months for Shaun Muir Racing. Their much touted move to WorldSBK in 2016, as reigning British Superbike champions, proved to be an exceptionally trying campaign that ended with infighting between the team and their lead rider, Josh Brookes. Armed with the BMW S1000RR, expectations were high for the British squad but ultimately they struggled to find a consistent balance, and the season and their relations with the German manufacturer petered out.
The 2017 season is now officially underway, as bikes roll back out for testing. First up are the denizens of the WorldSBK series, with most of the major teams getting underway at a sunny but not especially warm Jerez de la Frontera circuit. A good selection of teams are present, including the Kawaski, Honda, Yamaha, Ducati factory teams, the Milwaukee Aprilia squad - now resplendent in their official 2017 colors - the Althea BSB team, and Puccetti Kawasaki.
The 2017 MotoGP calendar is now officially confirmed. The FIM removed the provisional status of the calendar after Dorna finalized contracts with the two remaining circuits still left with an asterisk, Silverstone and Sepang.
The situation with Sepang had been settled earlier, with Sepang keen to retain a MotoGP race for the long term. Sepang has grown to become one of the best-attended races on the calendar. So large are the crowds that they now easily outnumber attendance for F1, which the circuit is trying to drop.