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.
So 2016 is officially at an end, and the first test of 2017 is in the books. By the end of what is essentially a week of hard work, the entire paddock – riders, mechanics, journalists – are completely exhausted, and tired of it all. The frisson of the first test of 2017, with so many riders swapping teams and new bikes being debuted made it all much more interesting. But we are still all glad it's over.
First, there was the last day of testing to get out of the way. The last day of the test is perhaps the most dangerous. A mixture of tiredness and competitiveness means riders are pushing hard in sometimes tricky conditions. Alex Rins, Andrea Iannone, Marc Márquez, and Jack Miller all crashed on Wednesday. Rins and Iannone had crashes which were both serious and strange, losing the front in straight up and down braking. Iannone escaped with bruises and a badly banged up elbow. Rins was a good deal less lucky, suffering suspected fractures of the T8 and T12 vertebrae, though there was no spinal damage and Rins had full motion in his extremities.
After Iannone went down within a few minutes of Rins, the session was red flagged while the track was inspected to try to find the cause. At first, some kind of fluid on the track was suspected. Then, the finger of blame was pointed at the white line and kerb, which had gathered up a lot of rubber over the weekend, and had become greasy as a result. Officially, that was pinpointed as the cause, and a section of soft barrier was put in front of the fence at Turn 12 before the session was allowed to continue.
Final times at the end of the Valencia test:
Times at 4pm:
Marc Marquez is quickest in the morning session on Tuesday. The session was red flagged for a while, after two big crashes going into Turn 12. Alex Rins was the first rider to go down, the Suzuki rider suffering a back injury which required him to be transported to a local hospital. A few minutes later, Andrea Iannone went down in the same place, prompting the session to be red flagged for safety reasons.
It has been the most exciting first day of testing for many years. It was reminiscent of the year Valentino Rossi switched to Ducati, and Casey Stoner went to Honda. But Tuesday was 2011 on steroids: Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati, Maverick Viñales to Yamaha, Andrea Iannone to Suzuki, KTM entering the class, and four fascinating rookies. Add in the GP14.2 being replaced by a bevy of GP15s and GP16s, significantly more competitive motorcycles, and you have a test so fascinating and intriguing that it is hard to know where to start.
So let's start with the timesheets. Maverick Viñales ends the day as fastest, on his first day on the Yamaha, pushing for a quick lap towards the end of the day. Valentino Rossi was second fastest, his quickest lap set on the 2016 bike he raced on Sunday early in the day. Jorge Lorenzo set the third quickest time on the Ducati, stepping up late in the day to come very close to topping the timesheets.
Why Jorge Lorenzo’s fourth win of 2016 was possibly the most important victory of his MotoGP career
A few months ago, many people believed that Jorge Lorenzo had given up on the 2016 season because his title defence had collapsed like a game of Jenga played by a bunch of two-year-olds.
You can perhaps understand his critics’ way of thinking. After winning three of the first six races, Lorenzo apparently fell to pieces. He was beaten at Assen, Sachsenring, Red Bull Ring, Brno, Silverstone, Misano, Aragon, Motegi, Phillip Island and Sepang. That’s 10 consecutive races, with just three visits to the podium; his worst-ever performance in MotoGP, even worse than his bone-crunching rookie season in 2008.
Final times at the end of Tuesday:
Times at 3pm:
There is a genuine sense of excitement at Valencia. Eight factory riders have either swapped teams or, in the case of KTM, joined a brand new entry. There are four rookies in MotoGP. And even the satellite teams have seen a shake up.
Intrigued to see the riders on their new steeds, I spent the first couple of hours of Tuesday at trackside, trying to gauge the body language of the riders and watch how comfortable they look. The first hours is when the process of adaptation takes place, so there is still a lot to learn for everyone swapping bikes. But it can provide an interesting insight into how the riders are getting on.
Jorge Lorenzo was the second rider out on track, behind Suzuki test rider Takuya Tsuda. On a cold track – ambient temperature of 7°C and overcast – Lorenzo looked cautious on the Ducati, clearly not pushing. Those laps were obviously being used for him to get a feeling for the bike, and to adjust his position on the Desmosedici.
Jorge Lorenzo was the first factory rider out of the pits at 10am this morning, following Suzuki test rider Takuya Tsuda. The rest followed half an hour later, as the sun broke through the clouds and warmed the track. So far, Valentino Rossi has been fastest, ahead of the Repsol Honda riders on the new big bang RC213V.
Times shortly after 12:00
The Monday after the final race at Valencia has not been the first day of the official test for a few years now. This is a good thing: the riders are exhausted after a full season of racing, and need a lie in and a day to recover. The team members are the same, mechanics moving from garage to garage, and crew chiefs shuffling around to meet their new teams.
The riders might get the day off, but the rest of the staff do not. Mechanics are being shown the ropes in the new garage, and learn how the bikes fit together by helping to strip and reassemble them for the start of Tuesday's test. Factory bosses are also busy, going through test schedules with existing and new riders to sort out who will be testing what, and what to expect.
They also make time on Monday to talk to the press. Or at least some of them do. The top brass of Suzuki, Ducati, and Honda all held press conferences to talk to the media, and to go over their plans. The three different press conferences also gave an insight into the different approaches of the teams. HRC were there to present the management team that will take over from Shuhei Nakamoto, who retires as HRC Vice President in April. Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio held a solo press conference in English, to discuss the plans for the team. And Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna spoke to the media in Italian and English about the 2017 bike and the arrival of Jorge Lorenzo.
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.
MotoGP standings after Valencia:
Results and summary of the MotoGP race in Valencia: