The next rider to be put under the microscope over his 2016 performance is Maverick Viñales. Just how did the Spanish youngster fare last year?
The new year has officially started, the real world of contracts finally lining up with the world of motorcycle racing.
Riders who swapped factories are now free of their old contracts, their new contracts having commenced as the world greeted 2017.
If the riders are excited, that gives fans reason to be excited too. Here are 10 reasons to look forward to 2017.
The end of the racing season is here, which means our last race and testing update from the Paddock Pass Podcast crew. Thus, Episode 42 sees Steve English joined by David Emmett and Neil Morrison for a talk about the Valencia GP and following test week for the GP paddock, as well as the Jerez Test for World Superbike and MotoGP riders.
A lot happened between the racing and testing action, especially with the number of riders we saw switching seats for the 2017 season; as such, there is a bevy of items to talk about: Lorenzo on the Ducati, Vinales on the Yamaha, Iannone on the Suzuki, etc.
You won’t want to miss the insights the Paddock Pass Podcast team brings to these busy weeks in motorcycle racing, in both the MotoGP and World Superbike Championships.
As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!
With just ten days to go until the winter test ban comes in to force, on December 1st, 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 World Superbike 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 I charted them visually.
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.
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 Ducati.
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.
Marc Márquez was fourth quickest on the 2017 Repsol Honda, though he claimed he would have gone even faster on the 2016 bike. Andrea Dovizioso was fifth, the Ducati rider working with the GP17, while Cal Crutchlow ended the day as sixth on the LCR Honda.
Andrea Iannone made a strong debut on the Suzuki, finishing as seventh, ahead of the Ducatis of Scott Redding and Hector Barbera. Dani Pedrosa rounded out the top ten.
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 has been a strange year. New tires have made teams have to gamble much more on setup. 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 setup 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 has brought uses the more pliable carcass that 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.
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.