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.
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.
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 aren’t 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 was 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.
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.
At the beginning of the year, much was made of the addition of rules governing rider behavior to the Sporting Regulations section of the FIM MotoGP rulebook.
That gave the newly instituted panel of FIM Stewards, who oversee all disciplinary measures, the power to punish riders and teams for a range of activities related to the promotion of the series.
The biggest worry was caused by section 18.104.22.168, which threatened punishment of riders who made public pronouncements considered harmful to the championship.
The first punishments under these new rules have been handed out, and those punishments make it clear that Dorna’s main target is to prevent riders from skipping their promotional obligations which the teams commit to as part of their contract to compete in the series.
At Sepang, the factory Suzuki, Honda and Ducati teams were all issued fines for their riders either missing or being late to autograph signing sessions.
Two down, one to go. The last of the flyaways is always the hardest, in many ways. Three races on three consecutive weekends means that riders never have time to heal from even the small injuries they receive each weekend, from minor falls, or the blisters on their hands.
Spending many hours cloistered in aircraft flying long distance makes catching colds, flu, or other respiratory diseases inevitable. Team members being cooped up together for nearly four weeks means relationships are at best strained, at worst verging on violent.
Then there’s the contrast in climate. Even at its best, Phillip Island can be chilly, so traveling from there to the sweltering tropical heat of Malaysia is a physical shock. To step on a plane in the freezing cold, then step off it to be drenched in sweat is tough for people already drained from so much travel and racing.
Then to race for 45 minutes in punishing heat and humidity, at a track which is physically very challenging, because of the heavy braking zones around the track. The stress, mental and physical, is enormous.
Perhaps it was that stress that caused the MotoGP series to explode at Sepang last year.
Smarting from being beaten into fourth place at Phillip Island by Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Andrea Iannone, Valentino Rossi seized upon the theory apparently put forward by his friend and business partner Alessio ‘Uccio’ Salucci, that Márquez had decided to conspire against Rossi to hand Jorge Lorenzo the 2015 MotoGP title.
Márquez had attempted to accomplish this by beating Lorenzo in Australia. And in the press conference at Sepang, he launched his accusations against the Repsol Honda rider.