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After an absence of some three weeks or so, the MotoGP teams once again return to action at Sepang for the second official test of the pre-season. The intervening period has seen a flurry of activity in the factories in Japan and Italy, and at CRT team headquarters around Europe.

The data accrued on the first visit to the Malaysian circuit has been analyzed, assessed, and more modifications made and ideas worked out for the second Sepang test. So what can we expect to see in Malaysia for the next three days? And what are the key details to keep an eye on?

For most of the groups inside the MotoGP paddock, this final visit to Estoril for the Portuguese Grand Prix is tinged with sadness. Everyone loves this place, except for arguably the most important group of individuals present: the riders. The track is too tight for a MotoGP bike, especially the tight uphill chicane that follows a couple of corners after the back straight, and the many surfaces of Estoril make it very difficult to cope with. But for anyone who doesn’t actually have to ride the track, Estoril is wonderful. Teams and journalists either stay in the beautiful seaside resort of Cascais, or else in the magical town of Sintra, up the mountain overlooking the Portuguese circuit. As far as ambiance is concerned, the Portuguese round of MotoGP is very hard to beat.

Unfortunately for the Estoril circuit and the many fans it has in the paddock, this is the last time we will be coming here for the foreseeable future. The state of the Portuguese economy, combined with the fact that this is one of the least attended races of the season means that it is just not viable for the time being, especially not as the circuit really needs resurfacing. In a last-ditch effort to attract as many people as possible to the Grand Prix, the circuit organizers have slashed prices by quite an astonishing level. The cheapest ticket for the weekend? 2 euros. The most expensive? 20 euros for a three-day pass and the best seating. There are several circuits where you could spend ten times that much on a ticket. A bit of judicious googling for hotels and flights and you could come to the Portuguese GP for just the cost of entry for another European round.

After the opening of hostilities in the black of the desert night in Qatar, the 2012 MotoGP season gets underway for real – or at least, what feels like for real – this weekend in Jerez. The paddock finally full, not of Nissen huts, but of sleek and shiny hospitality units and race trucks; the stands full of fans, and spread all around the track, not huddled together at one end of Qatar’s single grandstand; the bikes displaying their natural glory in daylight, not the fluorescent glare of Qatar’s admittedly spectacular floodlit fish bowl.

The track is familiar to all. We were here just a month ago, for the final IRTA test ahead of the season, and everyone has had a chance to find a decent setup for the track. Fastest man during the test was also the fastest man at Qatar, though arm pump prevented Casey Stoner from capitalizing on that speed, and his title rival Jorge Lorenzo taking advantage to secure a well-deserved victory.

If you want to get a quick feel of how the 2012 MotoGP Championship is shaping up from a very knowledgeable person in the MotoGP paddock, then today’s video from Yamaha Racing’s Lin Jarvis is your best bet. Taking some time from his duties of running Yamaha’s MotoGP team, Jarvis talks about the tests underway in Sepang, Malaysia, and is generally optimistic about the season.

Of course sometimes what isn’t said is more important than what is said, and in this season preview you won’t hear a single word about the most important change to MotoGP: the claiming rule teams. Simple omission, or are the OEMs beginning their face-off with Dorna on the future of MotoGP?

I’m going to come out and say that I loved the 2011 Triumph Speed Triple when it came out. A divisive model with the Triumph’s loyal fan base, the revised Speed Triple’s aesthetics are a marked improvement over the earlier generations in my book, which was the only thing that kept the peppy three-cylinder machine out of my personal garage. Now to thoroughly ruining my Christmas wish list, the British brand has added the 2012 Triumph Speed Triple R to its EICMA debut list, with the “R” designation denoting the bike’s upgraded Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes, and PVM wheels.

While this might look like a modified Triumph Bonneville T100, in reality it is the new Triumph Steve McQueen Edition. That’s right, Triumph has seemingly teamed up with Steve McQueen’s estate, and is making 1,100 Steve McQueen Edition motorcycles. Inspired by McQueen’s Triumph Trophy TR6, which was featured in the movie The Great Escape, the Triumph Steve McQueen Edition features what the British brand calls “a military-style matte khaki green livery” and sports a stencil-styled Triumph decal on the tank with a Steve McQueen signature on the bike’s side covers.

Officially breaking cover now, the 2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer continues the British company’s revamping of its adventure-tourer line. Featuring a 1200cc three-cylinder motor, the Tiger Explorer is the bigger brother of the popular mid-sized Tiger 800, which debuted last year after much build-up. Sans a few spy photos and some rumormill, Triumph has taken a decidedly different and more low-key approach in getting buyers excited about the new Tiger, though we think Triumph fans will like what they see.

The 2010 World Superbike Championship series is only two weeks away from its season opener at Phillip Island, and to help get the Superbike juices flowing for race fans, WSBK has put together a video that highlights moments from the 2009 season and an update on riders and teams for the 2010 season.

If only we could get coverage of WSBK this good on the television back here in the States. At 22 minutes long, this is a video well worth watching with beverage and food within arms’ reach. Enjoy the season preview after the jump.

bmw-s1000r-street-jerez-1

The street going version of the the BMW S 1000RR made a surprise visit during the Jerez MotoGP this past weekend, and luckily someone took some pictures of it. The new superbike was being used as the race safety bike for the GP races. These photos come about a week before the at Monza’s World Superbike round, May 8th -10th, where we hope to finally see the bike in its full street form, although these photos are pretty close to showing us that. Continue reading for the photos, and more details.