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What conclusions can we draw from the first MotoGP test of 2017 at Sepang? Well, it’s the first test of 2017, and the factories still have the best part of two months to refine their bikes before the season starts in earnest in Qatar.

Any conclusions we draw are at risk of crashing headlong into reality at the end of March. But with all that data from the test available, it is hard to resist the temptation to dive into it and read the tea leaves.

To make some sense of the timesheets from Sepang, I examined the lap times of the fastest thirteen riders at the end of Wednesday.

The reason for selecting Wednesday was simple: as it was the last day of the test, the riders were all fully up to speed, and the teams were putting together the lessons they had learned on the first two days, selecting the most promising parts to develop going forward.

It was also the day when most of the riders did long runs, especially as conditions allowed it, the weather staying almost completely dry all day. That meant that the riders had a chance to do some long runs, though only Jorge Lorenzo actually ran full race distance in one go.

The reason for selecting the top thirteen riders, rather than doing it for the entire grid, was simple. The top thirteen riders included all of the favorites for the 2017 season (and eight of the top ten from 2016), bikes from five of the six manufacturers now in MotoGP, and two of the four rookies for 2017. It also includes Casey Stoner, Ducati test rider and still one of the fastest men on two wheels.

To draw any kind of meaningful conclusions, I first had to filter out the in laps and out laps, as well as any slow laps which rendered them useless. I used 2:02 as a cut off point. Any laps slower than that were deemed to be too slow for consideration.

That is roughly representative of recent race pace at Sepang. (For comparison, Dani Pedrosa’s winning race pace in 2015 features 16 sub 2:02 laps, his pace only dropping above that on the last three laps.)

Episode 45 of the Paddock Pass Podcast begins the 2017 racing season, and tackles the pre-season tests for MotoGP and World Superbike, which were at the Sepang, Jerez, and Portimão circuits.

In this show, Steve English, and David Emmett take us through the happenings on and off the track at these events, and discuss who is looking ready for the 2017 season, and who still has some work left to do before the green flag waves.

To start things off, first we get David’s account of the MotoGP testing at Sepang, where we got a quasi-glimpse of what to expect from MotoGP’s new riders, as well as how teams are dealing with the new ban on winglets.

Next, the show turns to the World Superbike paddock, where Steve gets us up to speed on what happened at both pre-season tests on the Iberian Peninsula. With a bevy of riders coming into WorldSBK as well as some shuffling of machinery, there’s no shortage of topics in World Superbike as well.

With the long wait over the winter now over, we should be bringing you shows regularly once again. Stay tuned for our next episode, from the MotoGP test at Phillip Island.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter 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!

While Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez emerged from the Sepang tests as clear favorites, with Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, and Andrea Dovizioso close behind, Andrea Iannone established himself as a genuine dark horse. The Italian was fastest on Tuesday, and left the test as second quickest behind Viñales.

Iannone has inherited a bike that is already well developed, and Suzuki brought engine upgrades to Sepang, which got them even closer to the front.

It was telling that Iannone did not spend much time testing parts, but rather focusing on race setup and working on extracting maximum performance from a used tire.

Tires were a bit of a problem for Iannone on the last day of the test. He crashed three times, including once as he was attempting a long run, the front washing out at Turn 1. The issue proved to be a vibration in low speed corners.

“I have a small vibration in the slow corners,” Iannone said. “In the fast corner the bike is perfect. There is no vibration, no chattering. But in the slow corner, especially in turns four, nine, 14 and the last corner, we have a small vibration at maximum lean angle.” That vibration got worse as the tires became more worn.

What did we learn from the Sepang MotoGP test? More than we thought we would on Sunday night. The forecast was grim: plenty of sporadic rain and a track that wouldn’t dry quickly promised three wasted days.

But by the time the teams packed up on Wednesday night, after nearly a full day of testing, Sepang had turned out to be both productive and instructive.

After three days of testing it is clear just how close the field is this season. The top ten riders are separated by just four tenths of a second. Sixteen riders are within a second, from Maverick Viñales in first to Hector Barbera in sixteenth.

The top four riders are on four different manufacturers, less than two tenths apart, and there is a good mix of manufacturers throughout the top of the timesheets.

The two exceptions are Aprilia and KTM, but there is hope for them too. Aprilia made huge strides last year – Aleix Espargaro is thirteenth, 0.740 behind Viñales, and two whole seconds closer to the front than Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista were at the same test last year – and now basically just lack horsepower.

KTM is in its first season in MotoGP, but is already closer at Sepang than Suzuki was at its first Sepang test in 2015. The level in MotoGP is now unbelievably high, and unbelievably close.

What looked like a wasted day quickly turned around at Sepang. Tuesday started wet, the streets and circuit taking a while to dry after Monday evening’s torrential rain.

Sepang’s weakness was once again exposed: the track took a long time to dry, wet patches remaining on the track for several hours. It was not until 1pm that a few riders started to venture out, and by 2pm, the track was full with riders trying to make up for valuable lost time.

Some riders made use of the conditions, as far from ideal as they were. Jorge Lorenzo put in ten laps in the wet, and Johann Zarco put in eight laps. The reason? To help build confidence, for Lorenzo in the wet, for Zarco, to try to figure out what a MotoGP bike is capable of.

Zarco rode a pair of wet tires to destruction, feeling how the soft, moving rubber exaggerated every movement of the bike. It served as a sort of magnifying glass for how a MotoGP bike behaves, amplifying the feedback and making it much clearer to fully understand, Zarco explained. By the end of the run, he had learned a lot, and made a massive step forward.

How much difference had it made? When the red lights came on for the end of the session, Zarco’s name was still fifth on the timesheets, the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Yamaha rider less than a tenth behind Valentino Rossi, and half a second behind Maverick Viñales in second.

The Frenchman had found a way of understanding where the limits lay, without pushing himself over the edge.

On a normal day, the fastest rider at the end of a day of testing is paraded proudly in front of the press, and given his chance to explain what a good job the team and manufacturer was doing, how they were not really pushing for a lap time, and feign a certain modesty while privately gloating at how they crushed their rivals.

But this was not a normal day. The fastest man in Sepang on Monday slipped out of the circuit in virtual anonymity. After all, he is merely a test rider, and test riders don’t usually talk to the media. We journalists, snobs that we are, don’t waste our precious time on test riders.

In this case, however, it was not the media not wanting to talk to the test rider, it was the test rider not wanting to speak to the media.

One of the reasons Casey Stoner retired from racing was because he was sick of the media circus, of spending his life living out of a suitcase and answering stupid and prying questions from idiots like me.

But he still loves challenging himself on a MotoGP bike, and trying to see just how fast he can go. And Ducati are happy to pay him handsomely for the privilege. After Monday, who can blame them?

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.”

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.

The 2017 season is starting to take shape. After the announcement of the provisional 2017 MotoGP calendar in the run up to Aragon, Dorna published the schedule of official tests for the 2017 preseason. Like the race calendar, the test calendar looks remarkably similar to last year.

Testing kicks off after the final race of 2016 in Valencia, and as last year, the riders get a day off between the race and the test, with the bikes taking to the track on Tuesday.

Up until last year, the test had always started on the Monday after the race, but that was changed last year, with the explanation that the teams needed an extra day of preparation to get the bikes set up with the Michelin tires and spec electronics.

No major technical rules are to change for 2017 (with the exception of the banning of winglets), but the extra day of rest is to be maintained.

Episode 18 of the Paddock Pass Podcast returns to the world of the GP paddock, and covers the latest MotoGP test in Sepang.

In this edition, David, Neil, and Steve cover everything that happened in Malaysia, including the return of Casey Stoner to the Ducati Corse garage, Loris Baz’s horrific crash on the Michelin tires, Suzuki’s progress with the GSX-RR, and much, much, more.

The boys are currently on their way to Phillip Island now, for yet another MotoGP test, as well as the start of the World Superbike season. Expect another show from that outing in the coming weeks.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter 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!

The return of Casey Stoner to Ducati as a test rider has raised more questions than it answered. Fans and media alike are in a state of confusion about his intentions, especially given the times he was setting on the Ducati Desmosedici GP15.

What was he doing? Will he race again? When will he test again? To try to put this test and Stoner’s role into perspective, here is what we know, what we think we know, and what we don’t.