The MotoGP season got underway at the end of January with the first official three-day test of 2017 taking place at Sepang in Malaysia. Analysing the three days has given us plenty of talking points – and with the first 16 riders separated by less than a second, hopes of an unbelievably close year look set to be fulfilled.
Following on from his debut Yamaha outing in November, it was Maverick Vinales that ended the three days fastest but arguably the most sensational performance came from Casey Stoner with the 2007 and 2011 World Champion recording the eighth fastest time.
The Australian retired at the end of the 2012 season and hasn’t raced anywhere since so his pace only served to remind everyone as to just how unbelievably talented he is – and what a loss to the sport he’s been.
Having only slung his leg over a MotoGP bike on a handful of occasions since 2012, to be so fast against a field of riders who have racked up the laps, both in testing and race conditions, it almost defies belief that he could be so quick. He was actually the quickest rider on day one of the test leaving the entire field trailing in his wake.
His reasons for retiring have been well documented but one can only wonder what the racing would be like if he was still competing alongside Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo and co.
Quickest in Valencia back in November when he rode the YZR-M1 for the first time, he proved it was no fluke in Malaysia with the fastest overall lap once more. Times were incredibly close amongst the leading pack but make no mistake, Vinales is a serious title challenger.
Ever since he’s competed in Grand Prix racing, he’s proven to be consistent and a rider who makes few mistakes. The established guard in MotoGP knows that this is a threat that will be there all year long.
Suzuki resurgence continues:
2017 marks Suzuki’s third year back in the premier GP class and the leaps and bounds they made in 2016 with Vinales and Aleix Espargaro show no signs of slowing down. The new team leader is the fast but sometimes erratic Andrea Iannone who makes the switch after four years on Ducati machinery.
However, ‘Maniac Joe’ appears to have made the switch with comparative ease and having topped the timesheets on the second of the three days, he ended up second overall and just 0.084s adrift of Vinales. He may not be a title contender just yet but he’ll certainly be a thorn in the side of those that are.
Lorenzo on the pace:
He may only have ended the Malaysian test in tenth place overall but Jorge Lorenzo will be more than happy with the fact his time was only four tenths of a second slower than the pace-setting time of Vinales.
Many riders before him have ended their first test with Ducati far more distant than that and he’ll certainly be optimistic for the season ahead. The knowledge and input of Stoner, along with that of team-mate Andrea Dovizioso and his own personal adaptation, allowed the Spaniard to continually get quicker over the course of the three days.
Double Moto2 World Champion Johann Zarco has joined the Tech 3 Yamaha team and his dominant years in the middleweight division suggest he should be the best rookie in 2017. And that’s exactly the position he’s started in as he completed the test only 0.4s off the top spot.
He was one placed ahead of regular Moto2 sparring partner Alex Rins. The Spaniard’s first test back in November was a baptism of fire as he sustained a number of injuries after being catapulted down the road but he bounced back strongly in Malaysia to go 12th quickest on the second Suzuki.
Meanwhile, when Jonas Folger was announced as Zarco’s team-mate, it’s fair to say a number of eyebrows were raised in the paddock but it’s certainly been a case of ‘so far, so good’ for the German. He was half a second slower than Zarco but still within a second of Vinales.
KTM face long season:
Former Tech 3 team-mates Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro now find themselves sharing a garage at Red Bull KTM. The Austrian manufacturer spent most of 2016 developing the RC16 before making its Grand Prix debut at the final round last year with test rider Mika Kallio.
It was an inauspicious debut to say the least and although their development should increase with the two riders and under race conditions, early signs suggest that 2017 will be a long season. Espargaro and Smith ended the three days back in 21st and 22nd respectively and close to two seconds off the pace.
Testing resumes at Phillip Island, Australia on February 15-17.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.