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A new MotoGP™ World Championship season has officially begun, bringing with it Michelin’s return to the world stage and a few surprises.
For the first time since the end of 2008, the MotoGP™ World Championship raced with Michelin tyres. The build up to the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar had been filled with worry and doubt; could the front withstand the stresses of a race? Would the tyres last the full distance? Would they heat up in time or would the opening laps be spent tip toeing around?
Fortunately the Michelin tyres passed with flying colours, allowing the field to push throughout the 22 lap race with winner Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) improving the 2015 race time by an impressive seven seconds. That’s an average of rough 0.319s a lap quicker. Based on the three previous tests, it looked as though the Michelin tyres would be quick but few knew exactly how quick. Not only was the overall race pace quicker, but Lorenzo was able to set a new fastest race lap record with a 1’54.927.
This was not on the fourth or fifth lap, but the 20th of 22. Michelin showed that the soft rear could work just as well as the hard as both Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) took to the podium with it fitted. “The harder compound should become better and better, but I think what happened was the opposite. The softer tyre should get worse and worse, but it was faster and faster so this little difference was the difference between me and Dovizioso and Marquez,” said Lorenzo after his near flawless victory.
His teammate, Valentino Rossi was left scratching his head over what could have been: “We need a faster pace and maybe the tyre choice can make some difference, but we don‘t know. Maybe with the soft tyre I could go faster or I could go slower.” It certainly seemed a difficult decision to make as both the hard and soft rears were viable options on race day, the top four divided on rear tyre choice and seemed more down to rider and bike preference than anything.
Ups and downs
After the Qatar Test and Free Practice it looked doubtful that Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) would be in contention for a podium finish, yet alone spend the majority of the race within a few tenths of the leader. An almost overnight change saw Marquez challenge for pole position and then carry his pace onto the race and battle like his old self: wild, loose and fast. There's still a way to go for Honda, but the situation looks far more positive than it did just a few weeks ago.
Things went the opposite way for Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) who had ended the Qatar Test in second and with a strong pace over multiple laps. The Brit struggled throughout the weekend, falling twice as he searched for the feeling he had had during testing. He never found it and ended in 10th: “After the tests we thought we were in good shape but obviously we were missing something. What would I like in Argentina? To find back the feeling of test,” reflected the Brit.
2017 begins now
Every year ‘silly season’ starts earlier and earlier, traditionally who was going where would only be talked about in the final rounds. Then the Czech GP became silly season's new starting point, but now it begins as soon the new season, if not sooner. 2017 is set to be an especially big year as for the first time in several years all the factory seats are open. Or at least they were, Valentino Rossi made the first move of 2017 as he re-signed with Yamaha for two more years. Traditionally Rossi has waited until around his home Grand Prix in Mugello to decide his plans, but there was no waiting around this time.
Just a day later Bradley Smith announced a move to Factory KTM Racing team for 2017 and 2018, the Austrian brand aiming to expand on their success in Moto3™. Smith is eager to face the challenge of developing the new RC16 and with four years of premier class experience under his belt, he’s certainly got the knowledge to assist KTM.
With 17 races left there’s still plenty of time for the other 18 riders to find their spot in the 2017 World Championship, no doubt throwing up more surprises along the way. Aside from who is going where, the coming races will no doubt throw up on-track surprises as well, the Qatari track a notorious false dawn for which riders and bikes are strong. There’s still plenty of time for Lorenzo to be caught, time for Ducati’s top end speed to see them blast away as in 2007, time for Honda and Marquez to soothe the bike and time for the up and comers to assert themselves.
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