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After two days testing at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in November following the final GP of 2016, the long winter break is now finally coming to a close as the grid prepare to take to Sepang International Circuit for the first track action of the new season: January 30th – February 1st. Here’s everything to look out for as we fire up and hit the gas on 2017:
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2017 Starts now
2016 was a tough pre-season for Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. 2017 preparation saw a big turnaround as reigning MotoGP™ World Champion Marquez was back close to the top of the timesheets in Valencia following his Championship win, with recovering teammate Pedrosa not far behind. Initial reports from the riders have been positive ahead of this season, with test days geared towards 2017 preparation having already taken place ahead of the end of 2016.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS duo Jack Miller and Tito Rabat have also done some evaluations of key upgrades to their machines, and Miller was testing for HRC at the private Jerez test at the end of 2016 as the Repsol Honda, Ducati Team and Movistar Yamaha riders did not take part.
Test rider Hiroshi Aoyama has already been on duty for the Japanese factory in 2017, with three days of private track time at Sepang to test fairing and electronic options. The Japanese rider will also undertake another test at the circuit alongside test teams from KTM, Aprilia, Ducati, Suzuki and Yamaha, ahead of the arrival of the race riders on Monday.
Life at Movistar Yamaha could not have begun better for Maverick Viñales. The Spaniard topped the first pre-season test in Valencia, and seemed more than at home in his new colours. Teammate Valentino Rossi was not far behind, with the Italian giving plenty of feedback for engineers to work on ahead of their next appearance on track.
Whilst many of the MotoGP™ grid headed for the Circuito de Jerez late last year to test alongside teams from WorldSBK, Movistar Yamaha instead took part in a private test at Sepang with both Rossi and Viñales. After the long winter break, both will be back on track in Malaysia on Monday – with some extra data gathered in the interim by test rider and MotoGP™ podium finisher Katsuyuki Nakasuga
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 duo Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger also tested at Sepang late in 2016, alongside Movistar Yamaha, with the new rookie pairing having already impressed in Valencia and looking to settle into premier class life quickly.
Three-time MotoGP™ World Champion Jorge Lorenzo switches blue for red in 2017 as he moves from nine years with Yamaha to pilot a Ducati for the first time. With a positive first experience of his new bike in Valencia, Lorenzo is eager to get going as the Italian factory prepare their 2017 challenger – without wings, which are banned for the new season. The Borgo Panigale factory have been on an upward trajectory for several seasons, culminating in two victories in 2016.
Dovizioso enters his fifth year in red as the Italian marque aims to go from race winners to World Champions, and their steady improvement continues. Another man on whom the Ducati Team will be calling is two-time MotoGP™ World Champion Casey Stoner, who returns in his role as test rider for the squad and will be on track at Sepang.
Independent Teams with Ducati machinery saw their last track action in Jerez in 2016, with Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Team) and Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing) topping the timesheets consistently. Octo Pramac Yakhnich rider Danilo Petrucci is the only Independent Team rider on Ducati machinery to count on the 2017 Desmosedici this season, after impressing in his 2016 campaign and narrowly beating teammate Scott Redding in the points standings.
Back on the top step in 2016 after a stunning win at Silverstone, Suzuki aim higher in 2017, with an all-new line-up of Andrea Iannone and rookie Moto2™ graduate Alex Rins. First impressions were good for Iannone, who kept the Hamamatsu factory machine in the top echelons of the timesheets in the Valencia test, and the Italian will be back to full strength next time out after struggling with back injury following a crash at the San Marino GP in 2016.
Alex Rins suffered a tough crash in Valencia on the second day of testing, and also injured his back. After a long period of carefully-managed recovery and training, the former Moto2™ title contender is hoping to be fully prepared for his first experience of a MotoGP™ machine at Sepang.
New Aprilia Racing Team Gresini riders Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes will get back on their new bikes at Sepang. Lowes suffered some tough crashes during previous testing as he prepares to make the leap from Moto2™ and will be back to full strength, whereas Espargaro completed a long program of work in both Valencia and Jerez, with initial reactions from the Spaniard very positive.
After a year of essentially testing as they competed in 2015, Aprilia’s second year back in MotoGP™ saw big improvements, good points-scoring and top ten finishes, as well as a host of direct entries into Q2 – a trajectory that should make 2017 even more exciting for the Noale factory.
After a long period of testing and preparing to line-up full-time, the new Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team wildcarded at the Valencia GP with test rider Mika Kallio, gathering useful data running alongside their paddock contemporaries for the first time but sadly unable to see the flag. With a steel, tubular chassis one of the key differences in the design of the new machine, all eyes will be back on the Austrian factory as feedback from the final testing of last year comes to fruition in Sepang.
Race riders for 2017 will be Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, both of whom tasted their new machines for the first time at the post-race test in Valencia. Smith then also rode at the Jerez test, alongside Kallio once again, before it will be the two race riders back on board in Malaysia on Monday.
2017 really does start now!