Round-up of Valencia 2017 Tests – Rise of a new star

Now that fantastic 2016 season is over, let’s have a look at what the Teams brought to Valencia for the 2 day tests that concluded on Wednesday. Before that a quick glance on the rider line up for next year should help put things into perspective. After Jorge Lorenzo was successfully poached by factory Ducati for 2017 & 2018 for rumored 25 million Euros, blokes at factory Yamaha were quick enough to sign rising star Maverick Vinales. Andrea Iannone moved to Team Suzuki Ecstar while Aleix Espargaro rides for Factory Aprilia Gresini in 2016. The former Monster Yamaha Tech 3 duo of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith move to KTM on a 2 year contract to ride RC16.

In the satellite teams, Alvaro Bautista rides for Aspar Ducati alongside Karel Abraham who makes a comeback after not so great stint in WSBK. 2017 also sees four rookies from Moto2 move up to MotoGP class. Double Moto2 World Champion Johann Zarco makes his MotoGP debut with Monster Yamaha Tech3. Jonas Folger will be Zarco’s teammate in Tech3 garage for 2017 and 2018. Hot sensation Alex Rins is the third rookie to move to MotoGP, into Team Suzuki Ecstar. Sam Lowes is the rookie rider in Aprilia Gresini squad partnering Alex Espargaro.

With rider movement out of the picture let’s see what 2 days of testing had in store for us. Day 1 and Day 2 were marked by multiple crashes. Day 1 saw the likes of Rossi, Iannone, Crutchlow, Sam Lowes crashing. Day 2 had more than an hour of session being red flagged after Rins and Iannone had a major crash. While Iannone escaped with minor injuries, Rins suffered fractures to his vertebrae and was out for the rest of the session.

The tests were a positive for Movistar Yamaha, with their newest addition Maverick Vinales topping the time-sheets for both the days. While nobody ever doubted his potential, very few expected him to lead the time sheets especially on a new bike with a new team. Vinales spent both the days testing 2016 M1, and getting accustomed to the bike, the ergonomics, the electronics, the Team. Vinales topped the time sheet with best ever 1m 29.975s. Although his lap time was slower than the times set by Lorenzo in qualifying, Vinales was the only rider to lap in 1’29s. He was consistently fast with laps in 1’30s and 1’31s bracket.

Valentino Rossi had his hands full on both the days testing new 2017 engines. Having suffered a crash just into the lunch break on day 1, progress was slow. Rossi wasn’t too happy with the progress of 2017 engine wanting more acceleration – the area M1’s lacked the most compared to Ducati’s. Rossi finished the session 7th managing just 3 laps in 1’30s. Yamaha have task at hand to bring something for the next private test at Sepang for Rossi to be happy about.

Marc Marquez finished second, spending lot of his time on the 2017 “big-bang” engine. While not much details are available about the engine, “big-bang” has to do with the firing order of the cylinders, giving more traction to the wheels, and sounding more bassy in the process. Like Rossi, Marquez too wasn’t happy with the package, looking for more acceleration. Marc also tested new chassis with radically new geometry. Marquez was using older 2014 chassis until last race in 2016. HRC has its handful trying to bring a package for the next test that will keep Marquez and Dani happy. Marc Marquez clocked consistent 1’30s and 1’31s throughout the test. Dani Pedrosa was 5th overall with best time of 1’30.686s seven tenths slower than Vinales.

Ducati Corse garage saw Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo focusing on 2017 bike on Wednesday. Lorenzo spent entire Day 1 trying to understand GP16 with wings ending the day 3rd in the process. Few would have doubted that, and Ducati Boss Gigi Dall’Igna was a happy figure in the paddock with their newest recruit. Lorenzo was visibly happy with the Horsepower that Ducati had to offer and was pleasantly surprised with the amount of feedback front had to offer. The GP17 bike had a better engine, however, it still had work to be done, especially to suit Lorenzo’s mid-corner speeds. Lorenzo finished final day 8th with Dovizioso ending 3rd.

Suzuki Ecstar had Andrea Iannone finishing the test 4th on the final day. Apart from Vinales, Iannone was the most impressive during the test, praising the Suzuki for its solid chassis. Suzuki did not have much to test on the GSX-RR.

Aprilia were still running 2016 RS-GP, with 2017 bike estimated to be ready by Sepang Test in 2017. Alex Espargaro spent the session getting acquainted with the bike, and was pleased to find the bike exceeding his expectations.

KTM garage saw Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith getting on to the task of setting up the RC16. They had their hands full testing the new package, and were overall happy with the effort KTM had put in this project. Though fast lap times were not the target for this test, Pol and Smith finished the session 17th and 20th on Day 2 clocking 1’31.853s and 1’32.538s respectively.

Rookies had a mixed experience over all, with Folger and Zarco coming up to speed and finishing the session at an impressive 10th and 11th respectively for Tech3 Yamaha. Alex Rins finished Day 1 outside top 20, and was out of action on Day 2 following his big crash that saw the session red flagged for over an hour. Sam Lowes too crashed on Day 1 and chose to sit out for Day 2.

The 2 day test at Valencia threw up some nice surprises in the form of Vinales, Iannone, Folger, Zarco and points to another exciting season ahead. However, it is too early to draw any conclusions with lots of riders changing factories, and lots of new components, machines being tested. Setting up fast lap times weren’t necessarily the order of the day. And we won’t know for sure until lights go green at Losail International Circuit, Qatar on 26th March 2017 when the season begins.

Private tests will be held at Sepang (Yamaha) and Jerez (rest of the manufacturers) next week, before the winter testing ban begins on December 1… Until then stay tuned for more updates from MotoGP tests as and when we get them.

Written By Chinmaya Kar

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