The first official test of the year saw the class of MotoGP™ 2017 out in force at Sepang International Circuit recently, and actions resumes soon at Phillip Island in Australia from February 15th-17th as the countdown to Qatar gets shorter. One of the most spectacular racetracks in the world, the fast and flowing Phillip Island is perched high on cliffs above the ocean as the Gardner Straight almost appears to disappear into the sea – an illusion only broken as Turn 1 rushes up to meet the riders and they begin the first part of the stunning, 4.4km lap. With weather sometimes more unpredictable when MotoGP™ visits to race, the second test of the year should instead see summer shine down as the grid continue their preparations for the new season.
Malaysia saw new Movistar Yamaha MotoGP rider Maverick Viñales go fastest, with Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) also well up the timesheets as 2017 threatens on the horizon. Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) made great progress up from P17 to get below the two-minute barrier and into the top ten as he settled into life on the Desmosedici, and there was a standout performance from Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar Team) as he got used to the GP16 Ducati.
There were also some interesting changes up and down pitlane including Ducati – with the rear of the bike redesigned slightly and the exhaust shifted – and Yamaha – with Valentino Rossi testing a design with “internal” winglets as the external, traditional designs used throughout 2016 are outlawed.
Sepang, with two long straights and a good variety of corners, presents a different challenge to the flowing and fast Phillip Island. So the Australian track’s key benefits as a test venue are two-fold: that lack of similarity to Sepang, and its unique characteristics that necessitate tyre testing. Some teams, like Movistar Yamaha, intend to use the test more as a data-gathering exercise ahead of the paddock’s return to the venue to race. Others just want maximum track time ahead of the first Grand Prix in order to make the most of the pre-season – especially given the weather at the first test in Sepang, which limited running on some days.
After a first glimpse in Malaysia, Australia now awaits – the second and penultimate pre-season test before the lights go out at Losail International Circuit for the first Grand Prix of the year.