Implications Of Sepang Preseason Test

by Nick Livers On Mon, Feb. 06, 2017

Photo Credit: MotoGP

Amidst all the anticipation of a new year and several changes within teams, making sense of the madness can be a chore. A few crucial points can be taken from the three days of MotoGP pre-season testing at Sepang.

Vinales Lives Up To The Hype

After coming out on top at the November test at Valencia, Maverick Vinales piloted his Yamaha YZR-M1 to the top spot overall in Sepang on Monday. His switch to the factory team has proven beneficial, though much testing remains before the start of the season.

Aside from topping both tests’ overall timesheets, the third-year rider also managed to best his veteran teammate Valentino Rossi in all five days of testing since the end of last season. Also below him on all timesheets are defending champion Marc Marquez and the man who formerly held his seat at Movistar Yamaha, Jorge Lorenzo.

As a matter of fact, the only riders to produce any better daily times this offseason are Casey Stoner, Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone.

If his performance wasn’t enough to sway opinions, Vinales said he could have been even quicker, had he tested the soft tyre compound at the end of the final day at Sepang.

Iannone Disproves Critics

Iannone faced serious criticism last year, and much of it was in fact warranted. Some incidents of inter-team crashing and other avoidable wrecks left the Italian team less than impressed with their countryman. When Jorge Lorenzo signed with the team mid-season, it became apparent that someone had to go, and that someone was Iannone.

Booted from the bike that he would eventually pilot to his first Grand Prix win (and Ducati’s first in six years), Iannone left the newly relevant team for an open spot on the Suzuki Ecstar team, a step down in some sense.

But Vinales managed to do the same for Suzuki what Iannone did for Ducati in grabbing its first premier class win in several seasons. Suddenly, the seat appeared more attractive than earlier that season.

While Vinales is now undoubtedly on a championship-eligible bike, the prospect of abandoning the lesser blue livery for the prominent blue factory left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths. The worst case scenario for him would involve Iannone beating him on his old bike. Vinales may have taken the top spot in Sepang testing, but Iannone’s presence one spot behind could make the third-year rider uneasy.

Ducati ⅔ (or ½) Strong

Depending on perspective, the Sepang test could have been either mostly or half good for Ducati. One thing is for certain, Lorenzo provided all of whatever percentage was not good with the team. Dovizioso made a strong showing in fourth, and Stoner tested eighth overall and led Day 1. While Stoner isn’t competing for a championship, his competence onboard a Desmosedici may reflect its potential more clearly than newcomer Lorenzo.

Lorenzo’s lackluster performance should be attributed to his becoming acquainted with the Desmo. Worth considering is that Dovizioso has been with Ducati Corse for four years, and Stoner, while only a test rider for one year, won the 2007 championship with the Italian outfit.

Odds And Ends

In many ways, the Sepang test was a celebration of new underdogs, chiefly among them Iannone over former team Ducati, and his former teammate Dovizioso over new teammate Lorenzo.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rookie teammates Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger came in at 11th and 15th, respectively. Their performances outshone former Tech 3 riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, who placed 21st and 22nd, respectively. Espargaro and Smith also struggled to make pace on their KTMs at the Valencia test, finishing no day higher than 17th.

Best among the satellite riders was Alvaro Bautista on his new Pull&Bear Aspar Team. Bautista led the day for a while and recorded the fourth fastest time on Day 1, followed by a third fastest time on Day 2. He dropped to sixth on Day 3 and seventh overall, never topped by another satellite team rider.

One positive outcome of the Sepang test is its improvement on last year’s test times and closer competition. Vinales’ 1:59.368 shaved over two-tenths off Lorenzo’s best time last year, and the overall gap from first to 28th was 2.8 seconds compared to 3.9 seconds spreading the 23-bike field last year. Perhaps more impressive is this year’s .4 seconds gap between first and 11th, compared to 1.5 seconds inside that same rider gap last year.

This week’s testing also provided better lap times than the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle GP weekend last year, whose best single lap time came from none other than Vinales in FP4 at 1:59.947.

The next stop for testing is Phillip Island, a test session topped last year by none other than Maverick Vinales.

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