History was made in 2016 with nine different winners, and engines are now preparing to fire up for 2017 as the first Official Test gets underway on Monday at Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. With Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team the first to have launched their 2017 campaign recently as Maverick Viñales gears up to partner Valentino Rossi, Ducati followed the day after as they unveiled new their line-up of Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso – and next are Team Suzuki Ecstar, set to present their team in Sepang on Sunday.
The prospect of five-time World Champion Lorenzo at Ducati is one of the talking points of the year, and following a good first test in Valencia that saw Lorenzo high up the timesheets with positive feedback, all eyes will be on the number 99 machine as the winter test ban lifts. Teammate Andrea Dovizioso will be testing alongside the Mallorcan from Monday, and the Italian squad continue to call on the talents of their test team – GP winner Michele Pirro and two-time MotoGP™ World Champion Casey Stoner. Stoner and Pirro have also, along with the test teams of other factories, tested privately at Sepang during the week before the race riders arrive. With aerodynamic winglets banned for 2017, the paddock will also be eager to see how that change affects the manufacturer that has pioneered their use.
Viñales in at Yamaha is another top-flight prospect ahead of 2017. Fast in public in Valencia first time out and having gained more experience of the bike at Sepang in a private test attended by Movistar Yamaha and Monster Yamaha Tech 3 late last year, the stage seems set for Viñales to crank it up a notch. With nine time World Champion and legendary Italian Valentino Rossi on the other side of the garage, however, the path to glory will not be easy. With good feedback from Viñales and Rossi playing his cards closer to his chest, the Spaniard has big shoes to fill after replacing Lorenzo. Add in the pressure of defending the team title – won by Movistar Yamaha in 2016 – and there will be another interesting dynamic as Viñales settles in.
Repsol Honda want that team title back, and reigning MotoGP™ World Champion Marc Marquez is also searching for another back-to-back crown; title number six. After a tough pre-season last year, the tables seem to have turned for the outfit with both positive timesheets and feedback from Marquez, and three-time World Champion Dani Pedrosa. Honda have tested at Sepang with Hiroshi Aoyama mid-January, and again with the Japanese rider alongside other teams in a private test ahead of the arrival of Marquez and Pedrosa on Monday. Preparation seems to be very much on-track for the manufacturer as 2017 looms and they prepare for their team launch on February 3rd.
Launching just ahead of the first Official Test at Sepang, Team Suzuki Ecstar have a whole new line-up in 2017. Andrea Iannone arrives from Ducati and a stunning maiden win in the Austrian GP, to be partnered by Moto2™ graduate Alex Rins. Iannone impressed and was impressed on first contact in Valencia, despite some crashes, although teammate Rins suffered an incident on the second day of that test and injured his back. Having then focused on recovery and a more gentle return to training, the Spaniard should be back fully fit at the Sepang test – ready to ride his MotoGP™ machine around the imposing track for the first time.
Aprilia Racing Team Gresini fielded Mike Di Meglio during the private test at Sepang recently, as they hope to continue their impressive progress in MotoGP™. With a spate of top ten results and direct entries into Q2 in 2016, a new line up of MotoGP™ podium sitter Aleix Espargaro and Moto2™ title contender Sam Lowes are those now on duty for the Noale factory in the premier class – with Espargaro’s initial contact with the bike very positive.
Another key change for 2017 sees KTM change from wildcard to full time, with riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro at Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. After test rider and former Moto2™ title contender Mika Kallio rode the all-new RC16 against the competition for the first time at the Valencia GP, a long program of testing should start to come to fruition in Sepang as the Austrian factory share the track and timesheets with their competitors. With a tubular steel chassis marking one of the most striking differences between the KTM and their competition for 2017, interest is high – as is ambition.
The winter break is long and the time has come for the curtain to go up on 2017. With so many rider changes, some new regulations – such as the lack of winglets – and a history-making 2016 to live up to, it’s sure to get off to an incredible start at Sepang International Circuit, from 30th January to 1st February.
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