The 2016 MotoGP™ World Championship may be over, but bikes are already back on track at the Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana on Tuesday and Wednesday – for the first test sessions of the 2017 season, from 10am to 5pm local time (GMT +1).
The future is coming and it looks like this: a major reshuffle across the premier class, banned winglets, and a new manufacturer – as well as the usual, never-ending push for progress in the world’s fastest motorcycle racing Championship.
The key draw for most will be wearing red: Jorge Lorenzo is set to get his first taste of Ducati on Tuesday, as the ‘Spartan’ leaves Movistar Yamaha for the Borgo Panigale factory team. Maverick Viñales is the man in to replace the outgoing 5-time World Champion alongside Valentino Rossi at Yamaha – with Andrea Iannone completing the top draw shuffle as he switches Ducati for the Team Suzuki Ecstar seat vacated by Viñales.
Graduation is also on the cards for many: reigning intermediate class Champion Johann Zarco leads those on the move up, with key 2016 Moto2™ rivals Alex Rins, Jonas Folger and Sam Lowes also all making the leap. Lowes will join former Suzuki rider Aleix Espargaro at Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, as Rins takes the older Espargaro brother’s place with the Hamamatsu factory.
Zarco and Folger will continue their rivalry from Moto2™ in close quarters as they move to MotoGP™, taking over from Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith at Monster Yamaha Tech 3. Espargaro and Smith maintain their relationship as teammates – but moving to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing.
After a year of testing with an impressive line-up of names, the Austrian factory line up full-time in 2017 with 2013 Moto2™ World Champion Espargaro and MotoGP™ podium finisher Smith. Following their first real run alongside their competition with Mika Kallio at the helm for a wildcard in the 2016 season finale – hampered by a technical fault – the Austrian factory are now a full time entrant and will have comparative data from the test sessions for the first time. The Moto3™ frontrunners will be looking to hit the ground running in their quest to win yet more titles – this time in the premier class.
Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, along with Movistar Yamaha MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi and Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso, will also be straight back to work for the new season: more ready than ever to pick up where they left off. With four of the top six riders in the 2016 standings not moving team, consistency could play to their advantage.
After a year of the new Michelin tyres and standard spec electronics packages in the MotoGP™ class, each factory will be going into the season with more data than last year – and more idea of how the pack was shuffled.
Ducati, Suzuki and Aprilia are still on the hunt for the pace of the frontrunning two Japanese factories, Honda and Yamaha, with Suzuki making huge gains in 2016 and looking to continue them. Aprilia, who have tested in competition throughout this season, have also had a fantastic curve of progress – with both factories looking to their new line-ups to continue the trend and find those final steps.
Ducati are the factory closest to their goals. After the arrival of Andrea Dovizioso in 2013 and Luigi Dall’Igna in 2014, the Borgo Panigale factory have taken huge steps forward in 2016 in their quest to return to the top – including winning their first two races since 2010. Winglets, banned for 2017, will be an interesting part of their puzzle after Ducati proved the frontrunners in the winglet war – but testing will initially begin with the winglets remaining, to enable back-to-back comparison.