For the riders, teams and followers of MotoGP, the “for real” 2017 testing tout ensemble gets underway at sultry Sepang later this week. The interviews with the riders should be starting about now, in which all of them, from top to bottom, can be relied on to observe how bloody optimistic they are, that the bike is handling really great, the team is united, etc. Seriously, the most determinedly optimistic group you will ever meet or have the misfortune to interview.
Sepang will put some of that nonsense to rest. The KTM and Aprilia teams have an uphill slog at this point in their development. The Ducati teams–factory, Octo Pramac, Aspar and Avintia–have reasons to feel optimistic, that Gall’Igna continues to improve the bike with input from Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Casey Stoner. If Lorenzo and Stoner can get their heads together on this project, and if Gigi can react to their input, the factory Ducati team may compete for a title. Unless there’s rain, of which there was plenty in 2016.
Jorge does not enjoy riding in the rain.
The factory Yamaha team again features two riders, Rossi and Vinales, capable of titling in 2017. No news there. The satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team will likely endure a long year with the two rookies promoted from Moto2–Jonas Folger and Johann Zarco–getting adjusted to life in the fast lane.
The factory Honda duo of Marquez and Pedrosa is another old guy/young guy pairing, similar to Vinales and Rossi. Marquez remains in a league of his own. He will be challenged by the factory Yamahas and possibly Jorge Lorenzo on the Ducati. The two Andreas–Dovizioso on the factory Ducati and Iannone on the factory Suzuki–should have plenty of opportunities to trade paint during the season, both figuring to be consistent top-eight finishers. Iannone is the faster rider of the two, but has yet to learn the payoff for settling for a podium, rather than making an insane chase of things going for the win and crashing out altogether. Or, worse yet, collecting your teammate, who might have happened to be on his way to a podium.
Alex Rins on the second Suzuki is liable to be a force at this level in two years. I suspect he could be the next Maverick, and he has Rookie of the Year written all over him, very fast and on a rapidly improving Suzuki GSX-RR.
Then there’s Cal Crutchlow, my personal fave. He should win three races this season. And keep his cakehole shut as much as possible.
I allowed myself the time today to enjoy a vision, at a track I couldn’t identify, of all these bikes braking into the first turn, after a riveting dash for the front that included Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales and Rossi. Assuming Lorenzo and Vinales can keep their bikes upright, which I do not, there could be some very exciting racing in 2017. Of the four, competing for the title should be Marquez and Rossi. If Lorenzo and Vinales find the going difficult, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, perhaps even Pedrosa will be there to pick up the pieces. The riders have mostly figured out the control ECU, and Michelin has mostly figured out the tire compounds that will work at most tracks.
Let the testing begin, just outside the jungle. Heat, humidity and rain, perfect conditions for MotoGP. Welcome to the big league, rookies.
Visit crash.net for practice times.