The second all-manufacturer test for the 2017 Moto GP season has just finished, this one at the fabulous Philip Island circuit on Australia’s south coast.
Earlier this month the teams were at Sepang in Malaysia, with the first brief shake-down happening last November after the final 2016 Moto GP event at Jerez in Spain.
Some new mechanical and aero tweaks showed up in Australia, the most obvious being double-walled fairings on the Yamahas, Suzukis, and Aprilias designed to out-wit the ban on the aero “winglets” introduced in 2016, but the main thing of interest was, as ever, who was fastest. All the teams and riders will tell you that it doesn’t matter, they’re just testing bits and pieces, and that’s true to a degree, but they’re lying if they insist the ultimate times are truly irrelevant. If nothing else, the speed over a single lap can be a big boost to rider confidence — or otherwise.
As at Sepang, Yamaha’s new signing Maverick Viñales ended up fastest, 0.3 seconds faster than Honda’s three-time champion Marc Marquez. The two young Spaniards have already developed the start of a serious rivalry, sparring on-track and in the interview rooms, which should help liven up what already looks like a pretty decent upcoming season.
In terms of that, the interesting thing about the Philip Island times is that the top 20 are within 1.5 sec of Viñales’ fastest time, and the top 13 are within a second. That top 13 includes two class rookies, Jonas Folger for Tech III Yamaha and Alex Rins for Team Suzuki, six Moto GP winners, five world champions in various classes, but only three Moto GP title winners – Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Valentino Rossi.
Any of the top dozen could challenge for podiums or even conceivably wins this season, including (based on performance to date) class rookies Folger, Alex Rins, and Folger’s Tech III tem-mate Johann Zarco; not as fast in Aus as at Sepang, but still well in the mix.
Only a fool would be making predictions at this time of year, especially with things so close — so here’s my prediction. The title is going to come down to a Viñales vs Marquez, Yamaha vs Honda duel. They’re both young and fast, Viñales probably has the slightly better bike, and they both have highly-experienced team-mates who’ll push them to the limit and be able to back them up for wins. Other fast top guns Andrea Iannone and Jorge Lorenzo are both settling into new teams – Lorenzo in particular having trouble adapting to the finicky Ducati, while Iannone seems already quick and comfortable on the Suzuki, and may end up with victories, but a title? Unlikely.
The next chance to see what’s up will be in Qatar March 10, with the first race of the year a week later, the weekend of March 17-19.
The top 15 ended like this in Australia:
- Maverick Viñales, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 1:28.549
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 1:28.843
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 1:29.033
- Jonas Folger, Germany, Monster Tech III Yamaha), 1:29.042
- Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 1:29.101
- Alex Rins, Spain, Team Suzuki Ecstar, 1:29.103
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 1:29.248
- Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Ducati Team, 1:29.342
- Jack Miller, Australia, Estrella Gallicia Marc VDS Honda, 1:29.358
- Aleix Espargaro, Spain, Aprilia Gresini, 1:29.361
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 1:29.470
- Andrea Iannone, Italy, Team Suzuki Ecstar, 1:29.547
- Danilo Petrucci, Italy, Octo Pramac Ducati, 1:29.615
- Johann Zarco, France, Monster Tech III Yamaha, 1:29.670
- 15. Hector Barbera, Spain, Avintia Racing Ducati, 1:29.791