Ahead of the long-awaited 2017 MotoGP season, the first official test of the year has taken place in Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. The riders took to the track for three days of testing and it emerged as the new Movistar Yamaha signing Maverick Vinales finishing on top when the test concluded.
Vinales standing out on his new machinery
After his making his unofficial debut in Valencia after the 2016 season finale, and immediately demonstrating how comfortable he was with his new machinery after finishing that test on top, he, after finishing each day near the top of the timesheets, finished quickest overall. He recently was presented by his new team in his official colours at their unveiling in Madrid, and the Sepang test was the first chance to recognise him on track.
Vinales finished the first day as the third quickest rider behind the factory Ducati team riders, former MotoGP champion and test rider Casey Stoner who was quickest on day one after a few days of private testing which allowed him to familiarise himself with the circuit, and Andrea Dovizioso who finished the first day in second as the highest placed rider due to compete this year.
Weather hindered at the beginning of the test
Eager to head out quickly on day one, despite the lack of adhesion on track due to weather conditions, it was not long before he became settled once again on the YZR-M1 and setting his quickest time of the day. The remainder of day one was spent improving on the set up of the bike and attempting to increase the usage of the Michelin Power Slick tyres. Rain hindered the remainder of the session which meant little track time.
Vinales was said to be “surprised” at the end of the first day as he usually expects that the “first day is always difficult” however he finished up “feeling OK on the bike and physically good”. Keen to return to work on the bike he confirmed that they “tried many things” on the first day as they aimed to “get a good package” and worked to “focus on comparing many things”. Their plan was to complete ”some difficult work”; that would prove “really useful for the next few test”, before they used track time to “set a fast lap time”.
Vinales worked his way up the leaderboard on day two
Day two saw Vinales improve up to second quickest by the end of the day despite the fact the weather had worsened and track conditions proved difficult. After waiting four hours for things to improve Vinales set out to try and find the most suitable set-up on the YZR-M1. A couple of hours on track for the young Spaniard meant he was able to gradually reduce his own time. Initially his fastest time took him to the top of the timesheets which was just outside the two minute barrier; however despite being able to get inside the limit, he was beaten by Andrea Iannone on his former machinery as the Italian moved to Team Suzuki Ecstar.
After spending the second day working on “race pace” and on “the race tyre”, Vinales spoke of how he “tried to do consistent laps” and found that the “lap times were quite fast”. He was said to be “surprised that the bike has been working so good” and as expected confirmed that as the grip on track increased they were able to improve on each visit to the track.
After focusing “on riding on a used tyre” again on day two, Vinales was said to be “happy with second place”. He explained that although it is “nice to focus on one lap and be fast” he knows that when a race comes they have to be “fast on all twenty laps” and so he ended day two feeling like they “did a good job and made a good start”. Unsure whether he would “do a time attack” on the final day, as he knew it would be dependent on track conditions, he admitted that, “You always want to see your name at the top of the list, but sometimes it’s more useful to work towards the races.”
Vinales finshed the second test in Sepang on top of the timesheets
After the final day of the Sepang IRTA test, which was a significant improvement in temperatures and was an opportunity to collect dry data, 40 laps in he was able to first gain the top spot on the timesheets; his fastest time of the day and the test clocking at 1:59.368. Once there he returned to improving the settings on the bike before completing a time attack in the closing stages.
By the end of the second official test, after three days and completing 177 laps in total in mixed conditions, Vinales, the young rider who hopes to earn his first MotoGP championship with his new machinery, remained the man to beat ahead of the 2017 MotoGP season. His time of 1:59.368 was quickest ahead of five times world champion, 2016 MotoGP title winner Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda).
Vinales again confirmed that they had spent the final day working “mainly on the race pace” which he found they were able to “improve a lot”. Left “surprised” that he was able to “attain a 1:59”, Vinales ended the test feeling “happy” as he felt it was “very fast and the bike was going well”.
Having “tried many things” during the test he feels that he “can have a better package for the next test in Australia”. Optimistic he feels he can “bring many good things to Phillip Island”. Overall, Vinales was found it “difficult” to identify “which aspect of the bike surprised [him] most”. Although he knows they are still “developing the bike”, and are continuing to try and “better the package that [they] have”, he left Sepang feeling sure that they “have the best bike at the moment for one lap and on race distance”.
Difficult start to the test for Rossi
A meeting spent evaluating several things including testing of the frame, fairing, electronics, mapping and the tyres saw nine times world champion, and teammate to Vinales, Valentino Rossi fifth quickest overall.
On the opening day of the test, the Italian was struggling with his fitness as he was suffering from a strong headache. It meant that, along with the weather conditions, he was only able to complete 27 laps on day one, setting his fastest time on lap 20 which left him eighth overall, and as the third placed Yamaha as rookie Jonas Folger Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) finished a position above him.
Initially, Rossi’s focus was on collecting and verifying data, comparing it to that collected in November in Valencia. By the end of the first day he continued to work on the engine performance until he too was hindered by the weather.
Headache hindered the Italian
Speaking at the end of day one he confirmed that the “first feeling wasn’t so bad” and that during the session he felt that they had found “the ‘real’ two bikes” that they are planning to use during the championship, and that they were “better than the first prototype” that they worked on in Valencia.
He confirmed that he found the opening day to be “difficult” as he woke with “a very bad headache” and it took some hours to gain momentum as he “wasn’t in good shape”. Overcoming it he found that they were “able to do some laps and the feeling was good”. After planning to “finish the work” that was scheduled in the afternoon he spoke of how it started to rain and so he instead hoped that conditions would prove over the remaining two days of the test. Despite the challenges on day one he confirmed that they “worked on the ending and the electronics and found some good stuff”.
Improved conditions meant more track time for the Italian
The damp conditions continued into the second day and when the track dried Rossi seized the opportunity to make up for lost time. He completed 54 laps on day two focusing on the bike set-up in an attempt to improve performance. Time was then spent comparing the 2017 fairing to the old version (without winglets that are banned).
Rossi was able to improve up to fourth on the standings by the end of day two and improved his time from day one by 0.45 seconds on his 51st lap. He declared that he was “feeling 100% fit again” despite the fact that when he went to sleep at the end of the first day of testing, he was still experiencing the headache. Although he woke up feeling better and time was “lost” due to the wet conditions, he was still able to complete the track distance in the afternoon.
He confirmed that they “had some important stuff to try” and he found that “more of less everything was positive”. He found his pace was “quite good” and that “in the end [he] did a time attack” which left him in fourth overall; he was happy with a top five finish on day two. He confirmed that they “have a different frame” which he like, and although no decisions were solid he felt that the “first impression was positive”.
Rossi finishes the Sepang IRTA test fifth overall
With improved weather conditions on the final day of the IRTA test, Rossi spent the morning of the third day evaluating a new tyre for French tyre manufacturer, Michelin. The remainder of his day was spent improving on the results gained from the first two days. In the afternoon he worked his way up the timesheets finishing the final day, and the second official test ahead of the 2017 in fifth overall. After 143 laps over the three days, His fastest lap time of the test came on lap 50 out of 62 with a time of 1:59.589; just 0.221 seconds off the pace set by his new teammate.
Analysing his time in Sepang, Rossi felt it “was a good test” as he found his “lap times were OK” and that they were “all very close to the top”. Overall he felt that the “feeling with the bike is positive” and revealed that on the final day of the first test they “found something interesting to further improve the bike”. He said, “At the end it was a challenging test but we found something positive.”