The speed and variety of Sepang, the epic sweep of Phillip Island and the slick night-time desert setting of Losail: all three of the 2017 MotoGP tests saw Movistar Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales in menacing form and throw a large ‘blue’ gauntlet at the feet of reigning champion and former junior foe Marc Marquez and the rest of the grid.
The twenty-two year old clocked a 1min 54.3 on the third and final day of action (half a second under the race record) and among the last laps of preparation before the season begins at the same floodlit venue in earnest in just two weeks time. The effort once again hoisted #25 as the man to catch as he continued his seamless adjustment to the factory Yamaha for what will be his first term on the M1…and now almost as one of the favourites for the ’17 crown.
“Even on race pace we are quite happy,” he said Sunday night and just before heading back to his home in Andorra for a few days rest and training ahead of the opening Grand Prix. “I feel that we can still better the electronics and gain a couple of tenths, so we have a margin to improve. For sure we‘re not on the bike‘s limit, so we can still push a little bit more. If we do the same in the first GP as we did in the test, we can fight for the victory. We have a really good package and I feel good on the bike.”
Viñales could barely have done more to convince his rivals and MotoGP fans worldwide that he is set for a blazing third season in the premier class. Perhaps one of his toughest challenges however will come from the other side of the Yamaha garage as Valentino Rossi and his crew used their experience and guile to refine the Italian’s set-up on the second day. #46 was second quickest on Saturday and his track record for resilience and excellence means he cannot be discounted from any race scenario.
Further down the pitlane and Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo continued his adaptation to the works Desmosedici for what will be his first year in red after almost ten years racing for Yamaha.
The Spaniard was fourth and while he admitted the Ducati has “its character” and “is powerful and nervous” he was also able to talk about some of the modifications made while at Losail to reduce the demands of the distinctive motorcycle: “little by little it will be easier”.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Jonas Folger was again the rookie out front with the eighth best lap and just ahead of LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow and teammate Johann Zarco. The German impressed in Australia and again demonstrated rapid acclimatisation on the M1 after stepping up from Moto2 in 2016.
Losail remains busy this week with the Moto3 and Moto2 classes completing their final testing days but the run to March 25-26 will come swiftly and the first real ‘rubber burning’ of the campaign.