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MotoGP News Wrap | Phillip Island Test | Events

The recent MotoGP test at Phillip Island answered some questions and begged some new ones about the new Michelin tyres and control software each premier class team will now use.

The southernmost GP circuit proved a troublesome host – with typical Bass Strait weather patterns interrupting everybody, and making a washout of the first of the three days.

The track’s sweeping nature and fast corners played into the hands of the underdogs, perhaps sounding a warning for the forthcoming season, where all-new control tyres from returned French company Michelin, and one-for-all control electronic software, have redrafted the ground rules.

Thus the fastest time went to Suzuki, which still awaits the final upgrade of a full seamless-shift gearbox; and the increasingly respected junior rider Maverick Vinales, on only his second year in the premier class.

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There were no further Michelin disasters, after the exploding rear of Loris Baz at Sepang, and once again general approval of the tyre performance – with a number of crashes on the final day failing to eliminate some nagging doubts about the rubber’s predictability at the limits. General progress however remained reassuringly positive, the lap times comparing well with those set on Bridgestone’s.

Times were close, with the top 16 riders within a second of Vinales’s 1’29.131. Marquez was second with 1’29.158. Last year, he qualified on pole with 1’28.364; Vinales’s test time would have put him ninth on the 2015 grid, three places down on his actual position.

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Crash victims ranged from the new guys – Tito Rabat twice in a day, and Estrella VDS Honda team-mate Jack Miller (back from injury) to big names, including Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, as well as (though less unusually) Marc Marquez and both Suzuki riders, Aleix Espargaro also twice.

Most of them took place on the third day, with riders trying to make the most of a dry window in still-threatening conditions. The rain showers at least did give riders a chance to test Michelin’s new intermediate tyres (never on offer from Bridgestone); although only a handful took advantage of it.

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Vinales’s best-of-test time came on day two; and the young former Moto3 champion was second to Marquez’s Repsol Honda on day three: a strong performance in the Ecstar Suzuki GSX-RR’s second season. It was set on the 2016 chassis, with Vinales praising the turning, as well as the improved electronics. But he admitted that the track suits not only the bike but also his style: last year he finished a strong sixth, equalling his best so far set at Catalunya.

There was encouragement over at Honda, thanks not only to Marquez’s strong lap times, but also his verdict that: “We are getting closer every day. It seems that here we have found a base setup that can work well. It’s true that this is a special track … what you test might confuse you at other circuits, but I am happy overall,” he said.

Also encouraging for the formerly beleaguered HRC was Cal Crutchlow placing third overall on the satellite LCR Honda. The English rider was using essentially an old engine, and expected an upgrade for the final round of tests at Losail at the beginning of March. “Electronically we are still really struggling to find the best balance with the bike. However we used the 2015 engine today, so maybe in Qatar things will be a little bit better for us, with a more updated version,” he said.

These two Hondas pushed Lorenzo down to fourth overall, as Movistar Yamaha’s defending champion failed to improve on his day two time. His plan for a race simulation was cut short when he lost the front and tripped over at the slow MG Corner (Turn 10). He was unhurt, but did not go out again. But he was still making smooth progress, in familiar fast but measured fashion.

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He was two places but less than a tenth ahead of teammate Rossi, who left the tests with one matter at least decided: he preferred the upgraded 2015 chassis to the new 2016 version, which was revised to suit Michelins as first tested last year. In the interim, the characteristics of the tyres have changed.

“I feel good with the bike and with the tyres, and my pace was not so bad,” Rossi said. “So I’m quite satisfied.”
Rossi who turned 37 two days after Valentine’s Day, is lining up for his 20th season in GP racing.

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The Yamahas were split by Hector Barbera, best of the Ducatis on the satellite Avintia Desmosedici GP15; and a second strong performance for the Spaniard, who was naturally delighted. “The winter test has been great so far, but I am still realistic. My war will be to be between fifth and tenth place very race. More than this will be a gift for us,” Barbera said.

His joy was in sharp contrast to Octo Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci, star of the first round of tests. Petrucci led the sheets after the rain-troubled first day, but crashed heavily towards the end of the final day at the fast Hayshed corner, breaking three bones in his right hand. He will miss the next tests for sure, and possibly the first race also. His team were baffled by the crash, which happened on an out lap.

His teammate Loris Baz had the benefit of a modified seat to accommodate his lanky frame better, and promptly placed seventh, ahead of a downbeat Dani Pedrosa who was typically matter of fact. “The important thing is we’ve improved with the electronics,” he said (Honda is using the Magneti Marelli software for the first time).

With Pol Espargaro ninth on the Monster Yamaha – the 2015 version favoured by Rossi, the factory Dukes placed tenth and 11th, separated by mere hundredths, and Andrea Iannone the faster, less than three quarters of a second off the top.

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More importantly than position with the satellite riders, both he and Andrea Dovizioso worked with the new evolutionary GP16 exclusively. Dovizioso was cautiously positive – “a little disappointed with the position, but happy we are making progress”.

Ducati new boy Scott Redding, on the second Octo Pramac bike, continued to adapt well after two declining years on a Honda, slotting in to 12th, mere thousandths slower than Dovi.

Bradley Smith was next, taking his typically step-by-step approach; then injury victim Petrucci, with Jack Miller 15th, ahead of class rookie teammate Tito Rabat. It was Miller’s first outing on the latest Michelins, and while still not fully recuperated from his leg fracture, managed “a heap of laps” (almost 90), and was “stoked to be back on the bike”.

The Marc VDS pair were the last inside a second of best time, with Aleix Espargaro a rather dismayed 17th on the second Suzuki, battling with geometry and electronics before falling twice to cap a bad three days.

Yonny Hernandez and Eugene Laverty were likewise struggling with the Aspar team’s new Ducatis; with Suzuki test rider Takuya Tsuda rounding out the 20.

Aprilia missed the second round of tests, working back in Italy to ready their all-new 2016 machine for the final Losail tests, for riders Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista.

The final round of MotoGP tests are at Losail from March 2-4.

Moto2 and Moto3 test at Jerez take place at the same time, with both classes to get their own Losail test later in March 11-13, just a week before the first race at the same circuit on March 20.