On a second sunny day at Phillip Island, it was former Moto3 champion and Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block Maverick Vinales who was sitting pretty at the top of timesheets. Fellow countryman Marc Marquez was in a comfortable 2nd and Britain’s Cal Crutchlow, who won the Australian Grand Prix last season, was in the bronze medal position.
Vinales, who was fastest in both the Valencia and Sepang tests, set his quick time early on, during his 21st lap out of a colossal 80 come the end of the day. His 1.28.847 was under the pole time from last season but still around 8 tenths off Jorge Lorenzo’s absolute best, set in qualifying for the controversial 2013 Australian GP.
Whilst I describe Vinales’ lap count as colossal, Marc Marquez put in the most of the day, registering 107 come the chequered flag at the end of the day. The reigning champion also set his time early doors, this time on his 20th lap. Despite suffering from a cold – and by that I don’t mean the wind chill factor at The Island – Dani Pedrosa clambered out of Repsol Honda hibernation and completed 40 laps, the fastest of which came on the 38th attempt, leaving the former double 250cc champion down in 16th.
Valentino Rossi’s electric start on day 1 had subsided into a power cut on day 2. Whilst the veteran Italian racked up 70 laps, he couldn’t match the time set on his 18th, leaving him way down the field in 8th place, despite fractionally improving on yesterday’s time. Valentino, like his helmet, may well be snowed under, perhaps his reasoning will be jet lag. The Yamaha corporation has been to Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines in the last 3 weeks, meaning that both riders will be drained, but of course, it would only effect the elder statesman of the team.
Although he may not like the term, Crutchlow was the top independent rider, finishing the day in 3rd. The Brit went faster than what he managed during race conditions in the Grand Prix last season, and was just 0.478 off of a scorching Maverick Vinales. Alvaro Bautista continued his impressive form ahead of 2017, proving that he still has what it takes to be a top half-dozen rider. The former 125cc champion took 4th place, finishing top Ducati – oh what a punch in the guts for the Factory Team.
Talking of a factory team, you’ll be wondering where Ducati got to. Dovizioso took 5th place on board the 2017 version, 0.6 off Yamaha’s Top Gun at the top. The new Ducati signing of five-time champion Jorge Lorenzo wasn’t looking to good down in 15th place, but the Spaniard is still adapting to the Italian bike. Lorenzo’s best time came on lap 32 of his 64, leaving him just over 1.3 seconds off the fastest time.
German Jonas Folger was in 7th place, the Tech 3 Yamaha rider taking the top rookie honours from Phillip Island. He was only marginally quicker than his fellow rookie and teammate Johann Zarco, who completed the day in 11th, a tenth and a half further back.
Carrying on the form from the back end of last season, the Factory Gresini Aprilias look the business in 2017. Aleix “Versatile” Espargaro took a great sixth place for the team, setting Aprilia’s fastest ever lap around Phillip Island, including both MotoGP and World Superbikes! His teammate and rookie to the class Sam Lowes stayed down the order in 22nd place but improved hugely, knocking one and a half seconds off his time from day 1.
The first Suzuki was that of Alex Rins. The rookie showing that he – and the Suzuki – have gelled immediately, despite the initial setback with his injury. He was within a second of the top spot, by former Suzuki man Vinales, so that will be his reference point as he continues to adapt to new surroundings in the dizzy heights of MotoGP. His teammate, Andrea Iannone was somewhat languishing on day 2, failing to improve on day 1’s time.
Completing the top 10 was Jack Miller. The Aussie at home looked like a good combination as he continued his pre-season preparations. The Dutch TT winner was the only Estrella Galicia machine out on the course, as Tito Rabat recovers from injuries sustained in a crash during the Sepang test.
Karel Abraham was a bit of a shock up in 13th place. The Czech and former GP winner is returning to the Grand Prix circus this season after a woeful season with Shaun Muir’s Milwaukee BMW squad over in WSBK. The Czech will be out to silence his critics – including myself – and so far, he’s doing a rather sterling job of it. He led a string of Ducatis, with Petrucci and Lorenzo in behind and rounding out the top 15.
After being a revelation of 2016, Hector Barbera was somewhat off the pace during the Phillip Island Test. The Spaniard rounding out day 2 in a lacklustre 17th, albeit only 1.5s off Vinales. Barbera, like many, set his fastest lap very early in the session. He was ahead of Brit Scott Redding, who begins his 4th season in the premier class. The Pramac Ducati rider completed 90 laps, setting his best on the 83rd. Although the placing may not be too clever, the former GP winner took a hefty 1.3 off his time from day 1, as well as jumping up the order by a couple of positions.
Behind him were the Red Bull KTM pairing of Pol Espargaro (19th) and Bradley Smith (22nd). In between them was Loris Baz, who in turn was just fractionally ahead of Aprilia’s Sam Lowes. The Red Bull KTMs took over half a second each off their times from day 1, as they continue to search for the machine’s sweet spot. Bradley Smith is said to be trying to change his riding style, the one which he picked up over the last four seasons on the Tech 3 Yamaha.
There are many things to withdraw from testing, but I personally feel that the Phillip Island test has proved the most fascinating, and maybe, the most indicative. Ducati struggling and Aprilia improving, as well as the Yamahas and Hondas warring, this could be yet another vintage season of Motorcycle Grand Prix racing. And there is yet more to come, tomorrow the testing continues and we will be in for a treat as the teams try to make the gains on the final day.
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Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko