On the third and final day of testing at Phillip Island, it was Yamaha’s new boy Maverick Vinales who took honours, and made it three from three as he topped all other pre-season tests. The Spaniard was ahead of newly found rival Marc Marquez and his teammate, Dani Pedrosa, who sprung up the order after a tricky day one and two.
The British GP winner from last season racked up an impressive 101 laps on his #25 Movistar Yamaha, setting his best on lap 13. Vinales topped day 2 also, meaning that he can leave the Australian circuit with the upper hand as we approach Losail. His teammate however, did not fare so well. Valentino Rossi also set his quick lap on the 13th, but managed just over half of what Vinales completed. The Italian was languishing in 11th. Perhaps one too many pints last night, as the 9-time champion celebrated his 38th birthday.
Marc Marquez hounded Vinales for part of the session, sitting in the wake of the Yamaha man. The reigning champion put together 96 laps, and like yesterday, set his fastest lap early on, on lap 14. The Spaniard praised his long runs from day 2, in enabling him to ride a more comfortable bike with a more sophisticated electronics package. Dani Pedrosa shocked everyone by rocketing up the order on the final day, from as low as 16th yesterday to 3rd today. Dani, like Marc, worked on electronics and the setup of the bike for the race, despite not being able to complete a long run.
Jonas Folger continued to show the world why although only winning one Moto2 race last year and stepping on the podium a mere four other times, as he rounded out the test in 4th place. The German has incrementally gone about his business, making refinements to both the bike and his riding style. His teammate and reigning double Moto2 champion Johann Zarco was also happy with his testing performance, as he was one of 20 riders to get under the pole time from 2016 – despite being in 14th – although just over a second of Vinales.
Double Grand Prix winner Cal Crutchlow stormed to a solid 5th place at the final drop of the chequered flag. The Brit’s performance is backing up his strong latter half-of-season form from 2016. Crutchlow was ahead of new kid on Suzuki’s residential estate Alex Rins, who once again beat his teammate Andrea Iannone, meaning the Italian has work to do. Both Suzuki riders set their fast laps towards the end of the session, with Iannone ending up in a lowly and uncharacteristic 12th.
Behind Rins, the Ducati pairing of Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo. The two former champions struggled throughout the test, with the latter being in 15th after day 2. Both riders salvaged something though, putting the Ducatis in the top 10. Dovizioso was testing the bike, whilst Jorge Lorenzo continues to work through his program schedule in adapting to the fierce Bologna Bullet.
In 9th place, last year’s Dutch TT victor, Jack Miller. The local hero slotted his Estrella Galicia Honda nicely in the top 10, proving that last year’s successes were no fluke. He, like for the previous days testing, was the only Marc VDS rider testing, as Tito Rabat takes up the role as benchwarmer (or the MotoGP equivalent), as he recuperates from a fairly big crash in Sepang.
Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro was next up in 10th, as again he proves the Aprilia is a bike capable of threatening the serious end of the points. A string of laps which amounted to 65 come the chequered flag, the Barcelona boy set his best on the 61st of these. His teammate Sam Lowes was 21st, but only 1.6 seconds away from Maverick Vinales’ time, highlighting two things: the first is that the placings of riders in the test isn’t that relevant, and the 2nd is that MotoGP is ridiculously close, and if the whole field is under 2 seconds from the top man, then there is going to be some seriously hard riding – as ever – in MotoGP this season.
Danilo Petrucci was flying the Pramac Ducati flag in 13th place; the Italian leaving ‘The Island’ in one piece and with the Pramac team this year, unlike last year when he left the circuit with the Ambulance crew. His teammate, Scott Redding, was in 20th, but once again, being just 1.4 off the top on arguably the most daunting circuit of them all is nothing to be shy about.
Hector Barbera was in 15th position for the newly named Reale Espnsorama Racing outfit (Avintia to me and thee). The front row qualifier from last season’s German GP set his fastest lap on the penultimate lap of his session, whilst teammate Loris Baz was 17th, setting 71 laps and completing his best of them on lap 64.
Pol Espargaro was a pleasant surprise in 16th, as the Spaniard continued to improve and impress on the Red Bull KTM. The Austrian factory completed 135 laps with both riders, as Bradley Smith also climbed the order, up to 18th on the final day. Both under the pole lap from last year’s qualifying, although the conditions were poor.
Alvaro Bautista – arguably the revelation of testing so far – couldn’t improve on his time from day 2 and was fairly subdued in 19th place. The #19 said that they (the team) had not found an ideal setting, but that his confidence has grown with the Ducati. Teammate and WSBK refugee Karel Abraham was in last position on day three, but drew the positives, saying that his long run would be helpful in preparation to Qatar, as he acclimatises to not just a new bike and team, but new tyres, having never ridden on the MotoGP Michelins before.
After an eventful test, which saw red flags and animals on day one and incredibly quick lap times and surprises on day three, it’s fair to say that MotoGP has really been set up for yet another incredible season. Could we see 10 riders on the winners list this season? Stay tuned to find out. The next test will take place in Qatar, on the 10th – 12th of March (also the weekend of the Thai World Superbike round).
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Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko