Moto2 Assen: Dutch TT Preview

 

A dominant display at the Catalan GP for Alex Marquez is now well and truly in the past as the paddock descend to Dutch soil, the beloved Assen TT circuit plays host to the eighth round of the championship.

The championship standings heading into the Assen make for interesting reading, with Franco Morbidelli’s lead of seven points being the lowest margin from first to second at this stage of the season since the Moto2 machines were introduced to the championship in 2010.

A disappointing display for the Italian in Spain as he crossed the line in sixth place, finishing a surprising 14 seconds off the lead and 10 seconds from the podium. Franco managed to climb on the podium at Assen in 2016, you have to think that would be the minimum target for him this weekend.

The man in close company to the top spot and the only person to finish in the points at every round this season is intermediate class veteran Thomas Luthi. He came across the line third last time round to close the gap at the top as he keeps the pressure on. A non score round the TT circuit last year but can he keep his super consistent record going? You’d be a brave person to bet against him this weekend.

The younger of the Marquez brothers clawed himself back into title contention with his magnificent display at his home race. Confidence will be sky high on one side of the Marc VDS garage as the inter-team battle seems to be hotting up nicely. A disappointing eighth place this time last year simply wouldn’t be good enough this time around as the number 21 and 73 keep an eye on a certain MotoGP seat that might soon be available.

Other men to keep a close eye on are Miguel Olivera, who lies fourth in the championship and double podium man Mattia Pasini, who is in the form of his life after two stellar displays at Mugello and Catalunya.

The 2015 Moto3 runner up has been super impressive on the brand new Moto2 KTM machine this season and after season of ups and downs in 2016, Olivera is right on track to sealing a very solid world championship standing position come the end of the year. His 15th place finish last season won’t be acceptable this time around.

Pasini is on fire. That Mugello victory gave the Italian a new lease of life and it is great to see. His 19th at Assen in 2016 will be completely forgotten about and there’s no reason why he couldn’t replicate his 125cc win at this circuit in 2007.

Other riders to watch out for? Japanese hopeful Takaaki Nakagami picked up his first Moto2 career win here last year as he, Marquez, Morbidelli and Dominique Aegerter are the only riders currently on the grid to have stood on the Moto2 podium at this track.

Francesco Bagnaia penned a new deal to stay on with the Sky Racing VR46 Moto2 squad for 2018 earlier this week after his good start to the season, the Italian will be wanting to mix it with the top boys for the rest of the season.

Jorge Navarro earned his best finish of the season last time out, crossing the line seventh. He missed the Assen round last year with a leg injury so he’ll be looking to get a solid free practice under his belt as he readjusts himself into the famous Assen layout.

Taz Mackenzie finally gets to have a go on a track he’s raced on before, a positive start to the weekend for the youngster who will have put Barcelona’s crash firmly to the back of his mind. The reigning British Supersport champion keeps on getting stronger as he settles into life as a grand prix racer. Any Brits heading to Assen, make sure you get behind one of our country’s brightest motorcycle racing talents.

Assen always treats us to a phenomenal weekend and I’m sure this year won’t be any different. Don’t forget too, this year the race will be held to on Sunday, going against traditions (rightly or wrongly).

Elliott York @journoyork

Moto3 COTA review: Fenati stamps his mark on the 2017 championship

Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) romped to his first victory of the season to announce he is ready to fight for the Moto3 crown once again.

Pole sitter Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) made a blinding start and looked to be streaking clear of the field, however the race was halted by the Red Flags which came out following a crash for Japanese rookie Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) at T14, who eventually walked away from the accident after being aided by medics on the track.

Canet again grabbed the hole-shot from the restart and looked confident to leave the chasing pack in his wake, his practice and qualifying pace suggested he could easily clear off at the front. Fenati though had other ideas, the Italian managed to take the lead on the first lap, only for the Spaniard to retake the lead going up the hill into the first corner, a great jostle between the pair.

The duo were shadowed by Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3), Joan Mir (Leopard Racing), Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3), Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0), who were unable to keep tabs on the front twosome.

Disaster then struck for Canet. Pushing hard to create a gap, the 18 year old had a nasty highside coming out of the penultimate corner, leaving Fenati to control the race. The result means the controversial Italian is now fourth in the championship and only 13 points off the top spot, you’d be a fool to rule him out.

The eight time grand prix winner eventually crossed the line 4.5 seconds clear of the two Del Conca Gresini Moto3 Honda riders, with Martin edging out his team-mate ‘Di Gi’ by less than a tenth of a second. This result meant that Martin continued his 100% podium record in 2017 and after the race he told MotoGP.com that “it’s important that we’re consistent.” He leapfrogs British Talent Team pilot John McPhee in the championship to go just six points behind series leader Mir, whilst Fabio sits sixth in the standings after picking up his first podium of the season.

In arrears of the top three were Bastianini and Bulega, who both took their best results of the year by some distance, with the VR46 rider crossing the line as the leading KTM. Juanfran Guevara (RBA BOE Racing Team), also steering a KTM machine pipped Britain’s McPhee on the penultimate corner to clinch his best result of the year, leaving the Scotsman having to settle for seventh. Despite finishing off the podium for the first time in 2017, McPhee was still able to close the gap at the top of the championship as Mir was forced to settle for eighth.

German Philipp Oettl (Südmetall Schedl GP Racing) collected some valuable points in ninth, with Darryn Binder (Platinum Bay Real Estate), brother to last year’s world champion Brad, rounding out the top 10. The South African lead a gaggle of riders past the checkered flag which included Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Racing Team), Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46), Jules Danilo (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers), Niccolo Antonelli (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Livio Loi (Leopard Racing).

Jerez is up next for the future premier class protagonists, a rider and fan favourite. With the championship tightened up, the battle in Europe will be an enthralling watch with Mir, Martin, McPhee and Fenati looking to take a stranglehold on the Moto3 world championship.

Full results: http://www.motogp.com/en/Results+Statistics/2017/AME/Moto3/RAC/World+Standing

Elliott York @journoyork

Moto2 GP Review: Morbidelli is the Lone Star in Texas

Was it ever in doubt? Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) became the first rider since the late Daijiro Kato in 2001 to win the opening three races in the intermediate class of the MotoGP world championship, a hugely impressive feat. This shows what a talent the Italian is and you’d have to be a very brave man to bet against him to take the 2017 Moto2 championship. He also became the first Italian to win the opening three races of the year in the intermediate class since Luca Cadalora in 1992 and when you think of the amount of top Italians who have come through that class (Capirossi, Biaggi, Melandri, Rossi, Simoncelli, Pasini and Iannone to name all but a few) then you realise just how incredible he is.

Morbidelli was able to control the race from the front throughout, despite team mate Alex Marquez main title rival Thomas Luthi (CarXpert Interwetten), Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) and Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) challenging the series leader in the opening stages. The 22 year old was able to break the chasing group mid-way through the race, with Luthi remaining his closest challenger. Pasini, on for his best result of the season, then crashed out at turn one leaving the birthday boy Marquez and Nakagami to fight it out for the final position on the podium.

The 30 year old Swiss looked to be reeling Franco in at the front, but the former European Superstock 600 champion upped the pace to consolidate his lead and eventually took the flag by 2.6 seconds. 2nd place Luthi earned his 50th Grand Prix podium, whilst Nakagami was able to fend off Marquez to grab his second podium of the campaign.

Elsewhere in the race, there was a huge shunt at the first corner after Stefano Manzi (Sky Racing Team VR46) clattered into Julian Simon (Tech 3 Racing), taking both riders out of the race before completing a corner. The decision to put Manzi into the VR46 Moto2 team is looking increasingly like a mistake, with the young Italian failing to pick up any points in the opening three rounds. Another crash, this time at the end of the back straight saw Yonny Hernandez (AGR Team) make contact with Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Racing Team) and Jesko Raffin (Garage Plus Interwetten). The Colombian proving just how difficult it is to ride a Moto2 machine and be competitive, despite being used to much quicker MotoGP bikes.

Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) crossed the line in a brilliant 5th place to get his and Suter’s best finish of the season. Not such good news on the other side of the garage though as Danny Kent announced he was leaving the team due to “irreconcilable differences.” A huge shame for the 2015 Moto3 world champion, the first British rider to win a Grand Prix world championship since Barry Sheene. Kent took to Twitter to express his feelings: “I’m still hungry & determined & believe I can be competitive in Moto2. I wish Kiefer Racing the best for the future.” It is believed that Kent’s management are looking for an alternative ride for the rest of the season, so let’s hope he can jump on a competitive bike and prove that he can mix it in the intermediate class.

Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) continued his and KTM’s impressive start to the season, bringing home a solid 6th to put the Portuguese star 3rd in the championship to leave him 32 points behind Morbidelli. Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) claimed seventh on a track that has often been a good one for the Speed Up chassis, with the last non Kalex win coming at COTA in 2015 with Sam Lowes on board. Corsi finished ahead of Marcel Schrötter (Intact Dynavolt GP) whilst Tech 3 Racing’s Xavi Vierge continues to massively impress on the out-of-favour chassis, he now lies 5th in the championship.

The battle for the top 10 saw Luca Marini (Forward Racing Team) beat Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia), with Fabio Quartararo (Pons HP 40) staging an impressive comeback in the latter half of the race into P12, finishing as top rookie once again.

Xavier Simeon (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2) led Brad Binder’s injury replacement Ricky Cardus (Red Bull KTM Ajo) home in P13, with Jorge Navarro (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) completing the point’s scorers after a late mistake saw him drop positions, despite some impressive pace on board Sam Lowes’ old bike.

The field now head to Europe, as the ever popular Circuit de Jerez hosts the fourth round of the Moto2 world championship. Can anyone put a stop Morbidelli’s relentless title surge? For sure the Spaniards will be looking to claw back some of the deficit on home soil as it

promises to be another fascinating weekend of two wheeled racing.

Elliott York @journoyork

Moto3 Americas GP Preview: Mir wanting a Hat-Trick

The Circuit of the Americas plays host to the third round of the Moto3 world championship, with three men dominating the opening two rounds. Joan Mir (Leopard Racing), after two expert victories in Qatar and Argentina, sits on top of the leader board with a perfect 50 points. The Mallorcan will be looking to become the second youngest rider to win three successive Moto3 races since MotoGP series leader Maverick Vinales managed it back in 2012.

Hot on the heels of Mir is the most experienced man in the class, Britain’s John McPhee. The 22 year old, now racing with the newly formed British Talent Team with the favoured Honda package underneath him, has started the season fine form with two second place finishes. 2016 was a mixed year for the young Scot, despite picking up his maiden win in the monsoon like conditions in the Czech Republic. McPhee looks stronger than ever before in 2017, with factory backing from Honda and guidance from former MotoGP pilot Jeremy McWilliams, a genuine title challenge looks to be on the cards. His best result at Austin came in 2015 where he powered through from 15th on the grid to finish 6th, so if McPhee can replicate his Argentine pole, there’s no reason why we can’t see the determined Scotsman pick up his first win of the season.

It has been a great year for the initials ‘J.M’ so far in 2017 as joining Mir and McPhee on the Moto3 podium on both occasions has been Del Conca Gresini Moto3’s Jorge Martin. His third place in Argentina has taken his overall podium tally to three, however his recent record at COTA has been disappointing, crashing out in his previous two visits to the circuit. We can expect the 20 year old to be fighting for the podium places once again, despite the KTM machines occupying four of the top five places in last year’s race.

The J.M’s were the first riders to stand on the podium in the first two lightweight class races, in the same order, since 1972. (couldn’t find when it was last done in 3 races).

However, there are a whole host of young, hungry and determined youngsters ready to end Mir’s domination. The returning Romano Fenati is the only rider on the grid to have picked up podium finishes in the previous four years in Austin. The Italian sits 5th in the championship and will be looking to add to his 5th and 7th place finishes in the states. Andrea Migno, the highest placed KTM rider in 4th will be hoping to break the Honda stranglehold. German Phillip Oettl is the next placed KTM in championship, lying in 8th position. The Südmetall Schedl GP Racing rider finished 4th in the USA in 2016, so expect him to be right up there this weekend.

Pre-season favourites Enea Bastianini, Niccolo Antonelli and Nicolo Bulega will be hoping to kick start their seasons after a disappointing opening two rounds.

It certainly promises to be another fairing-bashing race, with the big question being can anyone stop Mir and the Honda’s? Let’s hope McPhee can spoil the Spaniards party and carry on his title charge, whilst KTM will be looking to pick up their first rostrum of the season.

Elliott York @journoyork

TeamByTeam MotoGP Preview: Marc VDS Honda

Another team that are keeping their rider line up consistent is the Marc VDS team, as Jack Miller and Tito Rabat spearhead the Marc VDS Honda outfit for the 2nd year running. An unexpected maiden victory for Miller in the tricky conditions at Assen was one of the highlights from 2016, whilst Rabat will be looking to get a solid season under his belt after a difficult start to his MotoGP career. Although for the second consecutive year, the team suffer from a far-from-fit line up. After Jack Miller’s foot and leg injury last year, Rabat has arm and collarbone injuries, meaning that it may be a case of making it through the first rounds for Rabat and not pushing to the absolute limits.

As we know, the Honda is certainly not the easiest bike on the grid to ride, however the aforementioned injuries picked up by the two youngsters haven’t helped with their preparations for this season. The new Honda “big bang” engine though has enabled Miller at least to become more comfortable on the bike, commenting on how the bike is now “more calm for the rider and you can focus on hitting the lines.”

A repeat victory in 2017? 2016 showed how the weather can allow for people like the Aussie to win races. Jack is still only 22 years old and he’ll be looking to impress further this year in the hope a factory ride will come calling sooner rather than later. His Spanish team mate is now 27 years old and after picking up a nasty injury to both arms and collarbones at the Sepang test, the start of 2017 looks like it will be tough for the former Moto2 world champion. Miller is entering his third season with a Honda under him and his 2nd with the Estrella Galicia outfit, meaning that he will be looking to beat the 57 points he scored last season. Rabat’s best finish of his MotoGP career was 9th at last year’s Argentine Grand Prix, his only top 10 in the whole season. Rabat may be out of time if things fail to change in 2017.

Unfortunately, I’m expecting another tough year for the Spaniard. I’m sure were all hoping he can stay injury free and challenge for some decent points every weekend, as we all now the talent he posses. As for Jackass, I feel he can certainly penetrate the top 10 on more than one occasion. If the weather throws up a surprise, expect the Aussie to be challenging for the the top six and maybe we can see him add to his sole victory.

The team itself is one that has fingers in many pies. CEV Junior Moto3 championship, Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP – there’s definitely a ladder that riders in the lower ranks can look forward to following. The question is for this season is whether the team can transfer the form from the lower classes into the premier class and give Rabat and Miller the results they deserve. One thing is for certain, if the team get another freak win, there will be a party long into the night, with the likes of Jack Miller in the team, there’d probably be a party anyway.

Elliott York @journoyork

TeamByTeam MotoGP Preview: Pramac Ducati

For the Pramac racing squad, 2017 will be their 16th consecutive season in MotoGP and this year could be their best one to date. There’s a Desmosedici GP17 in their ranks in the hands of Danilo Petrucci after he won the inter-team battle against Scott Redding last season, which means the Italian will get the same package as factory boys Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso. However, that may not be the best thing in the early part of the season. Scott will have a bike that is a proven race winner, whilst Danilo’s is yet to reach such stages. It might only be a short-term advantage but Scott might have the upper-hand early doors on his Italian teammate.

So, can we expect Petrucci to be competing with the likes of five-time world champion Lorenzo? It will be a fascinating challenge for him that’s for sure, as the GP17 will be the most competitive bike he has ever ridden. He’ll be looking to get this year off to a better start, as a testing crash at Phillip Island last year meant he had to miss the opening four rounds. No such crashes this year though for the 26-year-old, who will be looking to add to his podium finish at Silverstone back in 2015. Petrucci has excelled as a rider having left the Ioda team and you get the feeling that he could produce something special in mixed conditions. And, if there is an issue with the factory team riders, Petrucci may well get a call up. It’s all experience after all.

As for Redding, he is on board a bike that has proven race winning potential, as factory riders Dovizioso and now Suzuki pilot Andrea Iannone proved in 2016. Race wins, in the dry at least, will probably be a step too far for Scott. For me, the Gloucestershire born rider can definitely challenge for the top 6 as there is no doubting that the youngest ever GP winner is quick. Redding has had a difficult pre season, however he seemed to have found a set up that works in the final pre season test, good news for us Brits. But, with tricky weather conditions always a threat at Assen and the Sachsenring, Scott could give Paolo Campinoti’s team a much-deserved victory. His 3rd place in The Netherlands last season was a real indicator of the Brit’s talents.

The Pramac team have had a lot of mixed fortunes over the last few years but podiums have prevailed. In 2015, Petrucci put the bike on the podium in monsoon-like conditions at Silverstone and a year later, Redding did the same at Assen. Petrucci momentarily led last season’s German GP, whilst setting the fastest lap of the race in Holland. More of the same in 2017 perhaps?

An intriguing battle to see who will come out on top between these two is certain and it adds yet another sub-plot to the 2017 championship. Another dimension to the series with yet another rivalry brewing. Fallouts from last year look to spill over into this season, so just what exactly lies ahead? Stay tuned.

Elliott York @journoyork

TeamByTeam MotoGP Preview: Monster Tech 3 Yamaha

The Yamaha satellite team have an all-rookie line up for 2017, which some may have questioned when they first announced it. However, you will do extremely well to find someone who doesn’t think that Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger will mix it up with the leading teams on more than one occasion this year.

Zarco joins Tech 3 with two consecutive Moto2 world titles under his belt. Many rookies find their first year in the premier class extremely difficult, look at Tito Rabat for example, who was Moto2 world champion before Zarco. For the Frenchman though, this doesn’t seem like it will be the case. Admittedly comparing the two is harsh on Rabat, as he had arguably the most difficult bike on the grid (Honda), whilst Zarco has last year’s Factory Yamaha which most consider to be the easiest bike to ride. No matter, for Johann to go just 0.4 seconds slower than Maverick Vinales at the Sepang test was somewhat extraordinary. The 26 year old again impressed in Qatar, finding himself only half a second down on Vinales. It goes to show what a great bike the Tech 3 is but it also indicates just how fast the Cannes born rider is.

Potentially the most impressive man across the tests though was Folger. I will openly admit that I was sceptical about whether or not the German could cut it in the premier class, but boy have my doubts well and truly disappeared. Jonas is fast, very fast. For me, getting to within a second of Maverick at Sepang was impressive, but to then go to Phillip Island and Qatar and finish 4th and 7th overall was astonishing. Not to mention being within 0.5 seconds of a potential world champion at both circuits. Folger has a great wealth of experience too, in both 125cc/Moto3 and Moto2. He will have mastered his own technique and like Zarco, that may be incredibly important to Tech 3, who endured their first season without a podium from a rider since 2007.

Talking of circuits, Tech 3 also have their favourites. Phillip Island is a circuit that Yamaha on a whole do well at. Smith took a podium in 2014 at the track and there was a double top ten for the team at the track last year. Misano saw Bradley Smith take a heroic 2nd place, whilst Catalunya was home to a 5th place for Pol Espargaro, likewise at Le Mans. Yamaha enjoy circuits with long corners and big, wide esses, like Brno. Jonas Folger won the Moto2 race last year, whilst Johann Zarco won there in 2015. Losail may go well for the team too, seeing as Bradley Smith managed a front row in 2014 and that Cal Crutchlow put the bike in 4th in 2012. Expect an upset with the French-based team.

I think it is safe to say that both men look comfortable and will be upsetting a few factory teams right from the off. Not only that, but I’m predicting a hugely competitive inter-team battle to see who can come out on top. I’m sure the pair will be eying up that Factory Yamaha seat once The Doctor decides it’s time to call it a day…

Eliott York @journoyork

TeamByTeam MotoGP Preview: Red Bull KTM

Picture Credit to Gold and Goose

I think I’ll be speaking for every MotoGP fan when I say what an exciting prospect the Red Bull KTM bike is, especially with Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith spear heading the Austrian factory outfit. The pair have proven top six credentials and one can only imagine the two creeping further and further up the points as the season progresses.

So what can we expect from the two riders this year? Smith first entered the Grand Prix stage 11 years ago, amazing to think considering how young the Briton still is. Talking in his blog, the 26 year old is expecting the opening rounds to be particularly tough. After an outstanding 2015, where he finished the season as top independent team rider in 6th, Smith had one of the most difficult years of his career last season. Now recovered from his freak accident at Oschersleben in an endurance race, both he and his Spanish team mate will be aiming to penetrate the top 15 in the opening rounds. Once more, Bradley is one of the most technically gifted riders in the current MotoGP field. He knows exactly what he wants and by the time we get to the end of the year, we (as Brits) will want Bradders to be somewhere near the top 10.

Pol Espargaro joins KTM after a stellar year on board the Tech 3 bike, only losing out on the top independent rider honours to double race winner Cal Crutchlow. The former Moto2 world champion now enters his 11th year of Grand Prix racing, and despite never tasting the champagne in the premier class, there is no doubting the young Spaniard has the ability to ruffle some feathers as he gets to grips with his new machine. The KTM has however proven difficult to ride, as Pol has already said the bike is rather violent with its power. Once more though, Pol – like Bradley – brings a wealth of experience into the team, from Moto2 and MotoGP. Both riders both coming from the same team may also enhance KTM’s understanding of where their own bike may need to improve but also where it is just fine.

In terms of out and out speed, the RC16 isn’t a million miles away from being a competitive bike. Since Mika Kallio’s wildcard in Valencia, both Espargaro and Smith have lapped within 1.3 and 1.4 seconds of Maverick Vinales at the Phillip Island test, a sign of how far the bike has progressed since the project started 15 months ago. One indicator to measure how quickly the bike is developing is by observing the distance between the bike and the front riders from the start of the weekend. It’s not so much lap time that matters but more of how big the gap is to the leaders. They may also want to use Aprilia and Suzuki’s comeback season as a benchmark – although reliability and validity would be questioned, seeing as there was open class concessions for tyres and engines and also a different tyre supplier, with Bridgestone.

What circuits have previously benefitted KTM then? Unfortunately there’s little evidence to go on seeing as their only point in the premier class was at Laguna Seca, with Shane Byrne in 2005. The Ricardo Tormo circuit was where the bike made its debut so it may make a more notable improvement in comparison to other circuits. However, the three day tests in Qatar, Malaysia and Australia would’ve done no harm in finding a base setting for when the tracks are used for racing.

For the team to be aiming for points in their second ever race is a sign of Red Bull KTM’s mind-set, so let’s not expect them to be at the back of the field for long. After all, with big money sponsorship, two incredibly technically-talented riders and a determined workforce, they could be something a little bit special in what is now considered the “Golden Age” of MotoGP.

Eliott York @journoyork

Phillip Island WSBK – What We Learned

After a long winter break we finally have bike racing back on our screens, and the World Superbike boys certainly didn’t disappoint.

A rider and fan favourite, Phillip Island played host to the opening round of the season which looks like it will be one of the most competitive campaigns to date.

The rider who was always going to be the man to beat this year is Jonathan Rea, gunning for a hat trick of world championships on board his Kawasaki machine. The Ulsterman had the perfect weekend as he was able to covert his pole position into victory on Saturday, fending off team mate Tom Sykes, Ducati man Chaz Davies and potentially the most impressive man over the weekend, Alex Lowes.

Then on the Sunday he was able to withhold a challenge from the two Aruba.it Racing Ducati’s of Davies and Marco Melandri. A hugely impressive start to the season for the reigning champion, who looks like he will be taking his defence of the title right down to the wire.

Let’s hope that fellow Kawasaki rider Sykes can challenge his team mate for the crown. Sykes managed to stick with the leading group in race one, eventually taking the final spot on the podium, just over a second behind Rea and Davies.

Unfortunately for Sykes, the new grid rules for race two hindered his race on Sunday. This meant he was unable to stick with the likes of Rea and Davies as they expertly carved their way through the field. Sykes eventually had to settle for 6th place, leaving him 24 points behind championship leader Rea. Nevertheless, we can definitely expect to see the Englishman fighting for race wins throughout the season as he aims to get his second title under his belt.

Davies, who is expected to be Rea’s closest challenger, indicated that his Ducati team are going to be a huge thorn in the side of the Kawasakis this year. Two spirited rides from the Welshman earned him two 2nd places, ended both races less than half a tenth behind Rea. Those fine margins could be the slim difference as to which way the title will be decided this year and as Davies will agree, it’s about time his talent was rewarded with a world title.

It is great to see Melandri back on the World Superbike scene as Davies’ team mate. The hugely experienced Italian looks like he can spoil a Kawasaki party this year too, which is great news for us as fans and the Ducati team. Unable to finish race 1, Melandri was able to stick with Davies and Rea to take a very impressive podium on his return.

Another Ducati who might be able to cause a few upsets this year is the Spaniard Xavi Fores after he picked up a 6th place finish on Saturday, then took a 5th place finish on Sunday. Fores was only 2.3 seconds behind Rea; maybe the Barni Ducati rider can challenge for victories this year as he starts 2017 in fine form.

As previously mentioned, arguably the most impressive performance of the weekend came from Alex Lowes on board his Pata Yamaha. Thankfully, it seems like Lowes has found some serious pace on the Yamaha, which struggled throughout 2016. Two 4th place finishes proved Lowes means business this year, which consequently means there is another Brit fighting at the top end of the World Superbike grid. Let’s hope this wasn’t just a one off weekend for the Yamaha team, as Lowes and Van Der Mark will be looking to crash the Kawasaki and Ducati celebrations on more than one occasion this season.

The new Red Bull Honda Fireblades didn’t have the weekend they would have hoped for. The expectation for Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl probably wouldn’t have been very high, however an 11th place finish followed by a DNF for Hayden and two 15th place finishes for Bradl would have been worse than many would have foreseen. For sure the Honda’s will come good, but it is unsure as to when they can hope to fight for the top 6, let alone for podiums and victories.

The Milwaukee Aprilia RSV4’s will also be looking to improve after their Phillip Island displays. Both Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori will be expecting to fight for podiums and wins at some point this season. However, just like Honda, the question is when will they be able to do this? Both the Kawasaki and Ducati outfits look like the complete package this year, so will it be possible for Aprilia and Honda to burst their bubble by the end of the season?

Of course, we have Yamaha trying to sneak in their as well Lowes looks like the man who is the most likely to do that at this moment in time. Let’s not forget Leon Camier too, two solid top 10 finishes on ‘The Island’ for the MV Augusta rider consolidates him as another potential thorn to Ducati and Kawasaki.

The fact that there is so much to talk about after the opening round proves how exciting this season is going to be. There are so many talking points and so many possibilities that are too difficult to predict, so let’s hope for more of the same as the paddock heads to Thailand for the second round of the year, taking place on the 11th and 12th of March.

You can follow the Pit Crew on Twitter, @PitCrew_Online and also my own personal account, @journoyork

Eliott York @journoyork