Maverick Vinales chats with Bracksy at Philip Island
After three days of MotoGP testing at Phillip Island, Spaniard Maverick Vinales travelled home happily contented that he was the fastest of the bunch. Yes, testing is testing but when you are the fastest, bragging rights come along with it. Add in that he is riding a less fancied machine than most, and not yet into his second MotoGP season, the performance of last week has plenty of folk uttering his name, one of which would be his team mate Aleix Espargaro, who was visibly shaken as he floundered in Vinales wake, leaving the island with his confidence severely dented.
Both riders crashed at least twice; Espargaro trying to equal or eclipse his teammate’s lap times, Maverick just pushing harder, part of the development curve and his quest to be the fastest and beat anyone in front of him.
Racing a motorcycle since he was three-years-old he has a name that is fitting of a motorcycle racer. His father loved the “Top Gun” movie. The rest is history.
The rise through the Grand Prix ranks for the 21-year-old Vinales has been meteoric, but anyone who has stood trackside will understand why;he grabs any bike by the scruff of the neck and makes it do what he wants it to. From the time this scribe witnessed him in the 125cc/Moto3 category I knew he was something special – and that’s not because he secured sponsorship from Paris Hilton.
Vinales is one of those kid riders that makes you shake your head in disbelief of what he can do on a motorbike.He is in the realms of Marquez. After rising through the domestic Spanish titles where Marquez and himself had many battles, Vinales entered the GP ranks in 2011, (the final year of the 125cc class) and finished third outright. A very auspicious start.
He repeated that effort in 2012 – it could’ve been a lot better except for a snap when he, infamously, stormed out on his team at the Malaysian GP, fed up with the FTR Honda, proving that he is his own man and an individual that doesn’t mind letting people know how he really feels.
He bounced back from that controversy to win the tiddler title in 2013 and then in 2014 stepped up to Moto2. In his sole season in the intermediate category he finished an astounding third overall and was named a deserved “Rookie of the Year” in the class.
With his escapades in the lower ranks it wasn’t long before he was under the gaze of the new man at Suzuki, Davide Brivio. After years with Yamaha and a multi-year hiatus, Brivio moved to Suzuki to spearhead its return to the MotoGP ranks. Brivio had no hesitation in signing Maverick – along with fellow Catalunyan Espargaro, as Brivio said, “His talent was obvious and I had no reason to doubt his talent on a MotoGP machine.”
Like a spaceship on re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere, Vinales has set the MotoGP paddock alight with his tenacity and ease of adapting to the 250+HP machines. The talent was reflected when he took out the “MotoGP Rookie of the Year” award in MotoGP – two rookie awards in two years.
“I did not change my style. I changed my lines to adapt to the machine but my riding style is completely the same. The first day the MotoGP bike looks incredible but when you get used to the speed it comes normal. It took me a little over a day to get used to it. It is really incredible and very, very exciting.”
Vinales repaid the faith in the vision of Brivio with some fine results, his best being a brace of sixth place finishes; one at Catalunya and the other at Phillip Island after qualifying sixth for the antipodean GP.
In his first year as part of Suzuki’s return he was overall satisfied with his novice year in MotoGP.
“Yes, honestly I think we did a good job. The first part of the second was quite good but the second part of the season we were on standby as that we could not improve and was difficult to understand the way to improve.”
In the winter break Suzuki has improved, although at the first test for 2016 at Sepang, at the beginning of February, Vinales was outside the top ten as the team struggled, experimenting with different settings as the team adapted to the new electronics package and new tyre supplier, along with the different characteristics of the new engine’s power delivery.
“This winter Suzuki work quite hard to bring a new engine that makes a lot of power and finally, I think, we have made a good and big step. For me, the important part to improve for this year is the electronics. I am looking for good electronics and grip. For me, grip with this bike is very important and we didn’t have that so much last year.
“Anyway, the engine has improved with the new power character but we have to improve more to keep the progress going.”
Part of the improvement that has impressed Vinales is that Suzuki has developed the power plant to give more “oomph” across the entire rev range.while at Phillip Island the team was testing the new seamless gearbox, albeit only the “up-change.”
“The character of the seamless gearbox make the riding style more easy, easier to hook the bike up. The bike is moving around less when you are moving around on the bike and changing the direction. It is a lot smoother and gives more speed so this helps our lap time.”
Last year, Maverick qualified sixth fastest and finished sixth behind that epic four way duel that saw another Catalunyan, Marquez take the win in dramatic circumstances.
After Sepang and PI the work continues with Maverick summing up the two tests stating.
“Everything is coming together. We can be a lot closer. For sure we can make big steps and good steps . Anyway we still have to work a lot. it is only the second test here in Phillip Island , We were always great and last year we were very good here. For sure in Qatar we need to ensure we are working very hard. For me it is electronics we need to focus on that to get more grip and make us drive faster.”
With many riders coming off contract at year’s end, he is at the top of rival teams shopping lists with Repsol Honda the one who is knocking at the pit box the loudest. The Phillip Island test did his future bargaining power no harm but Suzuki has a good record at the iconic circuit and maybe the results will not be a portent of the season as a whole. However, it is all heading in the right direction.
Although Vinales has an option with Suzuki for a third year in 2017, the company will have to dig deep to retain his services. The scenario is not lost on Brivio saying, “we know he is going to have many offers but we aim to retain the services of both riders as they have done tremendous work. First, we have a long season ahead. Many things can happen.”
Vinales, in public, does not seem fazed whatsoever about his talent being coveted by many.
“I am very happy here at Suzuki. We have a great relationship. They have given me this opportunity in MotoGP and I will do well for them. We are working well together. I like the Suzuki bike very much and I like the people involved. The factory is working very hard all the time to improve the bike. I want to work hard to bring success to Suzuki.”
Honest words but how big will the cheque be to alter his way of thinking and loyalty? We should be getting close to an answer by the summer break in August but if Honda wins the bidding war (not for the first time) the prospect of Vinales and his lifetime adversary, Marquez (three years older) in the same team on the same bike is salivating.
Phillip Island MotoGP Test – February 2016 – Combined Times
Maverick Vinales Suzuki 1m29.131
Marc Marquez Honda 1m29.158
Cal Crutchlow Honda 1m29.348
Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m29.357
Hector Barbera Ducati 1m29.361
Valentino Rossi Yamaa 1m29.404
Loris Baz Ducati 1m29.583
Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m29.606
Pol Espargaro Yamaha 1m29.718
Andrea Iannone Ducati 1m29.857
Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 1m29.860
Scott Redding Ducati 1m29.922
Bradley Smith Yamaha 1m29.992
Danilo Petrucci Ducati 1m29.995
Jack Miller Honda 1m30.023
Tito Rabat Honda 1m30.119
Aleix Espargaro Suzuki 1m30.198
Yonny Hernandez Ducati 1m30.492
Eugene Laverty Ducati 1m30.617
Takuya Tsuda Suzuki 1m32.599
Next stop is the final test of the winter at Qatar before the season commences at the tradition al desert venue under lights in late March.
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