It’s time for MotoGP 2018 to swing into action as riders and teams prepare to hit the track today for the opening day of what is a three-day test at a sweaty Sepang in Malaysia.
Can Marquez maintain his momentum?
The man wearing the crown as the engines prepare to fire up in 2018 is Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), and Sepang will give us the first glimpse as to the six-time World Champion’s form heading into the year. So far, Marquez has only relinquished his hold on the premier class title once – in 2015 – and his name is penciled in as a key favourite. And his teammate, Dani Pedrosa, is always a big threat – and the most recent race winner. Honda were the only manufacturer who brought a 2018 prototype bike to the Valencia test – also ridden by LCR Honda Castrol’s Cal Crutchlow – so Sepang will prove interesting.
Could Lorenzo catch Dovizioso at Ducati?
The man who took Marquez to the wire over the spectacular 2017 season was Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). His form was stunning, taking Ducati back onto the top step six times throughout the year. His teammate, five-time World Champion Jorge Lorenzo, is the only man other than Marquez to have taken the MotoGP crown since the younger rider’s graduation to the premier class – so can a year in red turn the tables and see Lorenzo back on top? Or will years of development and a new mentality keep ‘DesmoDovi’ leading from the front at Borgo Panigale?
Does the ‘Doctor’ have a tenth title up his sleeve?
2017 had some big ups and downs for Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) – including his 300th premier class race start, at Silverstone, and a broken leg not long after. But three weeks later the ‘Doctor’ was back, at MotorLand Aragon, and he put in a stunner to duel his teammate for fourth. Starting the season healthy and showing no signs of slowing down, can Rossi take that elusive tenth? Yamaha will be pushing hard to move forward from 2017, and Sepang could be pivotal for both.
Will 2017 testing top gun Maverick Viñales strike back?
Fastest, fastest, fastest, fastest – that was Maverick Viñales’ CV during preseason last year as he got on the Movistar Yamaha for the first time. And the Spaniard won the first two races, too, before then going on to finish the season in third overall. After a winter of keen development for Yamaha – including a private test at Sepang in November – will Viñales come out the blocks swinging once more? And if he does, what does that tell us about the season as a whole?
Should sophomore Zarco be a favourite for victory?
After a stunning debut season, debut podiums and the coveted Rookie of the Year title, there are a lot of eyes on Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) as he enters his second season. Routinely top Yamaha over the second half of 2017, that named the Frenchman as a real podium contender much of the time – so will 2018 be the season that changes that from podium to victory? With good initial reports on the Yamahas he tested at Valencia at the end of last year, Zarco will be arriving at the Sepang test asking ‘why not?’
He’ll also be gunning for the first ever World Championship for top Independent Team rider. But the competition for that will be tough, with Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) just four of the names that will be standing in his way.
Who will win the battle of the rookies?
The Rookie of the Year crown is one that you can’t defend. One of Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), his teammate Tom Lüthi, LCR Honda Idemitsu’s Takaaki Nakagami and Reale Avintia Racing’s Xavier Simeon will be the fastest newcomer in 2018 – but which one? Morbidelli is reigning Moto2™ Champion and was dueling Nakagami for fastest rookie when they both first tested the machines – but Simeon was recovering from injury and Lüthi wasn’t even able to take part. Sepang will be the Swiss rider’s first taste of his 2018 bike…and he’ll be pushing hard to play catch up. Will track records remain true to form? Or will one of the newcomers stage a surprise?
Can KTM keep closing in?
2017 was an impressive debut as the Austrian factory went from drawing board to top ten finishes with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. After development having raced forward at an awesome rate throughout the year, how will KTM blast out the blocks for 2018
There’s also Team Suzuki Ecstar to contend with, who will want to hit the ground running with Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins. Aiming to get off to a better start than last season, the 2016 race-winning manufacturer have another year of experience with their machine – as do both their riders, having started from zero last year.
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