Maverick Vinales confirms title contender status with domination of Phillip Island MotoGP testing
By Trevor Hedge
MotoGP riders quickly got down to business this morning on what was a cooler track than riders had been greeted with on Wednesday or Thursday mornings. A cool breeze added a chill in the air and kept the track temperatures down until later in the afternoon when the sun started to build strength but still a cool breeze ensured track temperatures remained quite moderate.
Day two dominator Maverick Vinales was quick out of the blocks and bashed out a 1m28.549 on his 13th lap of the session. Vinales had also been in the 1m28s on his previous two laps. The young Spaniard continued to run a good pace for much of the morning before turning his focus to race simulation long runs, with Vinales putting in 101 laps on the final day of the test. Vinales put in another three 1m28s in the final minutes of the session, with his final circuit a 1m28.558 just outside his early best.
“It was a very positive test for us. We came here to try many items and now we got things clear and we already know which set-up we can start using in Qatar. We did a lot of work and I‘m happy about that. Today we concentrated mainly on the race pace and I‘m satisfied, but we‘re still able to improve. We didn‘t decide on the fairing yet, it‘s still totally open, you never know.”
“Today we had the opportunity to attempt two race simulations with Maverick and we also tried some new settings with Valentino. The fast pace that Maverick was able to keep up during the long runs proves that we have improved the rear tyre life, which was one of our main objectives for this season. Though we couldn‘t fully decide which chassis we will use, we accomplished most of what we had set out to do here and we leave Phillip Island topping today‘s and the combined timesheets thanks to Maverick‘s impressive 1‘28.549s lap. We secured a lot of interesting information, which will allow our engineers to prepare another step for the test in Qatar in March.”
Marquez was the only other man in the 1m28s this morning, a 1m28.844 coming from the #93 Repsol Honda on his 14th circuit of the 4.445km Phillip Island tarmac. He did not improve on that marker in the afternoon but put down plenty of laps as the reigning World Champion worked on full race simulations. Marquez put in 97 laps to back up the 107 he did on Thursday, making it well over 1000 kilometres across the final two days of the test.
Marquez managed a total of four laps in the high 1m28s for the day but did not match the scintillating pace of Vinales. Still, Marquez had much to celebrate on his 24th birthday but the pace of his young countryman will be playing in the back of his mind.
Marc Marquez – 2ND 1:28.843
“I’m very happy with how it went today because we improved a lot, especially in the afternoon, even if I did my best lap time in the morning. In the end I felt much more comfortable and it seems that yesterday’s long runs were useful for improving the electronics and getting closer to the level we wanted to reach. Overall, I think it has been three very positive days, and we did a good job. Of course we shouldn’t forget that this circuit is quite particular, and in Qatar we’ll see where we really are. Today I had a funny present from my team, a magnifying glass; I know I’m quite persistent in asking to check the data to find the issues we had, and they told me to find it myself! I’m very thankful that HRC is putting in a lot of effort, and step-by-step we’re getting better. I’d like to wish all the best to my Crew Chief Santi [Hernandez], who wasn’t able to be here at Philip Island because of some medical checks. We all missed him and we’re looking forward to seeing him with us again at the next test!”
While Vinales’ race pace looks strong, Marquez still looks marginally stronger over a long run. Late in the afternoon Marquez put in a string of 13 consecutive laps no slower than 1m29.206…
Jonas Folger continued to impress. The 23-year-old German debutante was seventh quickest on Thursday, and was quickly up to third on the timesheets after banging in a 1m29.042 early in the session. He failed to improve in the afternoon and ended up slipping to fourth on the charts when the chequered flag came out, but did put in five consecutive 1m29s to finish the day. An exciting pointer to the rookies form for the season ahead, a small crash today not denting his Phillip Island shine.
Jonas Folger – Position: 4th Time : 1’29.042 Laps: 190
“Today was another good day and we can head home feeling positive for the future and happy about what we accomplished at Phillip Island. This morning, I got straight to work and I was able to cut my lap time further, which was a strong start. After that, the team and I tried a lot of settings on the bike but I was never 100% sure about which direction was the best one to take, despite the rhythm being quite good. Then, I started a race simulation but after three or four laps, I crashed at turn six. I returned to the track on my second bike that had a different setting, and after completing eleven laps or so, my confidence came back and I became faster and faster, which was very important. Now we know which direction we have to head towards and we will try again in Qatar. However, for the moment, we can be fully satisfied about what we completed here because the rhythm was good, the lap time was strong, we tried many options and we sorted a lot of things out, so we can all be really content.”
Dani Pedrosa had been quite ill on Thursday but the diminutive HRC veteran was on the pace today, a 1m29.11 coming just after lunch for the 31-year-old. Late in the day Pedrosa then improved to a 1m29.033 to push Folger back to fourth on the final timesheet.
Dani Pedrosa – 3RD 1:29.033
“Overall I think it’s been a very positive test, especially considering that this isn’t one of my favourite tracks. I was riding quite well and I think we improved day by day. Yesterday I wasn’t feeling well but today I felt a bit better and we were able to do a good job on the track. The team has worked very well. We focused again on electronics and on the setup of the bike, and the only thing we missed was a long run, as we ran out of time. Michelin have also made some good steps forward with the tyres. All in all, we can say we’re heading in the right direction, even if we still have some work to do.”
Cal Crutchlow continued the good pace he had displayed across all three days to finish the test fifth on the charts, just ahead of Alex Rins, who showed encouraging pace on the Suzuki, almost half-a-second quicker than teammate Iannone, ‘The Maniac’ having to settle for 13th place on combined times, just ahead of Danilo Petrucci and Johann Zarco.
35 Cal Crutchlow – 5th (1’29.101 – lap 72 of 85)
“We were happy with today’s test, and even though we were unable to set a fast lap time this was just down to a couple of slight problems in the morning when the track was in the best shape. That was when the temperature was good and the faster laps went in for other riders. The priority for our day, however, was to do a long run and get some more information for Honda. We managed that in the end and we were quite pleased with how it all went considering we also had a small issue in the long run. Our big limitation of the day only seemed to be the new front tyre, and not just for us, for many riders, when we found we were really on the limit and unable to push. Now we have to give all the information we have gathered in the past three days to HRC, and I think we can be positive ahead of the next test in Qatar. We look forward to going there now, and working well as a team once more.”
“The truth is that I’m very satisfied with these three days of testing. Apart from the best lap, the most important thing is that our progress during the sessions has been consistent and significant, cutting more than 2.3 seconds since Day One. We are able to better understand the machine and also develop a finer sensitivity with the settings and the changes. With my team, we are working very intensively, and this pays us back in the end. We still have many areas to improve, both in the GSX-RR and in my riding, but our ideas are getting clearer after each session. I also had a little crash today, but this didn’t affect my performance. I’m satisfied with these days and confident that we will be able to further improve.”
“We understand more-and-more the direction we need to take for the future. I managed a very constructive long run where we could put together all the information collected in these three days and I must say the result was not bad at all. Obviously, I couldn´t take advantage of the new tyres for a proper time attack. I ruined the front tyres as I used them so much for the long run attempts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Therefore, my position in the classification is not the one I’d like, but looking overall, we did a good job. We are working on the electronics but not just there. We have many areas where we can make big or small improvements, and we are trying to fix everything. These kinds of tests require time and patience. It is like being a test rider more than a race rider. It is hard to be in the position of tapping the bike´s full potential, but I’m confident that in Qatar we will reap the benefits of this hard work.”
Ken Kawauchi – Suzuki Technical Manager
“This test was different from Sepang. In Malaysia we could find a good lap time, while we left many things to be tested. Here, we struggled more with the lap times but the work has been very intense and we could test many possible solutions. From my point of view, this is very important because we can bring back a great deal of information to Japan to develop some improvements for the Qatar test and eventually, the race. For this reason, this test has been positive. We tried new cowlings and they proved to have positives and negatives that will have to be analysed. We also tried different swing arms and set-ups, finding important indicators. Andrea struggled here a little more to have a good feeling about it, but soon we will be able to deliver him better settings. I trust he is a very fast rider, so I don’t have many concerns for his position in the timesheets. Alex did quite a good job; very consistent in the lap-time and often into the top-10 which means he is progressing well and gives us good hopes for further improvements.”
Davide Brivio – Team Suzuki Manager
“We had a positive last day of testing with both riders, although from different perspectives. Alex managed to score a fast lap time, which is something positive, but equally important is that he consistently improved his performance throughout the entire three days and we’re satisfied by his progress. Another positive sign is that although he incurred a slide very late this afternoon, he managed to recuperate his confidence immediately and lap-speed soon after. That indicates he is getting more-and-more mature. Lastly, Andrea struggled today, but we have called on him to further our development work; he managed to make a long run whose data will be very helpful to our engineers. Now that we have concluded this second test, we move to what is probably the most important of the pre-season series, the one in Qatar. It will be the very last one before the season kicks off. We have to look ahead and get ready for the first race.”
Andrea Dovizioso was the top Ducati man in seventh place, but only by a smidgen over Jorge Lorenzo, who appeared to be finally starting to find his mojo on the Desmosedici.
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team #04) – 73 laps – 1’29.248 (7th)
“In these three days at Phillip Island we have managed to get through a lot of work, gathering lots of useful information. We worked hard on the set-up and on several aspects of the chassis, further improving the feeling. Overall it was a good test, above all I’m happy I managed to do my times when it was the right moment and this makes me feel good. However I’m not completely satisfied because we still haven’t managed to totally improve several characteristics of the bike and so we will have to put more effort into our work.”
Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team #99) – 75 laps – 1’29.342 (8th)
“Today we made an important step forward to better understanding the bike, just like we did on the final day of the test in Sepang, and my lap times improved a lot. It was a pity that we were not able to use the soft tyre this morning, when the track conditions were ideal, because I think I could have got my time down by another three-tenths. But, as I said, for me at this moment the times are not as important as the feeling on the bike and understanding the most efficient way to ride it. For the moment we’ve still got a lot of work to do, especially to get the bike to turn in the corners. In any case, all things considered, I think that we finished this test in quite a positive way.”
Jack Miller was ninth ahead of Aleix Espargaro, who managed to squeeze the Aprilia RS-GP machine into the top ten. Changing winds throughout his race simulations troubled Miller but he was still upbeat after finishing only 8-tenths of the outright benchmark set by Maverick Vinales early in the day.
Jack Miller: 9th – 1’29.358 – 93 Laps
“These three days here at Phillip Island have been really positive for us. For the first time in a long time I feel like I’m in charge of the bike and not the other way round. We came here to confirm what we learnt in Sepang and we’ve done that, so we know our base set up works at two very different tracks and I’m confident it will be the same in Qatar at the final test. There is still some work to do before we get the season underway next month, but we’ve done much of the hard work and it’s now just a case of refining what we have to find the final few tenths we’re missing. Overall I’m pleased with our preparations for the new season and looking forward to the final test in Qatar next month.”
Michael Bartholemy – MarcVDS Team Principal
“This was another very positive test for Jack and one that will further boost his confidence as the start of the season approaches. He proved once again in Phillip Island that this year he’s both fast and consistent and the fact that he completed three days of testing with no mistakes and without a single crash shows that he still has something in his pocket if it’s needed. A good job by Jack and a good job by the team and one that I’m confident will be repeated during the third and final test in Qatar, where we hope Tito will be back in action too.”
Aleix Espargaro – P11
“We are leaving these tests at a good overall level. We really worked hard. Today we focused on consistent performance. The RS-GP did very well in race simulations but we know that there is still room for improvement on that front. Here at Phillip Island I found a bike that once again suits my riding style in braking, whereas we were able to improve in terms of grip compared with the Sepang tests. After talking with the others, I think that we should be able to gain something in the turns, especially the fast corners, speaking of which, we tried a few changes to the chassis architecture to see if we could find more speed in the centre of the turns. In Qatar we will continue in this direction, trying both the new fairing and the evolved engine again to establish the base for the first race weekend.”
Valentino Rossi only placed 11th on the final day. The Italian veteran put in the least laps of anyone on the final day, 52-laps to the recently turned 38-year-old on the Movistar Yamaha YZR-M1, almost a full-second off his newly arrived teammate.
Valentino Rossi – P12
“Today we worked a lot on the pace for the second half of the race, because we suffered in that area last year. We tried something quite different, but in the end we didn‘t improve a lot, so we‘ll have to try something else.
“I think the bike has good aspects, especially the engine, but for sure this test was more difficult for me than the one in Sepang. I‘m not very happy and we need to try to do better.”
13th – Danilo Petrucci – 1:29.615 – 57 laps
“I go home with the certainty we have done a great job of development. We had some little issues that did not allow us to be effective on lap-time, but this is not so important right now. I’m happy with race pace. Of course we are not close to the top yet, but we are improving.”
Johann Zarco dug deep as he gathered vital knowledge before speeding to a personal best that left him six-tenths behind his teammate and 0.200 back from Valentino Rossi
Johann Zarco – Position: 15th Time: 1’29.670 Laps: 255
“The third and final day at Phillip Island went smoothly for me and now I am looking forward to the next track appearance in Qatar. Once again, the conditions were clear and sunny, which was good for my confidence and it meant that we could ride uninterrupted. I improved on yesterday’s best time in the morning and then I just kept working and completing laps. In the end, I am pleased about the distance that we covered today.
“This circuit is not one of my favourites but because of the number of laps which I rode, I am now able to understand the bike better and we can adjust and improve more settings. This is important for the next test because I know that I will be stronger at other venues.”
Pol Espargaro continued to be the best performer for KTM in 17th, but Bradley Smith started to get somewhere today, dropping almost two-seconds off his previous best to finish the test ahead of Redding, Abraham and Lowes.
Bautista and Karel Abraham were the only riders not to improve on the final day of testing. Bautista’s 1m29.984 today more than half-a-second down on the 1m29.411 he managed on Thursday.
Hector Barbera 1’29.791
“The most positive after three days is that today we finally found the way. With two hours to go we touched the key and I began to feel good on the bike and I was faster, but the best is that my feeling is back. I have been very overwhelmed because this happened in Malaysia and every time since I got on this bike. We have finally found the solution! I started to feel good straight away, having fun riding the bike, but this was only for two hours and in the end we didn’t have any more tyres to try a flying lap. At the end I was able to improve a lot with a seven-lap-tyre, and I think that with fresh tyres it was possible to lap in 29 lows. So in the end we are happy. Now it is time to prepare well before the next test in Qatar.”
Loris Baz 1’29.977
“It has been a difficult three days but today we found something. We have improved little by little to lap in 29 and we are not so far, but I am happy because we have found the way, and it has not been easy. Overall I leave Phillip Island satisfied, because we tried a lot of things and the team did a great job. My crew chief, Paolo did the right things and in the end of the day we leave with a clear direction. I think that I could go even faster with a new tyre at the end, so I’m happy, much more than I was until today at lunch time.”
Álvaro Bautista 1.29.983 (74 laps)
“In general we have not found the best feeling over the last three days here. Today we went back to the set-up from the start of the test to compare the data we have gathered since then and the truth is we have made some steps forward to improve my confidence. We also had the intention of completing a long run today but on the first attempt we had a problem with the front tyre and after fifteen laps it was virtually destroyed. I had to put a fresh front tyre in, which had a longer life but I didn’t have the same feeling. It was difficult because the tyre was more aggressive and in the end the performance also dropped off with this one. At the end of the day we tried a quite different setting with the second bike and after just three laps I felt more comfortable than I have done over the last three days. We needed a little more time to work in this direction but we have gathered some data that could be useful in the future.”
Karel Abraham 1.30.452 (61 laps)
“We are leaving Australia feeling a little frustrated after this final day because we were unable to improve on our lap time from yesterday, when I was able to set a bunch of low 1’30s. We tried different set-up variations but I just couldn’t go any faster. The positive part is that we managed a long run, which was good, especially the first part when I was fast and consistent. I have spoken with the team about the next test in Qatar and we agree that it is a very specific track in terms of set-up so we will see what happens when we get there. I think I am capable of good results and I want to get back to the kind of position we were in yesterday.”
20th – Scott Redding – 1:30.005 – 74 laps
“In these three days of testing we made some improvements even if we didn’t manage to find consistency. We have to work still a lot on the set up to find the best feeling. The bike has a lot of room for improvement and I hope to explore it in Qatar, on a track more suited to the Ducati.”
Abraham was last on the timesheets on day three but the 1m30.142 he put in on Thursday means that overall on combined times it was Sam Lowes bringing up the rear of the field.
“There are many more positive aspects of our tests than it may seem. I started off with a few difficulties, but growth was constant. I managed to stay up with the group of riders ahead of me, despite a few uncertainties in my fast lap that cost me a couple of tenths. We obviously need to be faster, but I think that all the riders on the grid would say the same. The gaps are incredibly close. With the exception of the top two, practically all the other riders are within just over a second. To be honest, if we were to race tomorrow I think I could battle for the points zone, but I know that our potential is much higher, so the tests in Qatar will be our chance to look for another step forward. What Aleix demonstrated with the 2017 bike is an important sign. I know that I have a good technical package to start the season in the best possible way.”
MotoGP will next head to the Losail International Circuit for another test, March10-12, before the lights go out at the same venue later that month and MotoGP season 2017 gets underway proper.
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