2016 was a stellar year for the Ducati Team. Winning their first two races since 2010 and proving a constant podium presence, the Borgo Panigale factory was back with a bang after some more difficult seasons. Now, 5-time World Champion Jorge Lorenzo joins the team. Partnering Andrea Dovizioso, the ‘Spartan’ will be at the helm of the ‘Desmosedici’ to try and achieve what only Casey Stoner has managed thus far – winning the title for the Italian manufacturer. With a positive first test in Valencia, the story is sure to be a headline in the coming season.
Viñales at Yamaha – and paired with Rossi
The man who topped the first pre-season testing at the Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana following the last GP weekend of 2016 was Maverick Viñales. A race winner at Silverstone for the first time in the premier class, the 2013 Moto3™ World Champion hit the ground running in stunning style to almost immediately start threatening the top of the timesheets. When settled in, the sure superstar of the future paired with 9-time World Champion Valentino Rossi could be an explosive combination for Yamaha – with one looking for his first MotoGP™ crown and Rossi hunting for a record tenth world title.
New manufacturer alert: KTM join MotoGP™
After a wildcard in the final round of 2016 with Mika Kallio on board, the Austrian factory line up full time in 2017 with riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. The unique tubular steel frame of the bike certainly already makes it a standout – and with a whole lot more data following more testing and race experience, the project is an exciting one to watch this season.
Suzuki: Iannone on another race-winning machine
Viñales’ Silverstone glory gave the Hamamatsu factory their first win in MotoGP™ since they returned to the class in 2015, and their first victory since 2007. With a bike that has quickly shown incredible progression to prove a top five, podium and victory contender, new arrival Andrea Iannone will be an exciting rider to keep an eye on. Alongside MotoGP™ rookie and Moto2™ graduate Alex Rins, the ‘Maniac’ will be pushing hard to follow up his 2016 race-winning style – and knows the bike is capable of doing it.
#WingletWatch is over…with another challenge ahead instead
The interesting thing about Dani Pedrosa’s record victory in Misano was that the Repsol Honda machine the ‘Baby Samurai’ took to the flag sported no winglets. The innovation, on the scene for some time and used more by some factories than others, is now banned for 2017 – posing a new challenge for those whose winglets became an integral part of making their bike work to perfection. Eyes are on Ducati after the fall of the winglet war, with the big question on most people’s lips concerning the performance of the 2017 bike without the additions.
MotoGP™: Four fresh faces!
In MotoGP™, there are four rookies in 2017. Moto2™ Champion Johann Zarco, joined at Monster Yamaha Tech 3 by former Moto2™ rival Jonas Folger, and intermediate class title challengers Alex Rins, at Team Suzuki Ecstar, and Sam Lowes, at Aprilia Racing Team Gresini. Pre-season testing proved more difficult for Lowes and Rins, who both cut their track time short following crashes, but Zarco and Folger were both immediately on the pace and within hundredths of each other. The fight for Rookie of the Year in 2017 will surely be a mouth-watering one.
Moto2™: The graduates
In Moto2™ there’s more rookie excitement as 2016 Moto3™ Champion Brad Binder moves up to the intermediate class with Red Bull KTM Ajo, on the new KTM Moto2™ chassis. Other graduates include 2-time race winner Francesco Baganaia, who heads up the new Sky Racing Team VR46 intermediate class project line-up alongside Stefano Manzi, and double GP winner Khairul Idham Pawi, who joins Idemitsu Honda Team Asia.
Then there’s old FIM CEV Repsol rivals Fabio Quartararo and Jorge Navarro, who both graduate. Quartararo steps into Paginas Amarillas HP40 to replace Alex Rins, whilst Navarro moves to Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 as Sam Lowes moves up.
Other exciting names also join the ranks, including Moto3™ podium finisher Andrea Locatelli, and 2016 FIM Europe Supersport Cup winner Axel Bassani.
Moto3™: Rookies and returners
Moto3™ also gets in on the rookie action, although the bigger news could be in the rider shuffle. With Romano Fenati back on the grid at Ongetta-Rivacold, Niccolo Antonelli joining title-winners Red Bull KTM Ajo and 2016 Moto3™ title challenger Enea Bastianini changing to Estrella Galicia 0,0, the season should be another classic.
FIM CEV Repsol Moto3™ Junior World Championship winner Lorenzo dalla Porta will be back on the grid once again and from the outset, onboard Mahindra machinery as the Indian manufacturer start 2017 with race wins under their belt – something else to be excited about as the manufacturer battle hots up.
2016 saw the battle for Rookie of the Year also sometimes prove a battle for the win or the podium. With another year of experience, the superstar rookies of this season are settled in, now – and ready for another spectacular scrap in 2017.
Independent teams on a high
Before 2016, Toni Elias was the most recent Independent Team rider to win a MotoGP™ race, in Estoril in 2006. After Jack Miller took a stunning victory for Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS in Assen and Cal Crutchlow took two more for LCR Honda in Brno and at Phillip Island, it’s a good time to be an Independent Team in the premier class. With even more investment in the non-factory teams on the grid set to begin in 2017, that can only mean one thing – an even more competitive grid.