It takes time to get to know somebody new. Things that first attract might, before too much longer, prove irritating instead. A smile, perhaps, that is too easy, or a shallow, over-eager laugh.
Quirks and wrinkles by contrast can become more alluring. Call it character.
Unless, of course, you are a perfectionist. Like Jorge Lorenzo.
This is all by way of trying to get some early assessment of the most interesting of several rider switches for 2017, after the first round of tests at Sepang.
Vinales to Yamaha is alluring enough. He’s the brightest of bright boys and could easily win the title. Some observers (I am one) think he’ll be the guy to give Marquez a serious run, and prevent him from a spell of Doohan-like domination.
Iannone to Suzuki is another high point. A mad crasher on the dippy Ducati, he has plenty to prove after being sacked, and a sweet bike to do it on. By no coincidence he shined at Sepang, fastest on day two and second overall.
And it’ll be great to see how the Moto2 big guys adapt: Zarco, Rins, Folger and Sam Lowes—race winners each and every one.
For me, though—and call me a snob if you must—it is the aristocrats I’ll be watching closer. Jorge and the Dukes.
Lorenzo doesn’t command the fan base of other top riders. His persona is too cool and calculated. People respond better to the overt spontaneity of a Rossi, although that too is often just as calculated. In a way, Lorenzo is the more open character. He is austere, so too his life-style. Which makes him an interesting case study, if not an exciting companion.
But Jorge’s riding has always been fascinating, over the course of five world titles and 65 race wins, in all three classes.
His history is worth revising. Trained from early childhood as a potential champion by a clearly obsessive father (who now runs a harsh-discipline junior racing school), Jorge arrived in GPs as soon as he was old enough. In fact he missed the first day of practice for the 2002 Spanish GP as he waited to turn 15, then the minimum age.
Riding for Aprilia off-shoot Derbi his first win came the next year, with three more to follow. Then to 250s, where in three years, he took 17 wins. From the earliest, but for a single year on a Honda in 2005, he was closely associated with Aprilia’s Gigi Dall’Igna, now of course the boss and mastermind at Ducati.
True to his “Round The Outside” nickname, his early reputation was scary enough to earn him a one-race ban for dangerous riding. As he has often reminded us, he learned his lesson, and became a harsh critic of similar tactics.
Once he was wild and reckless; for the past 10 years or so he’s been silky smooth and reserved. But always dynamite fast.
The nobility of the Dukes lies in a similar area: dynamite speed. But the Desmosedici has never been a well-rounded character. It came closer to it than ever last year. But by then Lorenzo had already decided to abandon his so far always-fruitful relationship with the versatile Yamaha and live dangerously with Ducati instead.
His dismal final season on the M1 almost seemed like a preparation for departure. Suddenly smooth as silk didn’t work any more. Especially when it rained. Jorge was a different rider from the past. Given his reputation, it made him something of a laughing stock. Deeply unfair, but there it is.
So we come to Sepang, and the first test. Jorge has made the red shift, and the dangerous adventure begins.
Not especially well. Casey Stoner is on hand. Ducati’s last champion, way back in 2007, and until last year Ducati’s last race winner, Stoner is race-rusty and happily retired. But he is straightaway fastest of anyone on day one. More significantly, much faster than Jorge.
This situation would prevail for the full test. But Lorenzo did manage a significant improvement over the three days, carving almost 1.6 seconds off his lap time, and moving from 17th to 10th overall.
More importantly, given this was his first time on the all-new GP17 and only his second time on a Ducati, he told of how he had begun adapting his style to suit the different character of the bike compared with the well-rounded Yamaha. He was looking for more aggressive braking and throttle use in place of his trademark corner speed, and clearly starting to find it.
Still far from his limit, he said, “we are already fast. When we get there, we will be very, very fast.”
Fighting talk, and I half-expect Jorge to surprise us all this year.
But let’s see if first he can be faster than Casey Stoner. CN
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