Maverick Vinales stormed to a second dominant day in the third and final day of testing at Phillip Island. The 22-year-old Spaniard, who switched from Suzuki to the factory Yamaha squad after claiming his first MotoGP win at Silverstone last year, has been fastest at all three tests so far – at Valencia in 2016, and Sepang two weeks ago.
Some surprising names in the results – including class rookie Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha) fourth-fastest – showed that not everybody was going for a fast lap time, but concentrating on testing chassis, tyre and even engine choices; and that the long and sinuous Phillip Island circuit is too complicated to be regarded as a level playing field.
But the omens for Vinales and his new Movistar Yamaha were good, as he defeated first-day leader (and one-time pre-teen minibike rival) Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) by almost three tenths of a second,
Second Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa, back after missing yesterday morning fighting a fever, was a close third; with lap times close from then on, and a shade over a second covering from second to 17th place, held by Pol Espargaro on the brand new and clearly promising Red Bull KTM.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) was fast again, the 2016 Phillip Island winner placed fifth.
Then came second class rookie Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki); from the factory Ducati pairing of Dovizioso and Lorenzo. This was a significant improvement for Lorenzo, who said: “Today we made an important step to better understanding the bike, just like on the final day at Sepang.” Had he been able to use the soft tyre in the morning, he would have been able to challenge to top three, he opined.
Jack Miller (VDS Honda) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) completed the top ten.
Vinales’s team-mate Rossi was 12th, nine tenths down on the Spaniard. Both Yamaha riders were still wavering between the “standard” chassis and an updated version aimed at reducing tyre wear for stronger race finishes compared with last year. “The difference is small. We are not decided yet,” said Vinales’s crew chief Ramon Forcada, formerly filling the same role for Lorenzo.
Rossi, in the same position, told press he was “not very happy” after slipping down from second on the first day. “We have to find something else at the next test,” he continued. Rossi named Marquez as a more realistic rival for the title than Vinales, citing his sustained pace in long race-simulation runs.
Analysis by Crash.net bore him out. Averaging lap times for riders who had completed more than ten-lap runs put Marquez fastest at 1’29.125, three tenths faster than Crutchlow, Vinales, Iannone and Folger. This compared well with Vinales’s best single-lap of 1’28.549.
Three more days of testing at Qatar precede the opening of the MotoGP season at the same circuit, on March 26.
A brilliant ride from Alex Rins saw the Spaniard finish in sixth.
No Ducted Fairings for the Ducs
In a surprise revelation, Ducati, pioneers of down-force and winglets, will not be joining the current trend by rival manufacturers for ducted fairings, according to sporting director Paolo Ciabatti.
Speaking to Dorna’s technical interviewer, Ciabatti denied that the Italian factory had something up its sleeve. “We are going to stay with the conventional fairing at the next tests and the first race,” he said.
Honda is yet to reveal any solutions to the 2017 ban on winglets, while KTM has explained that they have much more basic matters to decide first.
But the other three have all started experimenting with down-force ducts of various persuasions. Yamaha sandwich their vanes in double-layer fairing flanks first seen at Sepang tests. At Phillip Island both Suzuki and Aprilia joined the party, with broadly similar solutions, with double skins and ducting around the sides of the fairing nose.
Results at this early stage are far from certain, with new Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaro saying there was some advantage in preventing wheelies, but “the bike feels heavier, though it may just be at this circuit.” Suzuki’s Davide Brivio said that further wind-tunnel tests in Japan would help them decide, but “we have to make that decision before the Qatar race”.
The new rules require that fairing design remains frozen throughout the season.
A second high-profile birthday celebration took place at Phillip Island, with Marc Marquez turning 24 one day after Rossi had turned 38. His team presented him with a birthday cake and (rather puzzlingly) a magnifying glass, perhaps to help him as he seeks to refine the electronics for his new Honda Big Bang engine package.