With the holiday season receding into the rear view mirror, that means that we are getting closer to seeing bikes on tracks. Testing starts this week for both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, and before testing, the Movistar Yamaha team will present their 2018 livery later on this week as well.
The action starts on Tuesday in Jerez, where virtually the entire WorldSBK paddock is gathered for a two-day test. The Andalusian track will see the first real test of the 2018 WorldSBK machines, with the teams all having had the winter break to develop their bikes under the new technical regulations - new rev limits, and better access to cheaper parts.
All eyes will once again be on triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, the man who dominated at Jerez in November. Rea was seemingly unaffected by the new rule changes, saying less top end merely made the bike easier for him to ride. Teammate Tom Sykes will be hoping to match Rea's pace, and adapt to the new character of the bike.
Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri will be hoping that Ducati found some more drive and top end from the Panigale. The V-twin was hardest hit by the new rev limits at the Jerez test in November, and the test was further complicated by Davies suffering a major crash on his first day at the test, and missing out on track time.
Tuesday will also be the first time that the Red Bull Honda WorldSBK team will be out on track together. Leon Camier was at Jerez in November, but he will be joined on Tuesday by American Jake Gagne, who got the seat after a couple of solid outings at the end of 2017. The Honda WorldSBK team have been working on a switch to Magneti Marelli electronics over the winter, and Camier and Gagne will be hoping that the change will improve the throttle connection on the Honda CBR1000RR.
Others present will be the Pata Yamaha squad of Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark, who will take a break from denying they will be racing for Tech 3 in 2018 to test the Yamaha R1 again. Though both riders have a contract for this season, there has been much speculation over whether one of them could replace Jonas Folger in the Tech 3 MotoGP team, but both have ruled it out. Lowes and Van der Mark were both quick during testing, and should be able to build on that progress.
The Milwaukee Aprilia squad of Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori will also be present at Jerez, as will the Althea Ducati team with Loris Baz, the MV Agusta squad with Jordi Torres, Puccetti Kawasaki with Toprak Razatlioglu, Orelac Kawasaki with Leandro Mercado, Yonny Hernandez with Pedercini Kawasaki, and Guandalini Yamaha with Ondrej Jezek. Former Moto3 champion Sandro Cortese will also be present for a private test on a Yamaha R6.
Live timing for the test will be available via the excellent Jerez Live Timing website.
On Wednesday, the Movistar Yamaha team is to present their 2018 livery, at a presentation in Madrid. The presentation will be streamed live online via Youtube, as always. Whether anything earth shattering will be announced at the launch is unlikely, though it will be interesting to see if Yamaha follow Ducati's suit and announce that they hope to sign their riders before the season starts.
The bikes on display in Madrid will not be 2018 Yamaha M1s, though. Those bikes are due on track early on Wednesday morning at Sepang, where the full factory line up will be present to prepare the official MotoGP test which starts on Sunday. All six MotoGP factories will be riding during the private test, with an all-star cast of test riders.
For Ducati, Casey Stoner will be joining Michele Pirro to give the latest updates of the Desmosedici a shakedown, though whether the expected chassis and fairing upgrades will be present is as yet unknown. Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna said they might have to wait until the second test in Thailand for those to be ready.
Yamaha will be there with Japanese Superbike riders Kohta Nozane, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, as well as three of Yamaha's test riders. KTM will have test rider Mika Kallio in Sepang, while Honda will have Takumi Takahashi and Hiroshi Aoyama, as well as former LCR Honda rider Stefan Bradl. Aprilia will have Matteo Baiocco at the test, and Suzuki will have Sylvain Guintoli.
Guintoli will not be the only rider on the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP bike at Sepang. Suzuki has decided to reward three of its top national riders from around the world with a go on the GSX-RR. For Australia, Josh Waters will be on the bike. Former MotoGP rider and current MotoAmerica champion Toni Elias will also get a go, while 2017 Senior TT racer Michael Dunlop will also have his first ride on the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP machine.
Finally, on Sunday 28th January, the official MotoGP test will start at Sepang, with an almost full field of riders. Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi will get to see what Yamaha have done over the winter, and get an idea of whether the engineers have fixed the shortcomings of the M1. Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa will have a chance to see if the 2018 Honda RC213V is as good as they thought it was at Valencia. Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins get to see just how competitive the Suzuki GSX-RR can be this year.
Aleix Espargaro and Scott Redding get a chance to sample some of the upgrades Aprilia will have brought. Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso will be hoping that Ducati have improved the turning of the bike. And Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro will get their hands on the upgraded parts Mika Kallio has been testing over the winter.
For MotoGP rookies Franco Morbidelli, Takaaki Nakagami, and Xavier Simeon, they will have chance to continue their adaptation to the MotoGP class, while Tom Luthi will get his chance to throw his leg over a MotoGP bike at last, as he is recovered from his injury.
The one question is whether the Tech 3 team will be present with one or with two bikes, now that Jonas Folger has announced he will not be racing in 2018. A lot of websites are reporting that Yonny Hernandez will be present in Sepang, making a one off appearance on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha machine. But so far, Tech 3 have declined to confirm this.
There is much to look forward to. Racing is getting closer.
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