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MotoGP 2017 Preview: The Usual Suspects or Something New?

MD picks Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales for the 2017 MotoGP crown.

The front of the grid in MotoGP – and the front of the race – has been dominated by just a few “aliens” for quite some time. That changed last year as the premier class saw a remarkable nine different riders win races, an all-time record. Of course, in the end, one of the favorites won the title … Marc Marquez (Honda). What can we expect for 2017?

Based on pre-season testing, new Yamaha Factory rider Maverick Viñales has to be one of the favorites this year, if not the favorite. He has dominated testing since switching to Yamaha, on any track under any conditions. Even teammate Valentino Rossi has consistently been off the pace set by Viñales, who is not only fast over a single lap, but race distance as well. Viñales is the real deal this year, so don’t be surprised by his success.

Don’t count out the Repsol Honda duo of Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, however, as both riders feel they are starting 2017 with a bike that will perform well everywhere. Marquez, at times, has been the rider to run close to the pace set by Viñales in testing, but Pedrosa looked very strong during the final test at Qatar (also the site of this season’s opening race this weekend).

The Ducati Factory team poses some interesting questions. Able to draw multi-time champ Jorge Lorenzo away from Yamaha, Ducati would undoubtedly like to contend for the championship this year, but their bike has seemingly been brilliant at some tracks and troublesome at others. For his part, Lorenzo looks increasingly comfortable on his new Ducati, while teammate Andrea Dovizioso looks rock solid as a contender at many tracks, and it would not be a surprise to see both of these riders near the front at Qatar this weekend.

Having lost Viñales to Yamaha, Suzuki appears to have taken a bit of a step backwards during testing, as new team member Andrea Iannone has not shown the consistent speed and confidence he had on his Ducati last year. Iannone points to the Suzuki Factory bike being set up for a different corner entry style employed by Viñales, so Suzuki has some work to do with Iannone, as well as promising rookie Alex Rins.

The Aprilia Team has riders Aleix Espargaro and rookie Sam Lowes, both with talent and potential, but the incredibly fierce competition this year threatens to keep Aprilia outside the top ten. We will have to wait and see how Aprilia develops.

Perhaps the most interesting “satellite” team to watch is Monster Yamaha Tech 3. With two talented rookies, including Moto2 champ Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, the easy-to-ride Yamaha has seen these two riders, particularly Folger, surprise with their speed and consistency during testing. More than once, Folger has displaced Valentino Rossi as the second quickest Yamaha in a test.

Of course, Austrian manufacturer KTM is entering its maiden season in the MotoGP category with former Yamaha riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. Still lingering near the back of the pack at pre-season tests, KTM has nevertheless substantially narrowed the gap to the front-runners, and is known to be feverishly engaged in development of their bike to move it forward. This is another interesting story to watch unfold in 2017.

Of course, part of the show this year includes new fairing designs intended to create down-force at the front of the bikes to control wheelies and firmly plant the front wheel while cornering. The fairing designs are in some cases quite wild looking (Ducati, for instance), and it appears teams will run a “standard” fairing at some tracks and employ the “down-force” fairing at others.

Predictions from MD? We like Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales for the championship in 2017. He has been consistently fast, and crashed very little during pre-season testing. Marquez is fast, as always, but he may have to “hang it out” more to run with Viñales, which means we may see a few DNFs from Marquez this year … perhaps a championship-killer loss of points.

Valentino Rossi always seems to be there, whether it is on the podium at races, or near the top in the championship points total. Is age finally catching up with Valentino?

Will the massive investment Ducati has made in Jorge Lorenzo pay off? Lorenzo has gradually gained speed on his new bike during testing, and may benefit from the “down-force” fairing at certain tracks where he has been lacking front-end grip and feel.

Other riders who might surprise us this year include Dani Pedrosa, who has seemed a bit steadier than teammate Marquez in some of the pre-season testing. One of the rookies, perhaps Folger or Zarco, could also grab podium finishes this year, and generally be in the mix near the front of the races.  Stay tuned for reports from MD this weekend.


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28 Comments

  1. Scott says:

    No spoiler, but let me just say…

    WELCOME BACK, MOTOGP!!!

    Great race!

  2. Pikeman says:

    Will this season be broadcast on TV in the US, or is not the biggest motorcycle racing series on the planet a big enough draw for the sports networks again?

    • mickey says:

      Far as I know, only on BEin sports 620 on your dish

      They are showing qualifying Saturday night I think.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “BEin sports 620 on your dish”

        btw, are you blokes getting that in HD…? FS1 of course showed it in HD but when they switched over to BEin they downgraded to standard definition (at least on my cable provider). combine that with the Ross/”Merguez” controversy and you have a recipe for a deal-breaker so at that point Maverick PUNCHED OUT. my telly’s been in a flat spin ever since.

      • mickey says:

        It’s not hd I don’t think. Then again I may not have an hd set up? I dunno.

        Qualifying is on tomorrow afternoon.. Motogp probably from 2:00-3:00 or something. BEin doesn’t tell you anymore when Moto 2 Moto 3 and MotoGP is separately they just lump them all together under MotoGP for 3 or 3 1/2 hours.

      • Randy D. says:

        I get Moto GP on my DISH network @ 392, not 620, just like last year. I get HD but not sure it’s on 392.

        For this race the front row is Vinales, Iannone, Marquez in that order.

      • Scott says:

        BeIN is also on channel 871 on DiSH. I’m not sure why it’s on two different channels, but 871 is definitely crystal-clear HD…

        And the coverage is so much better than FS1’s commercial-infested crap, it’s not even funny.

    • Norm G. says:

      Q: is not the biggest motorcycle racing series on the planet a big enough draw for the sports networks again?

      A: the biggest motorcycle racing series on the planet is NOT a big enough draw for the sports networks.

      (it’s important you hear this from a friend)

      we’re more than a decade and half into the 21st Century, so the burden of viewing now rests squarely on YOUR shoulders. yes, i recognize this is sobering information, but you’ve gotta deal with it.

  3. Norm G. says:

    re: “it appears teams will run a “standard” fairing at some tracks and employ the “down-force” fairing at others.”

    all eyes on Phil’s Isle, Circuito de Estados Unidos, and “GELL-O” (there’s always room).

  4. PatrickD says:

    Rossi’s bite at the title will be to try for podiums and hope that Marquez & Vinales come to blows now and again. The approach is something that Lorenzo will perhaps be looking at, as well as fully exploiting the tracks at which Ducati are strong. Of course, JL has weekends where he’s almost off the radar. The Ducati has been historically strong in the wet, which will give JL an additional string to his bow. His move is definitely the one that has opened up to championship to new possibilities.

    No one knows better than Rossi how much a DNF affects the season, and we’ve also seen how hard Marquez has worked for a handful of points after crashing. MM had the coolest headin the paddock in 2016, and that’s a remarkable thing to say!

  5. Joe says:

    They’re talking about a rainy start at Qatar this weekend.
    Not sure about Vinales in the rain but Marquez seems to have problems in it.
    Rossi, the wiley, patient veteran should do well.

  6. MIGUEL ZEDRX says:

    I think BEIN sports will have MGP. I love the variety at the front. It’s great for any sports fans.

  7. Marc says:

    Agree with the first 3 but will make no predictions on the order.

  8. Does Tom R says:

    “The front of the grid in MotoGP – and the front of the race – has been dominated by just a few “aliens” for quite some time.”

    I don’t understand the term “aliens” in this context. Will someone please explain.

    • 2cdneh says:

      The top riders are so far ahead of the rest of the pack they must not be human. This term has been common for the last few years of MotoGP.

    • Craig says:

      Aliens = “Out of this world racers” who win 99% of the races (last year was only 50%) and win ALL the Championships.
      They are always top 4-5… In a league of their own!!!

    • joe b says:

      Aliens, is used here to portray these extremely talented riders, as having abilities we, normal motorcycle riders, do not.

    • VLJ says:

      “Aliens” = riders without green cards.

      -DT

    • PatrickD says:

      Colin Edwards was the first to use the phrase. Part and parcel of MotoGP parlance for a decade now.

    • Norm G. says:

      riders with ACID FOR BLOOD… (RIP Bill Paxton)

    • Dave says:

      Aliens = in the past 5+ years are the 4x riders bestowed with either a Repsol Honda or a Factory Yamaha. As last year’s 2nd tier “win bonanza” showed, with a more level equipment playing field, the 2nd tier is closer in actual riding talent than had been previously believed. The top guys are still the top guys, they just won’t have as great an equipment advantage going forward.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “with a more level equipment playing field, the 2nd tier is closer in actual riding talent than had been previously believed.”

        Dave sees the Law of NATCORK and obeys (his robot overlord).

  9. roadrash1 says:

    I’m just hoping I might be able to watch it on one of the 120 cable channels I already pay an arm and a leg for. Probably not.

  10. VLJ says:

    2017 final standings prediction:

    1. Vinales
    2. Marquez
    3. Rossi
    4. Pedrosa
    5. Dovi
    6. Crutchlow
    7. Lorenzo
    8. Iannoni
    9. Zarco
    10. Folger

    • Tommy D says:

      I agree with your prediction for the first 3. The rest is too difficult.

    • Vrooom says:

      That looks right to me. I could quibble on the order of the bottom 5, I think Folger might finish ahead of Zarco and Lorenzo might be down another spot, but overall I think you’ve got it.