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Thoughts on the 2017 MotoGP Opening Round

Johann Zarco

Yesterday’s opening round of the 2017 MotoGP series was interesting for any number of reasons. We want to focus on a few.

Reigning Moto2 champ Johann Zarco (Yamaha) is fast! He is not known for crazy, out-of-control riding, but rather smooth, calculated aggression. Zarco will learn from his fall on lap 7 yesterday, but the fact remains he was pulling away from the best riders on the planet prior to that fall. He has announced his arrival.

The biggest surprise was Aleix Espargaró on his Aprilia. Espargaró finished sixth yesterday, but he was less than 1 second behind each of the Factory Hondas. Indeed, he had been dicing with Dani Pedrosa, and even passing him, during the race. Quite remarkable for both rider and bike … we will have to wait and see if Aprilia and Espargaró can repeat this performance at other tracks.

Scott Redding (Ducati) has done nothing but struggle since entering the MotoGP class a few years ago, but he finally seems to be finding his rhythm. Redding finished in 7th yesterday, less than 10 seconds behind the winner. For what it is worth, Redding also trounced Factory Ducati rider Jorge Lorenzo, who finished more than 10 seconds behind Redding.

Finally, the KTM effort was disappointing. Aside from Sam Lowes, who continues to struggle on his Aprilia, the KTMs beneath Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith, finished at the back of the pack — more than 30 seconds off the lead at the checkered flag.

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  1. Briaumph says:

    I view the Qatar race as an anomaly on the MotoGP schedule as it is typically not representative of the Aliens normal finishing position. I am impressed by JZ. Bet and won my fav VR46 would be on the podium. He gives us track day 38+ year olds some hope. Dovi, Alex surprised me. JL will not be a factor this year. He is smooth and fast when all is working…but when it isn’t he has no ability to “ride around it”. Can’t wait for next race!

  2. Brinskee says:

    Fantastic race, looking forward to the rest of the season.

    Is it safe to say we have a new alien invasion yet? Because I think we do.

  3. richard says:

    watched Zarco last year…hes a hell of a rider and dominated…i called him in the top 4 for Quatar and was pleasantly surprized to see him up front with the pros..hes the man to watch this year along with Vinales…im a huge Rossi fan and also looking forward to seeing Rossi dominate with his experience and his riding style which still rules the roost !

  4. Joe says:

    The Doctor acquitted himself well slicing his way through the crowd from 10th to 3rd.

  5. DaveA says:

    A few notes…

    1. KTM: People are forgetting that KTM is essentially racing MotoGP as their development effort, in front of God and everyone. Suzuki kept their bike behind closed doors for many years before cautiously venturing out here and there, before scampering back to the lab. Give ’em a minute…the progress is more than fine, and not in the least bit disappointing.

    2. Stop saying “[insert rider here] beat/was faster than Lorenzo, so he must be super great!” Lorenzo is a disaster when things aren’t just right, and between figuring out the Duc, and the very sketchy surface conditions at Qatar, things were not close to right. Beating Lorenzo this past weekend wasn’t evidence of anything apart from Lorenzo’s inability to get on with it when things aren’t great.

    3. Holy moly, Aprilia is here! Very impressive stuff from Espargaro on Sunday. Sam Lowes can ride a motorcycle, but is taking some time to adjust. I think he’ll get there.

    4. Zarco doesn’t have anything to learn from his crash. He rode crash-free all weekend to that point on a very dicey track that caught many many others out. He crashed because he was the slightest amount off the racing line at that corner entry, and that is death at Qatar. The track is always dirty off-line, and to make matters worse it was cool, and green from earlier rain. That wasn’t a rookie-at-the-front crash, it was a could-easily have-been-anyone crash. Zarco will be back at the sharp end more this year. He was riding well within himself while leading, and looked nothing like a rookie leading his first-ever MotoGP race.

    5. If he stays healthy and avoids DNFs, Maverick Vinales will win the championship this year, and it won’t be close.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Mav is the real deal, no doubt about it, but I still like Marquez for the championship though it will be no cakewalk.

      I had a past post that never materialized for some reason where I picked Zarco to win the race. I was feeling pretty good about that until he crashed out, but I agree that anyone could have tucked it right there. He was riding a great race

  6. Pete says:

    I think Lorenzo would have been in the top ten if he hadn’t ran it wide early on. He will improve I’m sure. Not sure if Zarco has the bike to podium on a normal dry race but Iannone probably does. Hopefully the Hondas will figure out their problems and we will have some good racing. Can’t figure out who to root for so I’ll root for close racing and many different winners (and maybe no Marquez and no Vinales running away with it)

    • mickey says:

      Lorenzo would have been 14th or 15th if several people hadn’t crashed out in front of him moving him up one spot for each crasher.

    • VLJ says:

      Also, Zarco is riding Rossi’s bike from last year, so I’d say he has enough bike to podium in a normal dry race.

  7. Vrooom says:

    Dovi’s performance was pretty amazing given Jorge clearly couldn’t do the same things with the bike. Folger’s been impressive too, while he ended up in 10th, he’s been fast in testing and still beat former champion Lorenzo on an inferior (non-factory) bike.

  8. Todd says:

    Rossi has always done well if he was on the best bike or there was a lack of competition.,I expect him to continue to do well.

  9. Provologna says:

    Nobody mentioned this so I will. After the race MM was conversing with all the top crew members. To me, the look on his face was much more somber and serious than I would expect after his reasonable finish (what was he, 4th?). I saw what seemed like fear that something serious needed fixing, something that was not coming easy for him and the team.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      In post race interviews, he mentioned that he should never have taken the hard tire off. He said that was why he couldn’t really push.

      • mickey says:

        all the Honda riders said they wished that they had stuck with the hard fronts, MM, DP and CC. and that the Michelin rep talked them into running the mediums.

        • Norm G. says:

          re: “the Michelin rep talked them into running the mediums”

          YOU’RE FIRED…!!! (Donald’s voice)

  10. Stuki Moi says:

    How can that relic from the two stroke era, still keep up with kids who pretty much learned to walk in shoes with traction control? Zarco and Vinales are obviously crazy talented, but I’m still more impressed that their pops is still hanging right in there with them!

    • VLJ says:

      Valentino Rossi is clearly not like the rest of us, or even the rest of them.

    • Norm G. says:


      A: Lestat de Lioncourt…? dunno…?

    • Mick says:

      Because he is from the two stroke Era. He rode bikes with no electro nannies and 400hp per liter. Now you have these kids riding this dinosaur technology made well with electronics that cost as much as the rest of the bike. Why on earth wouldn’t he do well with the experience of having ridden a real motorcycle with real teeth?

      • Dave says:

        Nobody else was able to learn how to ride the new tech.

        And if you think these bikes “have no teeth”, you’re being willfully ignorant. Guys still crash, get hurt, and die on these bikes.

    • Artem says:

      Two strokes were realy cool. More sophisticated.

      • Dave says:

        I got to look at one of Wayne Rainey’s Yamahas up close once. It didn’t have the exhaust/expansion chambers on it so it looked totally empty, like a body shell over a skeleton.

        It’d be interesting to see how modern electronics would effect the 2-stroke’s shortcomings (difficult power to manage, tire wear).

        • Scott says:

          What I’ve heard is that it’s very difficult to manage a two-stroke engine electronically with current technology. The Suter MMX, for example, doesn’t come with any kind of traction, wheelie, or launch control. Something to do with the fact that they can’t just cut the ignition or alter the timing on the two-stroke engine the way they can with a 4T.

          I’m not an electronics guy, so I don’t understand the specifics, but it sounds like we’re not going to see two-strokes with these features any time soon…

  11. dt 175 says:

    Honda the first five in moto 3 – maverick’s fast lap was the last one – Abraham’s Duke was faster than EVERY hon/yam/suz/ape – did baz let George go by? I said “there’s maverick!” the boy asked “where’s goose?” I said “right there! w/ the umbrella and lipstick…”

  12. downgoesfraser says:

    tuning forks

  13. Jeremy in TX says:

    Zarco looked just like he did in Moto2. I hope to see more of that.

  14. Norm G. says:

    re: “the fact remains he was pulling away from the best riders on the planet prior to that fall.”

    well, he’s no Olivier Jacque.

    re: “He has announced his arrival.”

    I mean even if the dew problems were completely absent…? he was always going to digger.

    • proheli says:

      Interestingly, he reported to his manager that he was not even pushing it. Also, a small note is that he fell in corner #2, a somewhat famous place for dropping the front end. It did look like a bit of a hard tuck to me.

  15. Curly says:

    Johann’s aggressive early lead was exciting and somewhat out of character as he is more known for slow starts and finishing fast. No doubt the soft tire choice gave him some confidence to give it a go. He is a great rider and a good bet to at least podium this season.

    I disagree about the KTM however. They didn’t get lapped and didn’t finish last in their first outing. That and being only a Mississippi and a half off the winning pace is not bad at all. They will get better. The KTM framed Moto2 bike finished just barely off the podium its first time out so they do know how to make a steel tube chassis work.

    All hail Maverick, Dovi and the Doctor for a great show.

    • Vrooom says:

      It’s hard to take too much pride in not finishing last when you were second and third to last, and the guy who was last seems to be having a very hard time adjusting to GP and isn’t on a factory team bike. It was a shortened race too, only by 2 laps, but that’s about 10%. Plus it was damp, not wet, but not entirely dry, which slowed things down just a bit. Agreed about the top 3, especially Dovi, who did what Lorenzo clearly could not.

      • Curly says:

        I’d agree about finishing second or third to last if this was an AMA or Club Race but averaging only a second and a half slower than the winner and not getting even close to being lapped in the first time out is a pride worthy accomplishment. Keep in mind this is a race against the very best riders and bikes in the world not a local track day.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “The KTM framed Moto2 bike finished just barely off the podium its first time out so they do know how to make a steel tube chassis work”

      just bought a 4TB hard drive, and still I won’t be able to hold all of data streams being fed back to Mattighofen this season. data that’ll invariably be used to capitalize on Bologna’s missed opportunity to create a USP and construct the “bigger and better full trellis”. I see what they’re doing there.

      (Norm checks his portfolio: OMG, my Reynolds stock is up 2 points…!!!)

      • Curly says:

        (Norm checks his portfolio: OMG, my Reynolds stock is up 2 points…!!!)

        I hear it might split soon too.

  16. Brian Dueck says:

    No doubt the race was exciting – I give it a solid 8/10 especially with the drama leading up to the race start. In the post race start several MotoGP pilot veterans remarked at how hard it was to stay focused with the 40 minute delay, which makes Zarco’s early moves and lead even the more impressive as it did not seem to phase him in the least.

    What I’m not sure of though is how representative this race will be of the rest of the season. By that I mean that sure I expect the top five (DP, MM, VR, AD, and MV) to be pretty well always in the fight (and JL will not be, at least for the first 1/2 of the year). But I’m not sure if I would expect AI on the Suzuki or JZ on the Tech3 Yamaha to be up there continuously. I think the last minute switching of tires, lack of a proper qualifying and a few other things upset the natural order of things a bit for Qatar. All that just added to the excitement of the race itself – and if that type of mix up were to continue as a race fan I would be happy – but I can’t help but feel that the next 2 races will settle into more of a typical pattern.

    We shall see of course.

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