All eyes on Sepang Malaysia, most on Lorenzo

MotoGP fans worldwide will be shifting their attention to Sepang in Malaysia next week as the world best riders converge for their first ride of the season at the pre-season three-day winter test from January 30.

The main focus will naturally be on two-time champion Jorge Lorenzo, who decided to end his hugely successful nine-year long partnership with Yamaha to take up a new challenge with Ducati. His challenge will naturally be to succeed where his former team-mate and nemesis, Valentino Rossi was unable to do when The Doctor was with the Italian marquee.

Rossi left Yamaha to join Ducati for the 2011 season, but after struggling in his first season, it was announced in 2012 that he would rejoin Yamaha for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. With Ducati, Rossi had suffered two winless seasons.

Like Rossi in 2011, Lorenzo has been very upbeat about his move to Ducati. In his first opportunity to officially speak as a Ducati rider, Lorenzo showered praises on the team crew and performance of his machine, which the Spaniard first tested in the 2016 post-season in Valencia.

Unlike Rossi though, Lorenzo will have the support of Ducati’s last MotoGP world champion, Casey Stoner who will be joining the tests in Sepang to help the team further understand the bike performance and to fine-tune every tiny detail to help Ducati end their frustrating wait.

At the launch their new Desmosedici in Italy, the ‘Spartan’ said that he was very happy and excited to get on the new bike, and that it had been a long time since the test in Valencia.

“I almost don’t remember how it felt to ride. I’m counting down the days to Sepang!” said Lorenzo, who will be partnering Italian Andrea Dovizioso, who showed in Sepang last season that Ducati has the machine to win races, albeit being a wet and crash-filled Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix.

On the move to Ducati and performance of the machine, Lorenzo said: “It was a big shock. More than anything, before getting on the bike, seeing the garage all in red with different people and sponsors…It made a big impact on me, but I got used to it bit by bit.

“Getting on the bike made a big impact too, because there are a lot of differences compared to my previous bike. But I saw there were a lot of positives, as well as some things to improve,” said Lorenzo, a five-time world champion that included three MotoGP crowns.

While Lorenzo’s arrival at Ducati means the factory expects nothing less than to fight for its first MotoGP title since Stoner’s sensational achievement in 2007, it is difficult to imagine Lorenzo winning his sixth world title this year.

All rationale factors point to five-time world champion Marc Marquez retaining his title. Continuing his partnership with compatriot Dani Pedrosa at Repsol Honda, the young Spaniard has the privilege of continuity and stability. And, unlike the Rossi-Lorenzo partnership at Movistar Yamaha, the relationship between Marquez and Pedrosa is more cordial and healthy.

Marquez won the overall title last year with a few rounds to spare; underlining his dominance as well as his supreme talents to match the sublime skills of Rossi. On daringness, Marquez had shown over the years that he is always willing to challenge Rossi under any circumstances and dare to take any small gap to show who’s King.

Turning 38 this February 16, Rossi does not have the age on his side. Despite that setback, he was close to winning his 10th world title in 2015 and was only second to Marquez last year; showing that the Italian remains as Marquez’s biggest threat for the 2017 crown.

Rationally, Marquez will be the hot favourite. But, two-wheeled sports always has the tendency to be full of surprises. American Nicky Hayden won the world crown in 2006 with Repsol Honda despite not being the most dominant that season. And, that makes MotoGP hugely interesting.

While the real battle starts in Qatar on March 26, the show opens in Sepang with the first of three pre-season tests. After Sepang, the MotoGP pre-season winter testing will move to Phillip Island, Australia for another three-day session from February 15 to 17 before a final test in Losail from March 10 to 12.

The tests will give an indication of what to expect for season 2017. Especially, on the performance of Lorenzo and his Ducati machine.