Five talking points as the curtain comes down on the 2016 MotoGP season this weekend at Valencia.
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No matter what angle you look at it, MotoGP in 2016 has been epic – which means we’re a little bit sad that the season wraps up with round 18 at Valencia this weekend. Nine different winners, Jack Miller ensuring the Aussie flag fluttered over the top step of the podium for the first time since 2012, the emergence of a new ‘alien’ in Maverick Vinales and plenty more storylines besides ensures 2016 will be remembered for years to come – and that’s without all of the rider movement announcements of this year that will shape next year, not least the shift of one of the sport’s kingpins, Jorge Lorenzo, from Yamaha to Ducati.
Here’s what we’re hanging out to see this weekend in Valencia, other than the traditional post-race firecrackers being lit by the race winners in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP, that is.
A Marquez bounce-back
It’s hard to put Marc Marquez and Valencia in the same sentence without your mind drifting back to his incredible Moto2 race there in 2012, where he started last after being thrown out of qualifying for dangerous riding, overtook 22 riders (that’s no misprint) on the first lap, and then won his final race in the category before moving to MotoGP. He’s not stopped succeeding at the Ricardo Tormo circuit since – in three MotoGP appearances, he’s finished third (2013), first (2014) and second last year, where the controversy with Valentino Rossi saw him booed on the podium as fellow Spaniard Lorenzo took the title. Marquez’s third championship in four years this season was won by consistency as much as speed, but since securing the crown at Motegi, he’s crashed out at Phillip Island for his sole DNF of the year, and then fell again in Malaysia last time out, remounting to finish a lowly 11th. There’s nothing at stake for Marquez this weekend, but we’re tipping he’ll be hell-bent on recording win number six of his 2016 campaign.
When the music stops …
The last race of 2016 means the final outing for some familiar faces in familiar colours before the grid takes a dramatic re-shuffle for next season. As well as Lorenzo’s last race in Yamaha blue, which ends a nine-year run that yielded three championships, Valencia marks the final race for Vinales at Suzuki before he moves to Yamaha, for Andrea Iannone at Ducati before moving to Suzuki, for Aleix Espargaro (Suzuki) before he shifts to Aprilia, for Tech 3 Yamaha teammates Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith before both join KTM’s MotoGP adventure, and for Alvaro Bautista at Aprilia, who will return to the Aspar outfit he won the 2006 125cc title with to ride a satellite Ducati next season.
Speaking of KTM …
The Austrian manufacturer will dip a tentative toe into 2017 by competing as a wildcard at Valencia with Mika Kallio in the saddle, and after endless laps of testing this season, the 16-time Grand Prix winner in the feeder classes is looking forward to getting into a competitive environment once more, even if his expectations are modest. “We need to be realistic that we’re not going to Valencia to win the race,” the Finn told motogp.com. “But I think for sure we can fight against the other guys. I don’t know in the top 15 or in the top 10 – nobody really knows at the moment because we’ve been alone on the track and there’s been no reference point. So it will also be interesting from my side to see what our level is.” The last time a new (or returning) manufacturer competed as a wildcard at Valencia came in 2014, when Frenchman Randy de Puniet appeared for Suzuki but managed to complete only 12 of the 30 laps before retiring with technical dramas.
The perfect 10?
Andrea Dovizioso’s victory in Malaysia last time out gave MotoGP an unprecedented ninth different winner in one season, and was the Italian’s first win since his maiden (and sole) success at the 2009 British Grand Prix. Who could follow the Ducati rider to the top step and make it a perfect 10 for 2016? Pol Espargaro (eighth) and Hector Barbera (ninth) are the only riders in the top 10 in the standings without a victory this season, while 11th-placed Aleix Espargaro was fourth on the grid in Valencia last year and has seven top-10 finishes in 17 races this season, which arguably makes the Suzuki rider the man more likely. It’s a long shot, but after the predictably unpredictable season we’ve seen this year, nothing can be ruled out.
The one-day off-season
The pit lane garage doors will close on Sunday night to mark the end of the 2016 season – and then re-open early on Tuesday morning for the two-day post-race test that officially heralds the beginning of the 2017 campaign. Expect plenty of plain leathers and unrecognisable liveries as we see Lorenzo make his Ducati debut and Vinales on a Yamaha, not to mention the first official MotoGP laps for 2017 rookies Alex Rins (Suzuki), Moto2 champ Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger (Tech 3 Yamaha) and Sam Lowes at Aprilia.