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After 3 flyaway races to start the 2017 season, MotoGP has finally returned “home” for the start of the European races, with the Spanish jewel of Jerez de la Frontera up first.
The Circuito de Jerez track has a little bit of everything, with hard braking, fast flowing corners, changes of direction, slower sections and camber changes, combining with a narrower track with low grip levels to present a technical challenge for riders and teams.
But it’s characteristics and position as the first European race mark Jerez out as an important point in the season; the first 3 races share similarities with other venues on the calendar but they’re also very individual, while work done at Jerez normally carries through the next stage of the championship. KTM’s Tom Jojic phrased it perfectly “everything exists in Jerez, if you can make the bike work there, you can pretty much make it work anywhere.”
Last year was a bit of an anomaly due to high temperatures that left the low grip circuit lacking even more than usual. With Michelin still recovering from the issues they’d had in Argentina in 2016, rear spinning was mentioned so many times over the 3 days that it was enough to make you dizzy.
Thankfully that scenario shouldn’t repeat itself this year, Michelin know what they’re faced with and temperatures shouldn’t get too high. Tyres will be in the usual 3 compound choices of soft, medium and hard for the front and rear, while the medium rear will be asymmetrical with a harder right side. There is a chance of rain on Friday, so the wets (available in soft and medium) might prove useful.
Sticking with tyres, a key part of the setup for this weekend will be keeping the front one down, with wheelie a particular area of concern at Jerez. For the most part, teams will be tackling this with electronics since wings are no longer part of the MotoGP fabric, but aero-fairings might appear in a few more places. Suzuki have already used theirs a couple of times and KTM unveiled their non-wing wings in Austin (they’re wings, but just different enough to be legal). Ramon Forcada (Vinales’ crew chief) thinks the standard fairing should be ok, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Honda felt the need to try their aero additions out at some point.
Of course, in 2016 the King of Wings was Ducati but Jerez is a tricky circuit for them, with their last podium back in 2011 with Nicky Hayden. Both Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo tested at Jerez last month (including running their “Hammerhead” fairing), but it remains to be seen how helpful that will prove, with Dovi saying “I don’t exactly know what to expect” but he knows it will be a tough weekend, especially as their top speed advantage isn’t going to prove particularly helpful.
For his team-mate Lorenzo (who turns 30 today) the Jerez track is one of his favourites. He’s won at the Andalucian circuit 3 times, with 7 podiums and 5 pole positions. Since he joined MotoGP Jorge Lorenzo has never qualified off the front row at Jerez but realistically that streak is unlikely to continue in 2017. Despite the Ducati’s difficulties, the Spaniard is ready to get back to work; “Jerez for Ducati is theoretically not the best track, but it is for me.. I’m going to try to compensate the difficulties.” How much of a difference Jorge is able to make remains to be seen but the familiarity of Jerez might be a welcome confidence booster as he continues to work on his new bike.
Of course, that confidence boost won’t just extend to Lorenzo. For championship leader Valentino Rossi, Jerez is a circuit he knows incredibly well and with 7 wins at the track (including an incredible performance across the 2016 weekend) the Italian will be trying to extend his small advantage in the standings as much as possible this weekend, especially over his team-mate.
The Yamaha works well at Jerez, something that won’t just benefit Rossi and Vinales, but also the Tech 3 duo of Zarco and Folger. Both rookies have performed well so far in 2017, especially Zarco, and it will be interesting to see if they can carry that forward on European soil.
The hard braking areas of the circuit should keep Honda in touch with the Yamahas, with the 3 main overtaking zones of T1, T6 and T13 all needing that braking confidence to sneak up the inside of the rider in front, although the acceleration out of turn 13 in particular (along with turns 5 and 10) could be slightly problematic if they don’t make full use of their braking advantage. But expect both Marquez and Pedrosa to be fighting at the front in Jerez, and Dani, in particular, could be one to watch this weekend.
The start of the “European Tour” always feels exciting and Jerez certainly knows how to throw a party; with the Spanish sun shining down and the fans packed into every available space the atmosphere can take your breath away. Judging by the first three races of 2017, the racing on Sunday is likely to do so as well.