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MotoGP is the ultimate bike racing championship, with 23 riders from around the world going elbow to elbow at 200mph on priceless 250bhp prototypes.

 

Last year saw a record nine different riders stand on top of the podium, as the riders got to grips with a new standardised electronics package and the switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tyres and while it will be hard to see as many riders winning races in 2017, there’s plenty of excitement and intrigue following the winter reshuffle of teams and riders.

 

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The Honda charge is once again lead by world champion Marc Marquez, who has been described by his rivals as ‘a freak of nature’. A five time world champion (three in MotoGP and one each in Moto2 and 125cc) at the age of 23, he overcame the difficult to ride Honda’s foilbles to ease to the title with three races remaining last term. This year Honda has come up with a new ‘big bang’ V4, which promised to be easier to ride, and his team-mate at the factory Repsol Honda squad remains fellow Spaniard Dani Pedrosa. The diminutive former 125 and 250cc world champ could be described equally as a MotoGP bridesmaid or the perfect loyal deputy, but either way the 29 time MotoGP race winner is obscenely fast on his day. He’s had a few tough seasons that have been blighted by injury and winning the title in a fair fight is probably beyond Pedrosa, but he should be a regular podium finisher, occasional winner and there to pick up the pieces should something happen to one of the more fancied runners.

 

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Marquez’ main challenger for the title looks to be coming from another of his countrymen, 22-year-old Maverick Vinales. The former 125cc world champ won the British Grand Prix on an unfancied Suzuki last year and moves to the factory Movistar Yamaha as a replacement for Jorge Lorenzo. Vinales has been consistently fast on the YZR-M1, which regarded as the best all-round bike in MotoGP, topping every single one of the winter tests.

 

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Vinales’ team-mate is the mercurial legend that is Valentino Rossi. Commonly regarded as the greatest of all time, the now 38-year-old icon remains the fans’ favourite and a formidable competitor. While today’s version of The Doctor is unable to dominate like he did in the 2000s, he still won twice last year. The wily Italian has finished as runner up in each of the last three seasons through sheer consistency and although he’s been outpaced by his young team-mate in testing, there’s no reason to suggest more of the same in 2017.

 

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The defection of Jorge Lorenzo from Yamaha to the factory Ducati Team was the big story of 2016. Only he knows if he was goaded into the move by bitter rival Rossi (who himself had failed to achieve success on the red bike and said that Lorenzo didn’t have the balls to follow in his tyre tracks), tempted by the reported €20 million salary or inspired by the fresh sporting challenge after nine years at Yamaha, but either way it’s been a tough winter of testing for the five-time world champion.

 

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While the Spaniard has generally been scraping into the top 10 in winter testing, his team-mate Andrea Dovizioso has been closer to the sharp end. The Italian is in his fifth season on the Desmosedici and is known for his conservative riding style and consistent finishes, making him a perfect partner for Lorenzo. It could be a tough season for the Ducatis, but the season opens at one of their strongest tracks, Qatar, and the Bologna manufacturer has been the most innovative in recent years, not least in pioneering the now banned aerodynamic wings, and they have already shocked their rivals with an innovative new fairing, nicknamed ‘the hammerhead’ that creates downforce using internal, rather than external, aerofoils. If it works, expect to see a raft of clones popping up within a few races.

 

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Four factories won races in 2016, with Team Suzuki Ecstar powering the aforementioned Vinales to the top step of the podium at Silverstone. They’ve lost their prize asset to Yamaha and have an intriguing all-new rider line-up for this season, with Alex Rins making the step up from Moto2 to join exuberant Italian Andrea Iannone.

 

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It will be a fascinating combination. Iannone was fast but erratic on the Ducati, winning in Austria but losing his ride to the incoming Lorenzo. He’s shown more of the same form on the constantly improving GSX-RR in winter testing. Rins, meanwhile, comes with a big reputation but has often flattered to deceive in the smaller classes. It will be interesting to see how he fares on the big bikes.

 

While Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Ducati all have the capabilities to win again in 2017, it’s likely to be a year of developing for the other manufacturers.

 

Of the remaining contenders, Aprilia are the ones most likely to challenge for the podium, although that’s a tough ask for the relatively small Italian factory, which is only in its third season back in the class, and for this year the Fausto Gresini run squad line ups with Aleix Espargaro and Brit rookie Sam Lowes.

 

Espargaro was very much the coming man a few years ago, scoring a podium and seventh overall on the Forward Yamaha YZR-M1 in 2014, but he seemed to lose his way at Suzuki and was completely overshadowed by Vinales last season. Pre-season testing has been promising, but top 10s will still be an achievement on the RS-GP prototype, while former British and world supersport champion Lowes needs to stay upright and make gradual progression in his first year as a MotoGP rider.

 

The final factory entry is the new Red Bull KTM squad, which runs Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith on the new RC16 V4. The Austrian factory are newcomers to MotoGP, having made a wildcard debut at the final round of last season, and although they will be towards the back of the pack in 2017, it would be a surprise if they are not contenders in coming years. KTM knows how to win and has two experienced MotoGP riders to develop the new bike. Such is the pace of MotoGP , the KTMs were dead last in the final test in Qatar, but only two seconds off the pace of the fastest men. They’ll be setting realistic goals during the year, and top 10 by the end of he season would be a major success.

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As well as the factory teams, the bumper MotoGP grid is bolstered by a host of satellite and independent teams. Although these teams have smaller budgets and are further down the pecking order for bike upgrades, these teams are still able to challenge for podiums on their day.

 

Britain’s Cal Crutchlow was not only top independent rider last season, he also became the first Briton to win a premier class Grand Prix in 35 years, as well as the first non-factory rider to stand on top of the podium since 2006, when he won at Brno last August. He followed that up with a dominant victory in Australia and although it will be hard for his LCR Honda team, the only one-rider outfit in the class, to maintain a challenge over the full season, there’s a real swagger about the confident Coventry lad these days. Top Brit and top independent rider are all his for the taking, and don’t be surprised if he proves a permanent thorn in the factory riders’ sides, and takes a podium or two along the way.

 

As well as Crutchlow, young Aussie Jack Miller also took a maiden win in 2016 on a privately entered Honda. The Marc VDS Honda rider shone in the wet at Assen, and although top 10s should be his target, he’s more than capable of tasting the Cava should the rain come down. His team-mate, the final RCV rider, is former Moto2 world champion Tito Rabat. The likeable Spaniard had a torrid debut season in the premier class but is back for more, although testing suggests he hasn’t yet made the step forward required to be a consistent points scorer.

 

The most plentiful independent entries are Ducati mounted. In total there are six other Desmosedici riders on the grid, all running equipment of various vintage and specifications. The best of these are likely to be in the factory’s official satellite team, the OCTO Pramac Racing squad of Danilo Petrucci and Scott Redding. Italian Petrucci has the latest specification GP17, his reward for being the team’s top scorer over the second half of last season, while Redding has a GP16 handed down from last year’s factory team. This could be a real make-or-break year for the 24-year-old Gloucestershire rider. Now in his fourth season in the class, he has shown flashes of brilliance and stood on the podium in each of the last two seasons, without demonstrating any real consistency.

 

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The other two Ducati teams are the Pull&Bear Aspar team of Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham, and the Reale Esponsorama Racing, formerly Avintia, line-up of Hector Barbera and Loris Baz. Veteran Spaniards Bautista and Barbera are likely to have their moments during the year, especially in qualifying, but expect consistent points finishes to be their target.

 

Last, but by no means least, is the longstanding Monster Yamaha Tech3 team. Yamaha’s satellite squad has provided a home in the MotoGP class for many top riders over the years, including Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Ben Spies, Colin Edwards and James Toseland.

 

With last year’s pairing of Smith and Pol Espargaro moving en masse to KTM, it’s all change at the French run squad. Backflipping Frenchman Johann Zarco makes the move up to MotoGP after lifting the Moto2 crown in the last two seasons, while Jonas Folger is another debutant and replaces Stefan Bradl as the sole German in the premier class. Both Tech3 riders have shown good pace in the preseason, with Folger in particular impressing in his first outings on the YZR-M1.

 

2017 MotoGP world championship calendar

 

Round

Date

Grand Prix

Circuit

1

March 26

Qatar

Losail International Circuit

2

April 9

Republica Argentina

AutódromoTermas de Río Hondo

3

April 23

Americas

Circuit of The Americas

4

May 7

Spain

Circuito de Jerez

5

May 21

France

Le Mans

6

June 4

Italy

Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello

7

June 11

Catalunya

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

8

June 25

Netherlands

TT Circuit Assen

9

July 2

Germany

Sachsenring

10

August 6

Czech Republic

Brno Circuit

11

August 13

Austria

Red Bull Ring

12

August 27

Great Britain

Silverstone Circuit

13

Sep. 10

San Marino

Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli

14

Sep. 24

Aragon

MotorLand Aragón

15

Oct. 15

Japan

Twin Ring Motegi

16

Oct. 22

Australia

Phillip Island Circuit

17

Oct. 29

Malaysia

Sepang International Circuit

18

November 12

Valencia

Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo Circuit

 

What is MotoGP?

MotoGP is the ultimate racing championship, featuring the world’s fastest riders on the fastest race bikes. The motorcycles themselves are built especially for racing, like two wheeled Formula One cars, and feature advanced electronics, carbon fibre brakes and slick racing tyres.

 

Trackside, the motorcycles create one of the most spectacular aural and visual experiences imaginable, with the British round taking place at Silverstone in Northamptonshire on the Bank Holiday weekend of 25-27 August.

 

All races are broadcast live, but to watch you’ll need either a subscription to BT Sport or MotoGP’s own official website - www.motogp.com - the latter also showing all the pre-season testing and post race press conferences.

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