Spaniard Maverick Vinales has completed the three-day MotoGP test at Phillip Island with the fastest lap time, reinforcing his emergence as yet another rider who could cause the big four —Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa — more than a few headaches in 2016.
Riding the Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR with the seamless gearbox for the first time — fast-tracking his initiation, as he wasn't planning to debut it until the Qatar test in a few weeks — Vinales' best lap was 1:29.131, just ahead of Repsol Honda's Marquez (1:29.158). LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow's late charge saw him leapfrog to third overall with a 1:29.348.
The Phillip Island lap record is held by Marquez with a 1:28.108, while reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha) holds the best ever lap of the 4.448km circuit with a 1:27.899. Both were set in 2013.
"I feel more confident now than last year, the 2015 season was really helpful for me to grow and also become more focused and sharp when it comes to giving feedback to my engineers and asking for modifications," said Vinales, who finished sixth in the spectacular 2015 Phillip Island MotoGP race won by Marquez from Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone (Ducati) and Rossi (Movistar Yamaha).
"This new electronics are putting all riders under pressure, we still have so many things to learn before we can manage it properly, but this is also something that is renewing the enthusiasm.
"I spent all the winter training to get fit, now it’s time to focus on the machine. In Sepang we had some positive improvements which gave me positive feelings, but now I’m really curious to continue the development and get closer to the top.”
Vinales set his best lap on day two and, while he also managed to stitch together another flyer in the final session — 1:29.299 — he also crashed at high-speed, with a very second-hand GSX-RR returned to the pits.
Lorenzo was another to go down on day three — a rarity for the Mallorcan superstar — which brought out the red flag for the second time in the eight-hour session — the first after 2014 Moto2 world champion and MotoGP rookie Tito Rabat (EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) crashed at turn one.
Rabat was sent to the medical centre for observation after complaining of a sore wrist, but was passed fit to continue — but Marc VDS then had more repairs to perform after Rabat's Aussie teammate Jack Miller crashed at turn six.
However, the Townsvillian had managed to wash off most of his speed before the slow-speed tumble, and he completed the test with a best lap of 1:30.023 — a respectable result after he missed the previous engagement at Sepang as he continued his recovery from a broken right tibia and fibula.
Despite the crash, Miller was happy with the Phillip Island test. He said: "We got a lot of laps in on the bike, which is good, and the leg was no problem. I’m really happy with the direction that Michelin has taken with the tyres as they’re working really well here at Phillip Island."
The biggest time delay on day three was again caused by the weather, with the heavens opening at 12:30pm. Aleix Espargaro (Suzuki Ecstar) was the first to return to the track at 3:15pm.
Lorenzo (1:29.357) was fourth overall on combined times this week, after leading from the front at Sepang two weeks ago. The top 10 was completed by Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing Ducati, 1:29.361), who continued his dazzling pre-season, followed by Rossi (1:29.404), Loris Baz (Avintia Racing Ducati, 1:29.583), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda, 1:29.606), Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 1:29.718) and Iannone (1:29.857).
Iannone's teammate Andréa Dovizioso (1:29.860) was first outside the top 10, with the Italian more than making up for remaining in the pits on the wet day one by cranking out the most laps of any rider on the following two days.
Rossi was the final rider out on track today, 65 minutes in, and began by trying out a harder version of the Michelin front tyre. However, it was "probably too hard" for the conditions according to Michelin's Motorsport Technical Director Nicolas Goubert, who also told motogp.com.au of his confidence that the soft version of the French company's new profile front tyre would last the distance in a 27-lap MotoGP race.
In total, 14 of the 20 riders broke the 1:30 barrier over the three days, with Miller the first outside that benchmark. Nineteen of the 21 riders on the 2016 MotoGP roster were in attendance, with Aprilia pair Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl absent. Suzuki Ecstar also had along its Japanese test rider Takuya Tsuda.
Seven of the 20 riders set their fastest laps on day two, with the balance on day three. Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) was fastest on the heavily rain-interrupted day one, Vinales on day two and Marquez on day three.
Attention will now turn to the final pre-season test in Qatar from March 2-4, where Aprilia will return to the fold with its 2016 machine, and then the season opener will be held at the same desert circuit in Losail on March 20 — which could see Casey Stoner on the grid.
Stoner is next scheduled to ride the Ducati at a private outing in Qatar in early March before the entire paddock arrives for the major test, and Ducati is on record as saying that it will not deny the Australian the opportunity to race in Qatar if her wants to — although it could prove to be a sensitive time if the two-time world champion defeats Iannone and/or Dovizioso…
Stoner was on location at Phillip Island, at the circuit where he was peerless between 2007 and 2012, winning six straight races.
For all the Phillip Island MotoGP test times, click here.